When Samuel Gompers, who led the labor group that organized this particular iteration of the 8-hour movement, was asked, “What does labor want?” he responded, “It wants the earth and the fullness thereof.” And to me it seems significant that it’s not 8 hours of, say, “leisure” or “education,” but “8 hours of what we will.”
—How to do nothing, by Jenny Odell
When I happened upon the image above, I immediately thought about Ho‘ohana, our value of worthwhile work. You may remember this, which I had written for Ho‘ohana in Managing with Aloha:
A job or your life?
Once your school days are over and you enter the working world full-time, you will literally devote a full third of your life to the job. There are 24 hours a day. Mindful of your health, you’ll spend about 8 hours of that day asleep —that’s one third. With a full-time job, you’ll spend another 8 hours working —that’s another third. That leaves you with only 8 hours left to do what you want to do.
Now we both know that you don’t really get all of that remaining 8 hours. After all, you have obligations to fulfill, promises to keep, and well, stuff to do. You’ve got to feed the dog, take out the trash, grab some groceries, finish the laundry, service the car, pay the bills, have your teeth cleaned… the list goes on and on. Let’s call these the “Being a Human Being” hours. When all is said and done, exactly how much time do you really have to do the things you want to do?
Well, I don’t know how you feel about this, but a measly third of my own life left for me and my personal wants and dreams is just not enough — especially when I come to realize I don’t even get the full third! So how can I recapture more of it?
I continued, to focus on the working 8 we can transform into our Ho‘ohana, encouraging you to “Redefine the word WORK and make it yours.”
I’m not changing my mind about that, for there is immeasurable goodness in committing oneself to their Ho‘ohana, yet there is also truth in the old adage that, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” (…and Rosa a dull girl…)
“8 hours of what we will.”
Odell’s How To Do Nothing essay is a long-read, a 45-minute transcript, with video shorts and pictures, of a keynote she’d given. I encourage you to take that time for yourself and enjoy it. If you read it before your next weekend, I can confidently guarantee you’ll spend more of that weekend observing, taking notice, and wondering about things with heightened curiosity.
We live in a day and age when we are often advised to take digital breaks and get away from our screens, whether handheld or desktop, but we have also gotten to the point of feeling an unease with that disconnect: Like every addict, we need to ‘come down’ from technology and decompress.
A LongRead suggestion for later: A Sociology of the Smartphone.
It’s somewhat embarrassing, even when we’re all alone with our self-conscious introspection about it, but we can find we need help answering the most basic of questions — “Now what?”
“Doing nothing teaches us how to listen…I mean it in a broader sense. To do nothing is to hold yourself still so that you can perceive what is actually there. As Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who records natural soundscapes, put it, ‘Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.’”
— How to Listen (Archive Aloha, April 2013)
Another challenge, is that we rarely give ourselves the permission to enjoy “what we will” no matter the time frame. So much shoulding and unfounded guilt gets in our way.
What works best for me, is to immediately get outside, even if only to walk through the yard around my own house. One reason this seems effective, is because I’ve become a ‘let them all live’ kind of gardener… a weed can be pretty enough to capture your attention when you don’t tell yourself it’s a weed. (I am also completely in love with my smartphone camera and addicted to Instagram.)
“Outside Lies Magic. Get out now.”
“GET OUT NOW. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people…. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run…. Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Ride a bike, and coast along a lot. Explore…. Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now…. Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings…. Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot. Savor something special. Enjoy the best-kept secret around—the ordinary, everyday landscape that rewards any explorer, that touches any explorer with magic…all of it is free for the taking, for the taking in. Take it. take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic.”
—John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic
On my more fortuitous days, I even stretch my 8 hours of whatever I will, by grabbing found pockets of time from my own Ho‘ohana—gasp!
For instance, on a recent trek to Hilo for a business lunch appointment, I made sure I had kept the rest of the day commitment-free so I could do several roadside stops on the drive —Hilo is 60 miles away from where I live. The lunch was very enjoyable, but so were those stops! I had brought a change of clothes with me which included my hiking boots and a baseball cap for the trek toward home, and each stop felt like a mini adventure.
If it can work for Darwin, it can work for me too.
After his morning walk and breakfast, Darwin was in his study by 8 and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary, greenhouse, or one of several other buildings where he conducted his experiments. By noon, he would declare, “I’ve done a good day’s work,” and set out on a long walk on the Sandwalk, a path he had laid out not long after buying Down House… When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk around the Sandwalk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife, Emma, and their family for dinner. On this schedule he wrote 19 books, including technical volumes on climbing plants, barnacles, and other subjects; the controversial Descent of Man; and The Origin of Species, probably the single most famous book in the history of science, and a book that still affects the way we think about nature and ourselves.
— Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang for Nautilus
Methinks too much.
Yet something I notice, is that there is a difference between being in the moment, and being still enough to do so. We may be physically still by all apparent appearances, yet rarely will our brain stop, allowing us to be in the moment until we have focused enough to quiet its mental gymnastics.
What we do, is think.
And we don’t necessarily think about where we are, or what we may presently be doing: We think of other matters, and they are often totally unrelated to the present.
Our brain has an enormous capacity for storing our unfinished thoughts, and I for one, have yet to understand how my brain chooses to queue them up, or how it retrieves them at any particular moment; it all seems so random. Yet most times, I am grateful for my brain’s bewitchery, letting those thoughts tumble forth so I can latch onto them, for maybe, just maybe, I will finish thinking on them this time.
To just say no, and tuck that thought back inside my brain’s recesses for another time, is not something I am very good at.
But you know what? I think that’s okay too.
The question then, becomes how to achieve both things— finishing the intruding thought, and then getting into the present place, moment and circumstance to reap all its good. Can we simply ignore time enough to fit both in?
“Hours of what we will.” Blended.
Not 8, not 16 or 24, just hours.
While on another lunch, in another place, on another day and time, my companion and I were talking story about work ethic “these days” and how it seems to be so vitally important to the youth entering the workforce (and starting to manage it in their own way) that we not be constrained by the 8-hour day.
Seems to me, that the answer is not to focus on the hours anymore and at all — they are merely the packaging of what is much more important, be it the work, be it our leisure, or be it the quality of our sleep, when that trouble-making brain of ours will stir the pot even more with dreaming.
There are several times that the thought of stretching time is very compelling to me, like with sabbaticals and vacations. However, on the occasion of this particular Sunday Mālama, I am liking the thought of blending our hours instead, wherein we simply make room for whatever good is trying to assert itself within any particular moment.
I say, let it happen, for good begets good.
“I no longer remember who said it to me, but I can still hear the words. ‘Do what you love. Be a good person. Those are your only two jobs in life.’”
— Ryan Holiday
— Today’s Work Ethic: Work for you 1st (Archive Aloha, July 2013)
— The “Take Time/ Make Space” HO‘OHANA Habit (Archive Aloha, January 2017)
Sunday Mālama has been when I will share my off-the-workplace-highway scenic route kind of posts. Not as a normal weekly feature, but whenever they seem to be writing themselves. As the embedded links and archive suggestions above attest to, Sunday Mālama can also beg leisurely reading time, romping through a few of our older lessons-learned. These posts can also seem a bit unfinished, inviting you to finish them up for yourselves as you will.
You can access the Sunday Mālama archives via this category link, also residing with my site footnotes.
Subscribe for our weekly newsletter:
Talking Story with the Ho‘ohana Community.
Preview the updates in Managing with Aloha, Second Edition, just released Summer, 2016
Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawai‘i’s Universal Values to the Art of Business