FORTY HOURS OF PAY

I recently met a professional scriptwriter, who told me that the secret was never to work for more than three hours per day on any writing project. I took it as sound advice, and I think he’s sort of right. He’s also very successful at what he does. (No, you will not hear the clanging of a dropped name here, dear readers!)

Of course, now I find myself clock watching about two hours in, thinking, ‘Well, I’m nearly done’. I think the secret is actually to stop when you want to stop, and whether that’s two hours or six and a half hours, you know when you’ve run out of steam.

Whilst this ‘rule’ can happily apply to any of our creative endeavours, imagine if we tried it in the day job! ‘I have applied myself with diligence to this data input for three hours now. My work here is done, I am off down the pub.’

Less a case of ‘Later, Losers!’ than one of ‘Hello, HR!’.

Much has been written lately of Sweden’s experiment with the six hour working day. The bad news for the workers is that it turns out to be too costly to continue the scheme, at least in the care sector.

The irony is that most of us spend a goodly portion of our eight hours making tea, chatting, or having a sneaky peak at Facebook, just to break up the monotony. Our wee brains need a break. In fact, I’m writing this long overdue post because I need a break from doing Powerpoint Slides for my upcoming show ( I mentioned it last time, remember?).What I need to do is plan in my breaks and return to my slides refreshed.

(I once saw my old boss book an entire family skiing holiday during work hours. Took him ages. Of course, if I’d be concentrating on my own tasks, I might not have witnessed the spectacle. But shirking bosses are for another post.)

What I suppose I’m leading up to is the question of how many hours is enough hours, or too many? Or not enough? When it comes to work, I mean.

I am a great believer in 40 hours meaning 40 hours. Not 45, 50 or 60. If your contract says 40 hours, then the expectation must be that your job can be done in that number of hours. Beware any prospective employer who tells you that ‘We’re not a 9-5 organisation’ or ‘You find people here at all times of the night’. That means that anything less than buying into that will be seen as shirking.

Personally, I like the idea of ‘flow’, where you lose yourself in the task so much that you don’t notice the passage of time. Somehow, I fear that ‘flow’ and data entry or cardboard box making might not be entirely compatible. I used to be a vicious opponent of the wearing of headphones whilst working but, now, I say, bring them on. Why not concentrate on Radio 4 Extra and its many classic comedies if they make the 40 hours seem shorter? And, if you’re writing, painting or tinkering with your car, you won’t need the headphones. You’ll know when the flowing has stopped.

Now, where are those slides??

 

 

 

 

 

Why ‘Squatting Toad’ again?

When is it too late to wish people Happy New Year? Mid-Jan’s still fine, right? Yeah, I think so. Well, a Happy New Year to you.

Dare I ask how the resolutions are going? What do you mean, you didn’t make any? Even I made one or two..loose ones you understand, nothing that I couldn’t quietly file away under ‘abandoned’ unnoticed.Which rather defeats the purpose, wouldn’t you agree? I should be out and proud. Significantly, I made a vow to make this blog and the podcast funnier this year. Well, you’d notice if I didn’t do that! Ha ha, funny lady.

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about work. Cue no laughter whatsoever, as who among us actually likes their job enough to read Squatting Toad rambling on about working life? We get enough of that five days a week, thank you very much. Don’t forget,though, the name comes from that wry, bitter Larkin Poem, Toads, so, having commandeered the name, I feel some level of obligation to address the topic.

Yes, why should we let this bloody toad squat on our lives? Well, according to a a recent global survey, fully 60% of us really would rather not. We feel disengaged, which I always think is just a fancy way of saying we hate our jobs. I also fear that this means that 40% of us are lying. I don’t know anybody who really loves their job. Contradict me in the comments section, please, if you do. I’d like to put you in a glass case with a label ‘Rare Specimen – Person who Loves their Job’, for the benefit of bemused and unbelieving museum visitors. Which museum I’ve no idea, for who could afford such an uncommon piece?

