The Legal Copywriting Company discusses the importance of taking downtime from work
A few months ago, every time I opened my laptop to write a legal blog or webpage I wanted to cry. For the first time, I found myself hating what I used to love.
After a particularly exhausting week, walking back to Kings Cross station after a day of meetings, I found myself in tears to my husband, telling him the idea of writing copy for the rest of my life filled me with a leaden dread.
Then I read Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.
This remarkable book completely changed the way I work and live, and helped me fall in love with my career all over again.
Why do we feel we must burn the midnight oil?
Prior to the industrial revolution, there was little delineation between work, play and rest. Most of the population worked on the land, eating what they grew and selling any surplus at the local market. Tradespeople lived above their shops and teachers often provided lessons from their homes.
The Industrial Revolution not only introduced long working hours, but it created a crystal-clear separation between work and home. Factory workers laboured, sweltered and often died completing 12-16 hour days.
Then they went home to slums.
The labour movement, which fought for and won the right to paid holidays and shorter working hours created a distinction between work and leisure, introducing the coveted 40-hour week.
But despite coming so far (in theory), many of us, especially in the legal profession, are regularly working the same number of hours as their ancestors who slogged away in 19th century factories.
Technology plays a part. Mobile phones, wi-fi and laptops mean we can never switch off. And unfortunately, in some law firms, there is an expectation, not only from clients, but management too, that the trade-off for promotion and large salaries is brutal hours.
Long hours, compromised quality?
Although the general public may disagree, law often requires deep, analytical thought and concentration. Both these skills are compromised by tiredness, as has been confirmed by numerous studies.
And what about quality of life? We are blessed with such a short time on this planet, is it worth grinding away night after night until 10pm, when perhaps, by adding a little balance in your life, you could get just as much done and clock off at six?
The elements of rest
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang breaks his book into two parts: stimulating creativity and sustaining creativity. After researching some of the greatest creative and productive characters in history, he found that most engaged in only four hours ‘work’ a day, napped regularly, got plenty of sleep, had a reliable routine and walked for miles most days.
However, rest is not passive. Exercise is vital; the author found several great scientists were accomplished athletes. In fact, according to a study done by UCLA in the 1950s, the best scientists “showed an unusual urge to experiment athletically as well as scientifically”.
Deep play is also important. Rather than spend time watching TV or surfing their phone, creative people make an effort to cultivate hobbies and intellectual interests outside of work.
What I did
After reading Rest, I made some serious changes in my life. I started exercising regularly and am training for the London Marathon 2018, running on behalf of the Epilepsy Society. I have also gone back to researching my book based on the life of Maud Croft, one of the first four female solicitors. I walk my two dogs for an hour every lunch time and am indulging in my new hobby of cooking vegan meals most evenings.
Do I finish work at 5.30-6pm every night? Of course not. However, my life is definitely more balanced than before, and I feel mentally and physically healthier.
But most importantly, that elated feeling I used to get when I sit down at my computer to write has returned.
Well, most days.