Well, here’s the first big irony of a month’s worth of advice on balancing your work and life. I’m actually 2 weeks late posting my first article, so off-whack has August thrown me.
I don’t know how it works in other parts of the world, but in the UK we effectively, but very secretly close down for the summer. In France, it’s customary for most businesses to close in August so everyone can go on holiday at the same time. In the UK, we pretend this isn’t the case and soldier on regardless; pretending to be in the office when we’re actually on the beach.
I have no idea why we do this. It is a terrible way to work.
Earning a living, no matter how meagre, from your creativity is wonderful feeling. But let’s not be under any impression that this work is physically or emotionally taxing. We are blessed in ways construction workers and HR manager will never comprehend. Ironically, knowing we are blessed has a tendency to infect our work, making it emotionally and physically taxing.
Let me explain.
If you know you are lucky, you’ll do everything possible to hold onto that luck. We all know those talented creatives who can’t catch a break. We see waves of graduates grinding through unpaid internships, knowing only too well how precariously our own client base can be built; and destroyed.
So we work hard and we work relentlessly. We say yes to, and over deliver on every job. We work day and night to fulfill the promises we make to our clients. We give more of our talent and our time than is good for us.
The UK’s working time directive makes it illegal to work more than 48 hours a week, although we tend, on average to clock up somewhere around 42.5. In France, it’s 35 hours while the average American clocks up 47 hours in work a week.
How many of you are thinking, wow only 47 hours? I work double that. Because being your own boss means never having to say Stop Working And Go Home! In a bid to stay solvent, creative entrepreneurs are risking their health to rack up the hours. One study found workers regularly putting in just 3 hours overtime a week raised their likelihood of heart disease by 60%.
It’s not just the business owners putting their health at risk. They pass these bad habits onto their employees, who labour under the expectation that they too should tot up these ludicrous hours.
‘Pulling an all nighter’ has become a badge of honour. A symptom of our apparently need to prove we’re as hard core as law, finance or architecture; industries known for their burnout working hours.
But we are not law, we are not finance. We are the creative industries. We’re not just founded on creativity, we’re nothing without it. Ironic given how long stressful working weeks tend to crush all creativity.
Long days spent staring at a screen, working on a handful of projects for a handful of clients degrades creativity. Chronic stress makes it harder for creative workers to conjure up the big ideas their client base is reliant on. Fewer ideas entice fewer clients, resulting in heightened stress levels. It’s a vicious cycle that destroys creative businesses.
A healthy work life balance isn’t something we aspire to. It’s a skill we must invest in much the same as our Illustration or web development skills. We must learn to, and continually improve our balancing skills. It’s not something we do one month and ignore the next. It’s as important to a project as the first brief and the final invoice.
This month, only two weeks later than planned, I shall be looking at the ways balance is won and lost in the creative industries.