Monday, January 1, 2018

Leisure Deficit

“I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual,” observes Alan Bennett in his latest collection of diaries, Keeping On Keeping On.
I came across this line in a book review I read last week and thought well, this is certainly not something I can say about myself. In 2017 I wrote fewer blogposts than any other year since this blog began.

Since I started my PhD in 2014, I have a little more free time than I did when I worked in a law firm. Funnily enough, this free time seems more 'crowded' than before. For some time I've been pondering why this is so, and I now have a theory which is as follows:

Let's say I have F hours of free time per day. Of that, I tend to spend some part (P) coming up with new projects (say P = F/8). The free time I would need to properly pursue all these projects (F*) is a function of P (say F* = 12P). F* − F is my leisure deficit: the gap between the free time I want and the free time I have. (At this point, you might pause to remark that I have a depressing habit of treating leisure like a resource to be exploited for maximum yield. You would be right.) Anyhow, for the (admittedly speculative and simplistic) values I used above, the leisure deficit turns out to be F/2. Which is to say, the more free time I have, the greater my leisure deficit.

Suppose as a finance lawyer, I had an average of 2 hours of free time on weekdays. Then F* (the free time needed) was 3 hours. Now I may have, say, 4 hours of free time, but F* is 6 hours, and the leisure deficit is 2 hours: twice as much as before. As with anything else, it's easier to see graphically:

I was thinking about a new year's resolution to spend more time working on my existing projects and less time coming up with new ones (my Japanese teacher once told me, in a periodic performance review, that one of my weaknesses is that I have too many hobbies). But I could also just make my peace with having some unfinished projects. In one of his essays, Montaigne, a kind of proto-blogger, wrote, "Let death take me planting my cabbages, indifferent to him and still more to my unfinished garden." Though it is not clear from the quote if Montaigne, like me, was wont to leaving projects unfinished simply because he got distracted by a new project; death is a more watertight excuse.

What fate awaits these unfinished projects? Some bide their time in cupboards, like the papier-mâché fruit-bowl which I made but still haven't painted. Others have only an incorporeal existence in my bookmarks folder. These include my abandoned attempts to learn Russian (Languages folder) and meditate every day (Psychology and meditation folder).

In case you're wondering, the parent folder is called Fitness because it started life as a collection of webpages on workouts and fitness plans. Later I subsumed some other folders under Fitness to keep things organised, and on the basis that they too promote a kind of fitness – mental fitness, if you will. The original bookmarks now live in the folder called Actual fitness. Or perhaps I should have called it: Fitness fitness.

Thankfully, some of the projects in the folder are still very much alive, like Knitting, which I learnt to do last month. Others, like this blog, are active, but get less attention than they deserve.

Edit: Since writing this post, I found out that the Swedish economist Staffan Linder also used the phrase 'leisure deficit' though, I believe, in a slightly different context. I will read his book later this month and update this note.

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