Answer: A lot.
I read an amazing article once (which unfortunately I haven’t been able to find again, but here’s a similar one) about how back in the 1900s or so after the Industrial Revolution had changed the way we live, people were optimistic that technology would continue to make our lives more convenient as time went on. People believed that all these awesome new gas-powered cars and factories would reduce the overall amount of work that needed doing, and that the newly reduced workloads would be passed down to the workers. Because machines and automation would be doing so much of the work, people would only have to work four-day weeks, three-day weeks, or even two-day weeks, yet be paid the same amount of money.
Less work for the same money would mean more time could be spent with family, in scholarly pursuits, and in developing hobbies, and society would enter a utopian phase brought on by automation.
Now, we all know that this never fucking happened, and that Americans today work more hours than ever, so why didn’t the leisure dream of yore come true?
The reasons why most people still have to spend most of their time working just to make a living are complex, but a lot of it has to do with more wealth being consolidated among the upper classes (the 2013 documentary Inequality for All explains this pretty well), leaving lower wages and poorer working conditions for the rest of us, who also have to deal with higher expenses for things like housing, education, and health care. This means that we still have to work the same amount of time (or more) to earn the same living.
I’ve written a lot about how working really hard in a specialized career field leaves you with more money but less time, creating a culture where we spend more time at our specialized jobs and have less time for doing other necessary work. This in turn makes us more inclined to pay someone else to watch our kids or clean out the insides of our cars for us, work that more people used to do themselves. We’re also more likely to spend money on appliances like dishwashers rather than washing our own dishes (and you know I don’t mind washing dishes), making the economy even more specialized through automation.
To sum up, instead of using automation to reduce our workloads and make more time for family, hobbies, and creative projects like people a hundred years ago predicted, we keep making the specialized economy bigger and bigger, which makes it easier for the people who own the dishwasher factories and car-cleaning services to make even more money, which basically sucks hard for people who want to do more valuable things with their time.
If Anyone’s Still Reading After That, What Does This Have to Do with Creative Work?
Economic theory aside, part of the quest I’m on right now involves reducing the numbers of hours I spend every week doing Day Job work that isn’t related to my creative work focus. If I had more free hours every week, I could spend them finishing my novel, developing this blog, seeking out paid writing gigs, and in general developing that elusive Career as a Writer I’ve only just begun trying to make for myself—or at least doing things that are more related to that goal.
That would put me in a better position to make money off of my creative work to the point where I could eventually use that income to pay part of (or all!) of my bills and moving me even farther from having to rely on Day Job work. And that’d be sweet.
(Also, in case anyone’s wondering, I consider my editing side work to be related to Writing as a Career in a tangential way, since it sharpens my skills, helps me make contacts, and teaches me new things about how English works—for example, the other day a question in a paper I was editing led to my looking up, writing down, and subsequently remembering the difference between continuously and continually. Skills like that gained from editing are just more tangentially related to creativity than, say, novel writing.)
Time and Money Form a Tradeoff
One of the biggest advantages to the Secret Work-From-Home Day Job that I had last year was that I didn’t have to do it 40 hours a week, and some weeks I didn’t have to do it at all. This not only left me with more time for creative work, but it made me feel like my creative work was my core reason for getting up every day, and that my Day Job was just something I did on the side. I don’t need to tell you how good that felt.
The trade-off, though, was that the uncertainty of not having a steady paycheck caused a lot of stress and left me scrambling for work when I could get it, which also led to my working at least one 65-hour workweek. This life was really hard to keep up, so I realized I had to move on.
Now that I’ve got my Secret Office Day Job, all of my financial and overtime worries have magically disappeared (well, most of them…), but now I spend the majority of my time every week doing Day Job work stuff, and unfortunately, most weeks everything else I’m doing feels like a side project again.
The real next step I’m looking for involves finding work (Day Job or otherwise) where I can make enough money to keep my bills paid while working less than 40 hours a week—or maybe even fewer than 52 weeks a year. Either way would be the same: I’d have more free time, just like the theorists a hundred years ago predicted we’d have.
So, What Would You Do with an Extra 10 Hours a Week?
In case the answer isn’t clear by now, I’d spend it doing creative work as a springboard to moving closer toward doing Writing as a Career, and when I was able to get more income from that creative work I’d use that money to work even fewer Day Job hours, moving to or maybe even approaching that elusive point where I had complete control over my time and only worked on projects I was really passionate about.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most other people feel the same way—at least in some form. Even if it meant taking a financial hit, a lot more living and enjoyment could be had with that extra time, and make us feel better about our lives as long as the bills were paid, since we’d be doing less of that work that gives us zero satisfaction.
And that seems like the biggest goal of all.