We’ve entered into a new year, still full of pandemic vibes, though perhaps now intermitted with both optimism and apathy in equal measure. And once again my inbox, social media and IRL conversations with friends have been filled with ruminations, advice and debates over how we should spend our time. How can we make the most out of the next 12 months? Is it about goals, resolutions, intentions or hustling – or something else entirely? Alternatively, should we just take a (metaphorical) chill pill?
Regardless of how much one engages with or buys into a ‘new year, new me’ rhetoric, there is an inherent belief, or at least trend, in (western) culture that come each January we must come up with new ways to better ourselves, along with a plan for how to make this happen. And if we don’t? Risk being considered lazy.
While I’m not looking to create, discover or cultivate a new version of myself for 2022, I am still, as is tradition, caught up in reading articles, listening to podcasts and making lists about what I want to achieve this year. I’m thinking about where I want to be at the end of the year. Considering how that’s going to impact where I am in two, five or ten years’ time.
And honestly, it’s a bit exhausting. I don’t know if I want to set goals for myself – professionally, financially, personally, or otherwise.
I don’t know if I want to be trying to force myself into spending my spare time, or my working time, focused around a set of objectives with varying tangibility.
But then, I worry this signifies laziness, indifference or carelessness – none of which I want to associate myself with let alone demonstrate or be defined by.
This fear relates to my inherent interest in being able to discover, know and be confident about the best way to spend my time. For so long – I’m talking before it was cool, before I knew it was a book best-seller topic, before I started high school even – I’ve had a degree of obsession with what I should do with myself. What should I achieve, by when. What do I want, and is it enough. Who should I spend my time with, and how often. I’m not sure there is a right answer. There can’t be, given how individual our needs, desires and interests can be.
Yet, last year, when I saw the publication of Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Week’s: Time Management for Mortals, I once again had a spark of hope that someone, somehow, could tell me all I needed to know. I relished the time spent reading the book, half-believing I was investing that time in a future omniscient self, taking a different enjoyment to that which I get from reading fiction for example. And it was a great book. Full of insightful ruminations and helpful tips. And though I’m not sure it gave me a clear path ahead, it did leave me pondering that perhaps the best way to move forward is to choose one or two things to focus on, every now and again, see how you get on and take it from there. Not too much pressure. Not too much expectation. Just an acceptance that you can’t do it all, but you can do some. A lot even. But take it at your own pace – even if 4,000 weeks on this planet seems like a shockingly short time. As a productivity ‘expert’, I feel a comforting level of affiliation with Burkeman’s writing, as we both have a tendency to wonder how to maximise efficiency.
Unfortunately my relationship with time and wanting to make the most of it has often led to discomfort within myself to wholeheartedly enjoy ‘taking it easy’, or ‘relaxing’ for the sake of it, rather than reading to learn, or walking to achieve a higher step count, or watching TV to engage my brain rather than numb the mind.
I get so caught up in worrying about making the most of every hour in every day – every minute even – that I forget to consider what I even think ‘making the most of it’ means.
And so in recent months, particularly through the second half of the pandemic thus far, I have had an underlying intention to lean more into laziness, enjoyment of relaxation, and the small joys in life. Sometimes that has meant spending a Saturday reading a novel instead of updating my CV, or taking a full hour walk on my lunch break instead of hitting the keyboard hard to finish a task, because in the grand scheme of things, I have tried to tell myself, what’s the rush?
But is this even laziness at all, or just a more balanced way to live, work and enjoy life – sometimes moving at a faster pace, and sometimes reducing the speed on the daily treadmill? In fact, does laziness even exist? This was a question examined in a podcast episode I recently listened to (as recommended by The Good Trade, a resource for sustainability, slow living, and self-love, which Lazy Women readers might enjoy taking a look at). Hosts of the Food Heaven Podcast, Wendy Lopez and Jessica Jones, spoke with Dr Devon Price about the concept of laziness, deconstructing the term, analysing the historical context of laziness as it relates to the oppression of marginalised people, and highlighting why it’s not always helpful to be focused on productivity. The fact I listened to it while taking a break from work to go on a walk, making the most of a cold but sunny afternoon, felt delightfully ironic.
And so, as I write in mid-January, I am somewhere between wanting to move past a sense of languishing and ennui left over from 2021, re-read the aforementioned book by Burkeman, make 2022 ‘my year’, and also just be able to chill my mind the hell out.
In essence, I am looking for the perfect balance.
I am wondering if that exists and how to achieve it, without feeling neither burnt-out nor lazy.
As the quest continues, I don’t think either of the named contenders, Productivity nor Laziness, will be named ultimate champion. Instead, I hope that the winner will be myself – my mind – having a focus on, or consideration for, both, and neither, simultaneously.
Written by Lauren Powell.
Lauren is a public policy professional, and Head of Portfolio leading on primary and secondary education, and criminal justice, in the United Kingdom. A Welsh native now based in London, she studied Politics and International Relations at university, which included a year working at an international development consultancy. She enjoys reading, bottomless brunches, and following Yoga with Adriene.