Molly Simpson explores the simple joy in embracing idleness and spontaneity.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when the change happened: when a ‘good day’ came to be measured by productivity levels instead of some more jovial benchmark, like inactivity or blissful idleness. My memory of the childhood weekends, albeit hazy – probably due to their mundane uniformity – is a fog of days spent in front of Nickelodeon and the Sims. Yet I can say with certainty that back then would then have classified them as the goodest of days. Whereas now, a weekend spent on the sofa doesn’t end with the same satisfaction – more like a mix of regret, guilt and self-reprimanding as I promise to use my precious free time more wisely next weekend. A good day is now one where you get shit done.
Now, almost five years into my professional life, I thrive off of turning the to do’s on my list into done’s. Or lists, should I say, since right now I have 18 on the go. I am quite the collector. My list index extends far beyond the gateway To do list. They each contain a world of possibilities: possible Me’s and the many ways that I can be; the things that I can spend my valuable time doing across a variety of genres. To the onlooker the catalogue reveals what inspires me: Books to read categorised into fiction, non-fiction and poetry to cater for my maturing literary tastes; Places to go denoting the restaurants and bars (with an accompanying label for cuisine-type and location) that I’m recommended or my friends have tagged on Instagram; Exhibitions running at the handful of galleries that I can get in for free by pretending to be my boyfriend’s mother in order to use her membership. And so the lists go on: films to watch; blog posts to write; business ideas; countries to visit…
The difference being that now, a decade on from those innocent study leave days back at school which stretched into endless unmonitored hours, the currency of time has strengthened, taking on a new significance that demands curation. There is a direct correlation between the shrinking size of at least one of my lists and how good I deem any day to have been. Since almost everything I spend my time doing ticks a box, I can be at my peak productivity all the time. Haven’t I essentially mastered adulting?
No, not quite.
The saying by Monica Geller, ‘rules control the fun’ comes to mind. My lists prescribe it – they are there to gently remind me of what it is I truly am passionate about when I’m confronted with choice-overload to simplify the choice of what to do with my time. They say: ‘Don’t stress about where to go for dinner on Friday night – here’s a helpful list I made for you to narrow down the options!’ Incredibly helpful, except for those times when the prescribed books, restaurants, films or galleries that my past self has so-lovingly curated for me are usurped in favour of their more fun and reckless cousin: spontaneity.
A Gavin & Stacey marathon used to be the mark of a day well spent at university, but I have more recently felt genuine regret for going off-piste in the Netflix search bar, killing three hours of an evening watching reruns on BBC iPlayer instead of that documentary that has been sitting on my list for months and is supposedly is going to turn me vegan.
I feel a pang of guilt for the books sitting patiently in my phone notes that get bumped down the pecking order with every new podcast I listen to that forces new reads into my view (thanks The High Low). The essential reads get downgraded in favour of alluring alternatives, dragging me further away from the educational and important discourses the activist in me longs to read.
What I’ve considered for so long to be doing me a favour has instead turned the simple pleasures of life into marks of productivity, creating yet more work that I need to fit into the shrinking window I have at the tail-end of each weekday. Consider the concept of ‘spare time’; here are some of the words the thesaurus offers for Spare: unoccupied; unused; emergency; free; or my favourite, more than enough. ‘More than enough?’ we scoff, ‘We wish’. I think we’d all urge that we don’t have enough spare time once we’ve started our careers, but I think we do – it’s there to be forged and discovered.
Spare time is waiting to be taken. Used sparingly. Used unproductively. Used in a way that you can truly say you are taking your time. A true free moment probably can’t be dictated by a list on paper, but demands laziness and spontaneity and ‘sod it!’.
To ‘take your time’ is to eliminate the possibility of it being wrenched away from you by someone else or some other duty. To the point where we’re inactive, where productivity is put on pause and becomes irrelevant as we revel in the briefest of moments where our duties are not our primary motivator.
I’m grateful to the Me’s of the past for having my valued time in its best interests and looking out for me – lists curated to such a degree are the mark of someone who truly cared and clearly knows me very well. But grateful as I am, I also challenge myself to embrace the freedom that spontaneity provides me in the now. As much as it irks the process-driven listophile inside of me, no number of ticked lists can match the sweet satisfaction of an accidentally unproductive, yet joyful day. Sure, we all have the same hours in a day as Beyonce but I’m not Beyonce. The constant stress millennials face to make the most of every second, constantly hustling and catching up on a culture that never stops changing and shifting on the news sites and social media and blogs at our fingertips is exhausting. Not every spare moment has to be profitable, or even educational.
I’m not suggesting we abandon society and the basic idea of being productive for hedonistic anarchy. I hope that the books I want to read will be read; all the better for digesting them in one afternoon without intending to sit down for longer than 10 minutes. I hope that I’ll be able to sample the menus of restaurants all over London; perhaps they’ll taste even better by chancing upon them when I’m in the area rather than planning an 80 minute route on CityMapper to get there. No one will suffer if they sit on my list for a little longer than before – not even me.
Words: Molly Simpson
Illustrator: Connie Noble