But, seriously, when I see a figure like that I get a little bit excited, having been through the wringer myself, to know that ‘it’s not just me’. It really isn’t. Obviously, I wouldn’t dream of going into detail…oh, all right…

Tick em off:

  • Four hour daily commutes.
  • Interminable meetings that go nowhere and achieve nothing.
  • Colleagues so determined to succeed that they routinely crap on the rest of us.
  • Two redundancies (‘sorry, it’s not you, you’re great. we’re just restructuring’).
  • Goalposts moved on promised bonuses at the last minute.
  • Too much time spent reporting on what I’m doing rather than actually doing it .(This they call ‘micromanagement’. I love it when there’s a handy name for some of this rubbish.)
  • And the big one…Psycho bosses from hell.

That will do for starters.

You will have more, or not. You may have reasons to be cheerful in the workplace. Let me know, one way or the other.

But what has all this to do with the Creative Life, Squatting Toad’s raison d’etre up to now? Well, you can’t separate them. Since we spend so much time at work, we need to feel it’s tapping into our creative instincts. Finally, the science is telling us this, although, of course, we still need the money. So, if we’re bored and/ or underused, it can affect our ability to create outside of work. And that’s not on, friends, just not on!!

Right now I am doing a lot of research into why work is getting us down and channelling it into a wee show I hope to take to the Edinburgh Fringe in Summer (watch this space).You can help, as I say, by letting me know about some of your worst or best work experiences. I’ll keep asking so, go on, you might as well.

Note how I just slipped my new project in there, right at the end! So modest. That may be why me and work struggle to get along. No place for the meek here. Meek =weak.

Goodness, what a gloomy start to the year’s writings!!

I’ll stop now, but Happy Working to you. And, if work isn’t working for you, keep reading the posts, when we’ll look at why and ask what we can do about it.

Bye for now.

Mel

X

Useful Work!

I was talking with a biographer recently and asked what method she followed when researching a subject. She didn’t have a set method, as it turned out, but said that, most often, one source pointed her to another and that to yet another, and so on. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t missing out on some rarefied methodology, as that’s pretty much what I have been doing of late. It’s exciting stuff, as you never know where it might lead. I’m writing a piece about the world of work, which, I hope, will be entertaining.

Just last week, my reading led me, of all places, to an essay of 1884 by socialist and designer, William Morris (yes, he of the lovely wallpaper). Entitled ‘Useful Work versus Useless Toil‘, it might lack the entertainment value I’m going for, but it’s a fascinating, if demanding read.

I like to think we have moved on some way since late Victorian times in improving some of the injustices he rails against, though clearly not all. In fact, more than we would want to admit. I can also forgive his constant use of the word ‘men’ without a single mention of ‘women’, because a) it was 1884 and b) he bequeathed us the afore-mentioned lovely wallpaper. So, I read it as one might pluck the petals of a daisy; ‘I love this bit’, ‘I love this bit not’.

There’s a link to the whole piece at the end, but one sentence, in particular, struck a chord with me.

But a man (or woman, William!) at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body.’

So, here he is, talking about creativity, our favourite topic, and the thing, as I’ve said before, I believe separates us from the beasts and makes us who we are. Of course, he was a man of great creative genius himself. I worry, though, that he would find my Morris-branded hand cream (see photo) a shade too decadent and exactly the kind of frivolous product made to pander to the demands of the non-producing classes. But I’m giving away the ending there. You should read the essay for yourselves.

He talks of ‘the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill’. Daily? Heck, the only way we’re going to achieve daily creativity is if we find it in our work.

Bingo!

Here we are at Squatting Toad, devoting podcast time to delving into people’s extra-curricular creative activities, when our 9-5 needs to satisfy that part of us too. If it doesn’t, then we find ourselves, among other things, stressed, as mentioned in the last post. And, if we’re stressed, how can we create and feel that ‘hope of pleasure’? I don’t have the answer to that, by the way. It’s a huge topic and one that takes me down a different path.

Fulfilment in post-work creative activities? Box ticked.

Fulfilment in daily work context? Pen still hovering.

As I say, I am doing lots of research on this, and what I hope to achieve is some ‘Useful Work’ on this very topic. And don’t worry, it won’t be too serious. Heaven knows, I’ve laughed a lot already, because sometimes if you don’t, you’d cry. Or maybe it’s the pleasure.

Work? What is it good for? Damned if I know, but ‘hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill‘ will do for a start. Now we’ve just got to get there. There’ll be bumps on the way, to be sure. Join me, as I try to un-pick it all.

In the meantime, have a read of William Morris’s essay. Next time, I’ll maybe reveal one of my more up-to-date sources.

Happy creativity in the meantime.

Mel

 

 

 

Bloody Work!

According to my strapline, Squatting Toad provides inspiration and podcasts for people who create in their spare time. And it does. But what if you don’t have spare time? What if your work is so stressful, you’re too worn out at the end of the day even to watch rubbish telly, let alone create anything? As far too many of us know, this happens.

In my last podcast, my interviewee Angharad, made reference to having to put her love of amateur theatre to one side when she had a stressful job. Of all the things we talked about, this haunted me the most. It was just a single comment, almost an aside, but I keep coming back to it in my head. It is why, after all, I started Squatting Toad. I had a stressful job until recently (happily I don’t now and neither does Angharad) and felt bereft as I watched people around me pursue hobbies and make things and do things, whilst I was Googling ‘funny cat videos’ and eating cake.

Now, ‘stress’, when it comes to work, can mean different things. Maybe you work in the kind of profession where any hint of weakness or inadequacy can mean a fast track to car park with a cardboard box full of your desk knick knacks.( Actually, I doubt many City bankers are reading this, but let’s suppose.) Maybe your work is so boring and repetitive and that very lack of stimulation is causing anxiety. Chronic boredom can close down your brain to new and fun ideas, as well as leaving plenty of space for full-on guilt about earning money for, well, nothing.

Mostly, let’s be frank, what causes work stress is other people. Bullying and/ or incompetent bosses head the list. Lord knows, I’ve been there and it hurts. I mean, really hurts to the point where you start to believe you have even no right to enjoy the very things outside of the working day that make life a bit more tolerable. The ‘Sunday Dread’ you feel before the start of each working work kicks in earlier and earlier to the point where Saturday’s breakfast is a depression-riddled write-off. Oh, yes.

I find now that I don’t suffer from the dread, anxiety and misery and I can look back on these times a tad more dispassionately, what is welling up now is anger. I’m angry that I still know people going to work, living the misery, and just about keeping their heads above water. And it needs to stop. Now!

Much has been written about how organisations can improve and make their workers happier and more engaged. Not a lot of what’s written, at least nothing I’ve read yet (and I’m reading a lot about this), tackles the most basic of human needs. By that I mean, respect and kindness. Why does your horrible boss think it’s remiss of him to show these basic courtesies that we are all entitled to? In most cases, it’s because he’s afraid of looking weak. And yes, sorry, I do mostly mean ‘him’, not ‘her’. This need to be ‘in charge’ and be ‘the boss of you’ and make you unhappy in the process conjures up the schoolyard of old and the bullies who nicked your sweets and made you cry. In no other field of adult life, except work, is such behaviour tolerated on such a huge scale.

Nobody, but nobody, neither the CEO or the receptionist, has the right to tote their own emotional baggage into the workplace and use it to corrode the well-being of others.

So, what can we do? Well, I, for one, am going to write about it. It’s a small contribution, but this needs to be out in the open. Why? Because we all need to feel respected and valuable for one thing, and because I want my experience to count for something. Write what you know, they say. I know that work isn’t working like it should, because I’ve lived it. It’s not just me. If you are happy in your job, living without stress, just ask around. You’ll soon see it’s not just me.

All these years in the workplace, all this reading and research I’m doing. It’s opening up something fascinating and, I hope, redemptive, for me and others.

Come on, if we’re not happy, how can we create? And that brings me full circle to what Squatting Toad is here for.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Watch out for posts and podcasts on this very topic, always with an eye to creativity, but also a meditation on work, which takes up so much of our lives and our energy.

In the meantime, do have a listen to my last podcast, if you haven’t already. Why not take up amateur theatre, if you need an outlet? Or listen to previous episodes about all kinds of creative endeavours from music to crafting.

PODCASTS HERE.

Enjoy.

Mel X