what if you did less work?

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Jan 2, 2022   —   4 min read


I was having a conversation the other day about what I’m working on at the moment and how I constantly feel like I’ve almost finished everything but never quite arriving at that point. This came up because my husband and I were planning out the next few months, during which time we want to take some time off to spend with friends and family.

I was being unhelpful: because I’m a freelancer, I don’t have holiday days that I can book like a regular employee, and thus I’ve made working all the time my default. I fear that if I stop for a while the people I write and edit for will make other arrangements and I won’t have any work to come back to. I’d just made this point for the third time when G said something that stopped me in my tracks:

“What if you did less work?”

What if I did less work. It shouldn’t be such a revolutionary thought, but somehow it is. And I’m not the only one to be considering it — after over a year of awful pandemic working conditions, people are quitting jobs in record numbers and demanding the right to continue working flexibly from home. My job has been mercifully unaffected by the numerous lockdowns, but that doesn’t mean I can’t redesign it now that the world has changed.

There are, of course, practical considerations. Financial ones, mainly, but also childcare plus questions of insurance and benefits if you live somewhere where that comes linked to a job. But regardless of your situation, as a prompt for thinking harder about how you spend your time I recommend this question.

I’m too prone to only dabbling around the edges of this issue. I can take a week off, I think, if I do all the work I would have done then beforehand and schedule it all so nobody knows I’m gone. I accept the fact that I will have to work twice as hard when I come back, instead of tackling the root cause of this unpleasant transaction I do with my past and future self. What if… I just didn’t do that work, ever?

In that Amitava Kumar piece about writing I linked to last week, he includes that famous Annie Dillard line: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I spent most of yesterday worrying about how much work I still have to do before the end of the month. I’m not sure I want a lifetime of that.

My morning accountability Zoom for getting writing done continues. If you’d like to join me to do this at 9am BST on weekdays, fill out this form and I’ll send you periodic updates about when it’s happening and what link you’ll need.

The algorithm sent me to this video from ten years ago the other day, an acoustic version of the smash pop hit “We Are Young” by the band Fun. and Janelle Monáe.

It’s been watched over 92 million times since it was first posted in 2011, so I’m certainly not the first person to connect with it. I think it’s so interesting musically, though, which is why I’m pointing you to it now.

Nate Ruess and Janelle Monáe are both solo singers, used to being the only vocalist on a stage, and yet in this arrangement they are doing the unusual thing of working very hard to make their voices sound indistinguishable. Not every vocalist can do this — in choral music, we talk about “the blend” constantly and those with more soloistic tendencies have to work on joining the corporate voice instead of standing out above it. I am weirdly good at blending, even though I’m nothing special as a singer on my own, and I’ve always considered this to be because my personality inclines this way anyway.

(I really miss choir, which is still prohibited under the UK’s current rules. This is probably why I’m doing unsolicited musical analysis of random YouTube videos.)

You can tell that Nate and Janelle are loving their togetherness in this version, though, because they keep looking at each other and smiling every time they execute a perfectly synchronised run or vocal tic. When Janelle finally takes a verse on her own, and then sings a later chorus in canon instead of unison, it’s really shocking, because we’ve become so used to hearing her as part of that joint voice. For a song like this that is more about that one anthemic melody rather than complex harmony, this presentation really, really works.

I also just really like the story of “We Are Young”, which was a huge hit for Fun. that topped charts and won awards. Not that long after this big success, rather than trying to ride the wave into selling more singles and playing that one song at every gig for the rest of their lives, the band went on indefinite hiatus. Jack Antonoff is now a bigtime producer of other people’s music, and all the members have put out their own stuff. It’s interesting, I think, to examine the reasons why people don’t choose to capitalise at times when the market system tells them they should.

Related: I enjoyed this episode of the Switched On Pop podcast about the battle currently going on over how songwriters are paid for their work.

I’m on this week’s episode of The Media Podcast, talking about media news from the latest big podcast acquisition to the neverending privatisation of Channel 4. You can listen to that here or your favourite podcast app.

I was also on the BBC’s Podcast Radio Hour recently, talking about my favourite detective podcasts and interviewing a couple of the people who make them. That’s available here or in the BBC Sounds app (which I believe is finally available to download outside the UK, and is worth it mainly to have easy access at all times to Peter Wimsey radio adaptations).

There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: get my article and podcast recommendations in The Browser, listen to my murder mystery podcast Shedunnit, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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