Observant, Maastricht, 1 November 2013
Does the thought of finishing work at 6pm each day sound absurd? Or taking an entire Sunday off?
It does to me, too. Like many of us, I am masterful when it comes to ensuring that I will be stressed out and snowed under. It’s much easier to plan things to do than to plan not to do things.
Full-time PhD? Check. Freelance translation business? Yep – because life just isn’t complete unless you have two full-time jobs.
But taking time out is essential. I went to a talk last week by the English author and economist Noreena Hertz called ‘How to make smart decisions in a confusing world’. We are drowning in information, she said, and it’s only going to get worse. To deal with this ‘data deluge’, she gave seven insights. Obviously, I’ve forgotten most of them. But the key was to get back to basics. In her interviews with world leaders and CEOs, sleep, food and time emerged most often. Sleep is crucial. Bill Clinton told her he made the worst decisions of his presidency while sleep deprived. Food is a major factor, too. Prisoners have vastly increased chances of getting parole right after breakfast and lunch, when the judge has just eaten. Finally, time. We need to make time in our lives to think, to reflect, to shut out the noise and focus our minds.
The principle is sound, of course. It’s the practical implementation I struggle with. Take a three-month time out? I wish. Take a day off per week? Ha. It’s like when optometrists tell you not to use a computer for more than two hours a day. Is that even possible?
It’s my own fault, of course. I don’t need to go to hot yoga, or join a Marxist reading group. Or my latest thing, cooking implausibly complicated recipes. Recently my partner and I moved in together, and I figured this would save us commuting between two places. But now that I’ve upgraded from a room to a flat – lovely kitchen included – it’s all about exotic dinners. Coq au vin, anyone?