In the age of self-isolation and potential quarantine, will a new kind of work take hold? Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson has some advice for those who suddenly find themselves to be work-from-home freelancers
I find that, as a self-employed person, I need to impose some sort of routine on myself. Without the bells of matins to summon you to your prayers or labours, you need to be the boss of yourself. Personally, I need about four hours to work on my own each day. I don’t have a study with a door I can shut. My desk is in the TV room, where the children play. Victoria wanders in and asks me for a password. Sick children watch Japanese animations on the telly.
Being naturally lazy and easily distracted, I have to be very disciplined. It is so easy to waste a whole morning in pointless meetings or email exchanges.
One difficulty is that the laptop itself throws up a myriad of distractions. Right now, I can count ten, most of which can be excused as work-related: Facebook, Idler orders, LinkedIn, the Guardian website, Google Analytics, YouTube ukulele tutorial for ‘Here Comes the Sun’, email, the position of my books on Amazon… So, during my four hour stint, I will quit my mail programme for an hour or two at a time and also quit my web browser. That way I can actually get some writing and thinking done.
It must have been easy for the Edwardian gentleman in the old days to work. You opened your post over breakfast and read The Times. Then you retired to your study to read, write letters and think, and emerged at one o’clock. No telephone. Cook will have prepared your meal. No washing- up. Then out for a stroll with the dog before returning to your study and dropping off in front of the fire that someone else has laid.
Idling is good in three ways: it is enjoyable in itself; it is good for the health; and it is creatively fertile. Idling is a therefore a business asset not only because you will not be tired all the time, but because it is when we are idle that we start thinking. But we need to be efficient in order to be idle. We need to make time for idling, and we need to be pretty ruthless about it.
So how can we be efficient? It is not easy, particularly if, like me, you have a tendency to revert to a state of chaos if given half the chance. Also, other people are quite happy to bust into your idle time. You have to be very strict with them.
The therapist and author Rachel Kelly says that her trick is to ensure that the hour from two till three every day is her quiet time. That is when she shuts the door, and reads, rests, snoozes or meditates, and no one is allowed to interrupt her. If she misses her hour off, she says, her whole day collapses. If you want to be idle, you have to learn how to shut the door.