A Month of Sundays
A while back, I came across this video
Sebastian Deterding on Palaces in Time: Designing Against Productivity - MIT Media Lab
This talk is open to the public and will be webcast live. "You cannot not communicate," Paul Watzlawick once famously…
and it shook me to my core.
You see, I am very productive. When I became (more or less) my own boss, I stopped being able to tell weekends from weekdays. I’d work all the time. Every day. Any hour. Then I’d suddenly get overwhelmed and collapse. Completely exhausted, I’d spend a day reading a book. Or binge watch a TV show.
Then I’d feel guilty, and mad at myself for doing too much, then mad at myself for doing too little.
Because of the religious content the video covered, I thought of the phrase, “respect the Sabbath and keep it holy.” As an atheist, this is really something I hadn’t thought of as an important life consideration.
In my neighborhood on Saturday, I see Jews walk to temple. I know, vaguely, of various Jewish and Christian sects that do nothing but worship on the holy day: do not work, do not drive, do not cook, etc.
Shabbat is a festive day when Jews exercise their freedom from the regular labors of everyday life. It offers an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and to spend time with family. — wikipedia
“ …exercise their freedom from the regular labors of everyday life” has got to be one of the loveliest phrases ever written.
I also thought about Alain De Botton, who points out that even if we don’t believe in a God who watches over us, Atheists still can appreciate a good hymn or a fine painting on a ceiling. Art and music should be a part of every human’s life.
Why not also a day of rest?
My first plan was a day with no work. I decided that would include what I think of “fake work:” email and social media. I decided most video games were too needy as well, so might as well be a day without screens. After some negotiation with my daughter, it became a “day without screens except getting phone calls, taking pictures and one movie in the evening.” I chose Sunday because that day seems to be the quietest in my week.
The first Sunday I faced without my daughter, and I tried to do the full “no work” concept.
I was like a junkie without a fix (only without the physical side effects.) I couldn’t sit still. I had to take out the “no work at all” and try to deal with the “no screens” part first. Most of my paid work involves screens, so still directionally correct.
I started journaling like a mad woman.
I washed dishes. I cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned up the rest of the house. I emptied the closet. I finally got physically tired and settled into a hammock with a book. Couldn’t sit still.
The rest of the week I enjoyed a much more organized environment and pondered the mystery of “I never have time to get things done.” The computer was a thief of time, especially social media and email.
As Sundays passed, I started going to the farmer’s market again. Amelie and I took walks, attended events, went to museums and the beach. The house was organized. Bills were paid. I stopped having unscheduled nervous breakdowns.
The original intent — a day without work — led me to question “work.”
From the journal,
“What is work?” There is the simple “should” and “want.” I should grade. Definitely work.
I want to write. Work?
Journaling: no point but itself. A kind of play?
Writing an essay: a kind of exercise, existing to flex and hone my writing muscles. Closer to work.
Then the book. Surely that must be work. Yet it feels closer to worship, to gardening, to things that are a good thing to do because they are good.”
I had time found, time recovered from those who wished to monetize it. Now I wanted to spend it on myself.
I’d already been fooled by the trick of thinking goofing on the net was restful and good. Spending my newfound time should be done with loving care.
“Does the activity nourish or deplete? And if depletes, why do it at all?”
During the week I was much more suspicious of my dear pal Twitter (I had quit Facebook a while back.) First I took Twitter out of my startup tabs, so I had to consciously open it. Then I started closing it after I was done looking at my notifications, so I wouldn’t be betrayed by muscle memory.
I now walk away from my computer at 5pm. I light a fire, read, listen to music, watch a movie, draw… and sometimes hop on the social media. And then hop back off. It isn’t as fascinating as it once was.
I haven’t always respected the Sabbath and kept it media free, but I try. I went to a conference and sketchnoted rather than live-tweeted it. When traveling, I still enjoy the ability to use maps and review sites. But I ignore checking what new dumpster fire everyone is screaming about. I am present, and my vacation renews me.
I don’t work on the novel, nor write essays, not work on my teaching on Sunday. It turns out resting from work is natural, and it was the engagement hungry websites that really did a number on my head, slowing me down all week so I couldn’t get enough done to take a rest. For me, a Sabbath is perfectly right. A day to contemplate the big question: what does it mean to be human? How can I be kind? Am I making the world better, and how do I know?
I spent one Sunday just reading The Stone Sky, not because I was too tired to move, but because I wanted to. And after I went for a walk and thought about it, this amazing book that shook me to my core. I had time to think!
The journaling reveals bad habits and gives me ideas about improving the quality of my existence for me and my kid. It also raises uncomfortable questions that need to be raised. Like, what am I doing in this technology business? Am I making the world better? What assumptions did we have all wrong? What am I teaching the students who might build the next time-eating beast?
I am a culpable victim of my own optimistic and foolhardy profession.
My use of OKRs makes sure I don’t forget my goals and keep working toward them. But saying no to the seductive power of social media and the email hamster wheel has given me the time to work on them. I even have time leftover for the farmer’s market, museums and time to sit in a hammock and read!
I’d like to invite you to try it out.
You’ll come up with a million excuses not to, like any addict.
“Oh, I need to stay connected. I need to stay informed. My friends expect me to post. I want to say hi to..”
Then turn the damn thing off anyway.