Vive la France!

The French are frequently cited as among the most productive workers in the world, despite having a 35-hour work week, a minimum of five weeks of annual leave, and a dozen federal holidays. They also have interesting laws, such as a prohibition on overtime, and a prohibition on employees being required to check or respond to work-related emails outside of working hours.

The thinking seems to be not only, “work hard/play hard,” but also, “Never the twain shall meet.” In July and August, many French shops are simply closed–for weeks at a time. When the family is on vacation, they are on vacation. Of course, if health care doesn’t come out of your paycheck, if higher education is all but free, if the minimum wage is about $11.25/hour for all adults, if owning a car really is optional, then taking some vacay rather than keeping the old proboscis ad carborundum becomes possible.

French culture makes clear, bright distinctions between work and not-work, and the result is, apparently, more productivity and more leisure. That strikes me as a win-win, so I’ve been thinking about how to punctuate my day, when I work and live in the same space. How can I have bright lines between”Go for it, Grace Ann!” and “Chillax, Madam Author. Ya done enough for one day.”

One way to make a bright line is to work someplace other than home (duh). Many writers go to a third place to write–a coffee shop, a library, a co-op. I’m not built to do that. I don’t want the carbon footprint (the nearest Starbuck’s is 25 miles away), and I can’t write where there’s ambient noise (much less music).

Another way to make these bright, clear lines is with the clock. Write like a demon until, say, 2 pm, then pack it in until evening. I have better luck with this one, because I wake up knowing my best writing hours are immediately upon rising. I also have a firm, no-slip rule that I am forbidden to be on social media before noon. And I have days when I’m off to the barn to ride rather than jamming out the words.

I no longer have a commute to make a clear distinction between work and home, no longer have a landline that’s “personal” versus office phone numbers that are for business. The court schedule doesn’t result in weekends “off,” and my  office is my kitchen.

The result is that weekends are frequently my most productive writing time–when nobody working a regular 40 hours is likely to bother me–and Tuesday and Friday are my errands and fresh air days. It’s working for me, but finding my balance is still very much a work in progress. I do OK with the work end of the continuum–the word counts are piling up!–but the play end of the equation will take more thought.

How do you divide your energy between roles? Between work and play, between hobbies and housework? Is there any significant change to the schedule or work allocation you’d like to make some day? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Heir, which re-released this past week, and a $50 Amazon gift card.

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19 comments on “Vive la France!

  1. I have the commute which transitions me from home to work. It helps. I dread the drive in the winter and in the summers I sit in Cape traffic.

    I am not sure how I would switch roles without the drive.You have given me something to think about.

    I enjoy getting up early when the house is quiet. I have my coffee, feed the dogs and read. It’s my time.

    And Saturdays are reserved for dog class— I get up do a few quick chores and leave before any interruptions can take place.

    I think I am “too scheduled “ ! The only way for me to have balance between work-home- fun is to schedule. But, what if I didn’t have to work or commute? I think it would take me awhile to adjust to the freedom. It would open up so many possibilities!

  2. I would love to spend much less time at work!! I am really looking forward to when I can retire *sigh*
    Unfortunately, there’s not a way for me to pull back at work.

  3. … and an itinerant traveller in France during those months can expect some “creative” meals, lodging etc.

    I have great difficulty shifting gears on my own, so the “schedule” of my husband’s workday becomes mine. I have students at specific times… usually. I try to be done with the day by 7 pm so the ends can be tied off by 10 pm and I can sleep. I seem to think of all sorts of things once the lights go out.

    • Certain clothes are “in” and some are “out” and others are “no one better come to the door.” Heavy socks are for computer work, athletic shoes are for house cleaning, garden clogs for letting the dog out and so further…

  4. You know, when I look back, I realize that my work life and private life were always separate. The only time that I seemed really aware of it was when my mother was so ill right before she died. When I stepped into the office, everything went away (my worries about my mother) except what was going on right there. I remember being amazed at how strange that seemed.

    It was like they were two separate worlds and I enjoyed them both.

  5. I, like you, mostly work at home. I teach (voice), rehearse, practice and write–all components of what I actually do with my life–mostly at home. I also take voice lessons almost every week during the year from a master voice teacher.

    There are certain days reserved for lessons, certain days reserved for rehearsals and I have deadlines for my various writing projects–I write a weekly blog for my professional society’s website and write program notes for various performing arts organizations–which are not always the same. I practice either early in the morning or late at night, depending on what day it is, and try to get at least 60 minutes in every day.

    Monday is my own lesson day and I head to the grocery store after. I put stuff away when I get home, then it’s on to whatever project I’m working on. Fridays are reserved for other housework related things I need to accomplish in the morning and once a month, I have a haircut, then I finish what I need to. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are combinations of rehearsals and practicing and score study. I have regular meetings of an arts alliance organization I belong to some Thursdays too.

    It’s a fluid life and the weekends are reserved for concerts, more elaborate dinners with our family and rest. Sometimes, as concert or deadlines approach, I may need those days (and I agree with you, it tends to be quieter, phone-call-wise)to catch up with projects.

    This *rhythm* of my week took me almost a year to develop. When you have ALL WEEK to do something and no real deadlines (it was a bit before I got program note gigs)to do it, it’s overwhelming. Like anything else, if you break it down into chunks, it isn’t daunting. But it takes time to figure out what works for YOU!

    Good luck, Grace. You’ll figure it out!

