Making art can be confronting if you feel your work doesn’t live up to your high expectations. You may, especially as a beginner, find that because your expectations are so high you immediately feel you’re failing. It doesn’t help that we downplay the importance of consistent practice over time, expecting ourselves to get better too quickly. On the Hurry Slowly podcast, Tami Forman explains “We kind of collectively hate the answer that things take longer and that time is required to produce things.”
In the episode (titled What Gets Measured, Gets Managed), Forman talks about performance and how inefficient time can be to measure it: “It is extrodinarily difficult to measure performance, both quality of performance and quantity of output. And so a time clock it feels objective and again goes back to this idea of the factory floor where literally time equalled product. The amount of time you spent on the floor was the amount of product that you created. And we haven’t come up with something better.”
The idea of busywork can make us feel like we’re achieving something, we’re earning our badge for “I worked hard today,” but it may be that you’re not actually getting any important work done. It’s familiar for us to believe time equals output, “I think this is why we struggle so much with the time thing and why we all sort of gravitate to it because it feels very objective and measurable, how much time I spent in the office is how hard I worked. And it feel imposed upon us in a way that’s comfortable.”
While practice over time is an important key in improving your art performance, so is the power of playing, taking thing slower, pottering around, resting and letting your ideas slowly hatch.
To embrace rest, slowness and not-doing, to unbusy and schedule time in advance to recharge seems counter-intuitive in a world where there’s always something that needs doing. You could tick something off your to-do list or search the internet endlessly, but the to-do’s will never be done and not taking time to unplug and switch off from work is actually holding you back.
In this interview, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explains “It seems self-evident that more work equals more output. This is true of machines, so why shouldn’t it be true of us? Well it’s not. We have adopted industrial-age attitudes, and they don’t really work for us. There is also a long-standing assumption that not working is morally suspect.”
Is not-working laziness? Does our culture frown upon idleness because succeeding and accomplishing is more desirable and is an outward arbitrary indicator of ‘success in life’? We’re certainly taught at a young age to work hard – to keep your nose to the grindstone – and eventually receive a reward. But as Soojung-Kim Pang points out “Work and rest are actually partners… You can’t have the high without the better you are at resting, the better you will be at working.”
Rest is overlooked in a modern world of productivity and hyperconnection to technology. Why do less when you can do more? But more does not necessarily equal success, satisfaction or contentment (most likely long term it will bring overwhelm, anxiety and burnout). And if incorporating rest into your daily life improves your work life, then let go of the reigns a little and regularly schedule off time.
“I am a lot more conscious now when I am in line at the bank or have a couple of free minutes; rather than pulling up my phone and checking e-mail, I will let my mind wander. I think it’s a good discipline and I think I have become better at crafting those moments that invite insight. And I carry a little notebook and pen all the time now.” – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang