As a freelance writer, there's nothing that fills me with panic quite like a sudden quiet period or the idea of passing up work. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been, with the exception of the first three months, busier than ever. While the rest of the world was furloughed or otherwise adjusting to enforced quiet and solitude in their non-working hours, I found my working week creeping from 30 hours to 40 until it peaked at roughly 65 to 70 hours a week where it stayed for roughly 2 months.
Working 6 days and 70 hours per week for 2 months without stopping? Sounds like the stuff that millionaires are made of - certainly every YouTube productivity preaching, Finance Bro would tell you that. So, am I any better off?
Well, I bought a car and I made some progress on paying off my credit cards, and saved up about 1k... then life got in the way and my dog needed major surgery and my uncle got married, and the savings went down. Then things opened back up and the work quieted down and the debt built back up.
So, I'm in the position I was in before, but with a car and marginally less debt. The main difference is the shocking state of my mental health. During this busy period, I frequently suffered crippling headaches, cried in the day, drank before 5 pm, and woke up in the middle of the gripped with suicidal urges. Why? Because writing 14,000 words over 10 to 12 hours, 6 days a week for 2 to 3 months at a time before taking a 3 day period to sleep and weep is not healthy. Do you know what is healthy? Moderation, socialising, eating well, exercising and, occasionally, doing nothing.
Why Constantly Hustling is Counter-Productive
'The Hustle' - how often do you hear this phrase? Personally, as an indie author, I hear it daily - usually from men in their late 20s who are convinced that they'll be millionaires this time next year (Only Fools and Horses reference, anyone?). This concept that it is necessary to always be on the lookout for an opportunity, to monetize every area of our lives, may seem like common sense but it's hugely toxic.
Hustle constantly and you'll burn out - losing out on genuine opportunities along the way as you scramble to take advantage of everything that passes by. Hustle clever, however, by knowing when to sacrifice extra sleep or 'me-time' (hint: it's not ALL the time) and it could well make a difference. The problem is that most people aren't hustling clever - they're just on the go, at maximum speed, all the time.
This has led to huge issues. People reporting severe workplace stress, for example, has risen from 58% in 2018 to 79% in 2020 - in fact, all forms of stress are on the rise, and the age group 24 - 34 has been the most seriously hit.
The Cost of Overwork and Stress
There are many different negative phenomena attached to prolonged or severe stress, of course, but the most common side effect is burnout. Burnout is not classified as a medical condition, but it is a real issue that can cause prolonged fatigue, lethargy, depression, irritability, mood swings, low self-esteem, and mental fog. All of this adds up to a lower level of productivity and slipping standards in the workplace, and general misery in a person's wider life.
The classifiable results of stress and burnout are:
- Insomnia or Fatigue
- Stomach Problems (Nausea, Constipation, Diarrhoea)
- Chest Pain
- Loss of Libido
- Lower Immune System
Prolonged, severe stress also seriously increases the likelihood of experiencing obesity, depression, personality disorders, strokes, high blood pressure, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, GERD, eczema, hair loss (temporary and permanent), and total loss of libido. So, not taking it easy now and then could have a huge impact on your long-term health.
The Benefits of Non-Productivity
The thing that no one expects to hear, these days, is that periods of non-productivity could well be the best thing for your health and your overall productivity and the quality of your work.
Don't believe me? Well, it's true - research completed by Standford University found that overworked employees were significantly less productive than rested, happy employees. These findings are one of the most compelling reasons for the implementation of a 4-day working week. This would not only maintain productivity but could improve it - the most productive countries in the world actually work 27 hours per week on average.
These lower hours are crucial - the 4 day work week is not a compressed work-week, which sees the same 35 to 40 hours worked over 4 days, but a 4 day, 8 hours a day working week. The benefits of this kind of balanced life can be split into psychological and physical effects.
The physical benefits of more downtime, meaning time outside of work which is spent not hustling, working a side job, etc, are dependent on lifestyle. Nonetheless, the most commonly reported benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Better Sleep
- Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Lower Rates of Obesity
- Better Skin
- Healthier Hair
- Lower Risk of Heart Problems
- Lower Risk of Strokes
These benefits are partly to do with lifestyle, because people with ample free time often take up hobbies, spend time socializing, and exercise more often. However, many of these benefits are also associated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Psychological and Social Benefits
Stress is nightmarish for the body but even worse for the mind. The psychological effects of long-term stress cannot be understated. From short-term deteriorations in mental health to the formation of recognized mental illnesses, the effects of stress on the mind are huge. So, minimizing stress is crucial to maintaining mental health and ensuring an enjoyable social life. The most common psychological and social benefits of relaxing more often and reducing stress include:
- Stable Moods
- Less Risk of Anxiety or Panic Attacks
- Less Risk of Depressive Episodes
- Higher Self-Esteem
- Improved Communication Skills
- More Amicable Relationships/ Less Risk of Minor Irritations Leading to Arguments
- More Energy for Socialization
All in all, you're far more equipped to succeed when you allow yourself time to relax and prioritize your health now and then.
How to be Unproductive
So, with all that in mind - how do you actually attain unproductivity? Well, since the 4-day working week looks to be a long way away, if it ever arrives, it's important that we create our own downtime where we can.
The solution is simple, but you're not going to like it - you need to start saying 'no'. No to that dinner you just can't face, no to that little bit of overtime, no to the side gig, no to the unpaid opportunities you take for 'exposure', and most of all you need to say no to the urge to monetize everything you show any interest in.
I know, it's easier said than done. I know, some people need every penny, but if you're in a position where missing 1 or 2 hours of overtime will lead to ruin... well, work stress isn't the biggest problem on your plate, is it?
This is advice for the over workers. Those who know they can afford to take a day off now and then but choose not to, those who never use their paid leave because they think it will make them 'stand out' from their peers.
Here's my advice to you - take up a hobby that is unprofitable and assign an hour or two of your week to it without shame or guilt. And revel in it while you do it - in this busy, 'hustle hard' world any small piece of frivolity is a statement. Whether it's an hour in the bath with some new salts or bath bomb every week or a crochet habit, you deserve something that makes no money, that doesn't further your career, that doesn't 'grow your brand'.
You deserve, in short, to simply exist in a way that pleases you, even if it's only for an hour.