  6. I have a job and not a career so I think keeping the separation is fairly easy. Working part-time is easy to manage but what I have more trouble with is containing the parenting. It is hard, but at least for me, essential to have spaces where I am myself only and not a parent. I assume as kids age this becomes easier, but for now I find it the harder boundary to enforce. I guess maybe it is a different definition of work.

  7. I no longer work outside my home, tho not officially retired. So my schedule is largely up to me. I consider it a successful day if I knock some things off my to-do list (regular chores like doing dishes & laundry don’t get on that list, they just have to get done to have an organized life). Other than reading (which is more than a hobby, I consider it a necessity) I haven’t gotten much done in the area of hobbies lately. My goal continues to be clearing things out of my house – it’s a slow process best tackled when I’m in the right mood to let things go.

  8. Reading your blog this week I thought I had nothing I could comment on because I am well and truly entrenched in my retirement.I have been retired for several years.It was difficult to adjust at first but I found a happy balance of rest ,housework projects meeting friends exercise gardening travel.But now I have a new problem!!.I have lost my get up and go,some days I just do nothing,those are getting to frequent and I don’t like being like this,I don’t feel I’ll but my body feels old and weary.My friends have to coax me to join them because I try to make excuses not to go out.I’ve gone from having a well balanced daily plan to no plan at all Any ideas folks.Perhaps anew book from Grace will help.Enjoyed love letters.

    • Brenda, if you lived next door I’d bring you the bright sunshine and my puppy to watch. Wishing you (and all of us) another book and better days.

    • Brenda, this feels terribly nosy but I fairly recently visited my doctor with this same story. He did the physical to rule out any physical ailments and said I might be depressed. Within a month I felt much better, more energy, fewer aches and pains, fewer morose thoughts. I wish you all the best.

    • Hi Brenda,
      Even in retirement, you need your purpose. You need to get up every day and shower, eat breakfast, and exercise. There are so many places that survive on volunteers…good and worthy causes where you can have a huge impact. A local food pantry, your church, your library. Please find a place to serve, find a park to go for a walk daily, find a reason to go out each day. Your body will feel younger. Your energy level will increase.

      Good luck!

  9. Right now I work full time, and frankly, I work at the work place, do the grocery shopping, and take care of our pets and the basics of housework. Leisure is stolen and real cleaning does not happen. I really want to retire.

    I can officially retire in a a little more than a month but can’t afford to right now. The nice thing when I do retire is that I will be able to keep my house and yard better. It will be good to live in a clean, orderly house.

    I have learned to take it a day at a time and not beat myself up about it. It will still be there tomorrow. (argh)

  10. I’ll be honest that housework has never been a priority with me. I do a bit more now that I’m retired but that’s because I decided I no longer had the very convenient excuse of being too busy due to work and things didn’t have to be so messy. So I put the important (to me) things to do on my calendar and the reminders nag me until I do them and mark them as “complete.” I may only dust every other month but since I only dusted once or twice a year before, I figure I’m ahead. Mostly I just decide in the morning what really has to be done today (such as “call the bank” or “do taxes” or whatever) and once it is done, I let myself play (aka “read”).

    When I was working, however, I made it very clear that I would not be taking work home or answering work phone calls or reading work emails while on vacation. I was paid for 40 hours and 40 hours is what they got (or less if I was productive enough and I usually was). So once I was home, I didn’t even think about work.

  11. I am the worst about dividing my energy between work and play.

    I stay late at work to get more done; check the preview of emails on my phone on days off – just in case there is something my team needs to know; and will always respond to text messages about work which they only do when there is a problem they need an answer to. I respond to texts in part because their previous manager would never respond even when he told them to text or call with problems – and the employees haven’t been with the company for very long and they need the confidence of knowing I’ll be there to answer their questions. To be fair, I do respond to friends and family text messages, calls, and emails pretty quickly whenever possible and necessary as well. I am working on leaving work behind when I leave and some days I do better than others, but still need to work on it.

  12. I have a similar lack of distinction between home and work/school. I was running an office for a small business from home but decided to go back to school last fall. I only have classes a couple of days a week and the rest are online. Plus all the homework.. so boundaries are blurred all over.

    My fondest dream would be substantially less housework. My children are adults now.. but you wouldn’t know it from the way they act. Looking forward to an empty nest someday. I might hate it.. but I’d love to try it before I decide..

  13. I like a more traditional schedule. I drive into work. I don’t have e-mail on my phone. My husband works from home. He will work for a while and then take a break. We have two very spoiled cats inside the house and two very spoiled dogs outside. You he enjoys playing with the fur babies. In an ideal world I would be retired, but that may be a while.

  14. I am still rushing from crises to crises and then relaxing to read. I work at a very special electronics plant as a receptionist from 8-3:30. (We are into fishery conservation through the application of technology and science–we even have a dna reader backpack to help biologists check on the inhabitants of fresh water habitats)
    But regarding relaxation, I am re-reading the many Grace Burrowes books that I own. I enjoy the sensitive and kind folks in those stories and the narratives have been a consolation and inspiration this early 2019 as I deal with family problems that seem overwhelming at times.

    A writer can be a friend to folks whom he or she never meets. Thank you.

  15. This is a constant struggle. I still have a day job (transactional lawyer for a big corporation) and a long commute in horrible traffic. I’ve negotiated working from home two days a week, and try not to check my work email over the weekend. I hire stuff done instead of doing it myself the way I was taught to do. Slow, steady, and persistent is my motto. Over time, I get the creative stuff that I love done, but it’s so slow. I’m would retire now, but can’t afford that yet. I have a schedule planned out, so when I do retire, I’ll be ready.