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[OPINION] Why can’t we optimise our work days?

My partner and I often discuss quitting whatever it is we think we do for a living, which for the most part is journalism, and going to plumbing school or becoming a carpenter’s apprentice. These are jobs that have actual skills. You use your hands, get down and dirty, physically see the results of your work, earn your day’s keep and then go home. Happy, satisfied and empty of any homework.

On several occasions, while travelling through Europe or the UK, I met and befriended people who adopted so-called blue-collar jobs as their daily bread. They were happy. They lived in small but comfortable living spaces, they did not struggle to put food on the table and the fact that I met most of them on a night out on a town on in a restaurant or pub obviously indicated that they had more than enough money to go out and have a good time. Basically, they weren’t living hand to mouth, but they weren’t living as kings, and they were happy. Very, very happy.

It’s a bit different in South Africa. I have employed plumbers to fix my shower or fix my toilet, electricians to stitch together my wires and carpenters to mend wooden floors and none of them was without struggle. In fact, even the ones who weren’t self-employed and worked for big companies - where I assume they received some sort of job security and social benefit - often asked me afterwards if I had any additional work for them, privately. Where they would earn their keep and not have to hand a massive portion of it over to the boss. I have their numbers, and now when I need help I call them personally.

These types of skilled professionals in South Africa do not have it easy. They are struggling to support their families, they do not live in small but comfortable housing in the city where they do not have elaborate amounts of money to travel to work, and you definitely will not find them on your night out on the town because there is little to spare. There is one common thread, however, that runs through the veins of these professionals and their equals in Europe or the UK – they do not take their work home with them. They can return to work the next day, give it their all, put in a hard day’s labour and leave empty handed, without guilt and without having to catch up on anything they missed out during their actual working day. Happy, proud and satisfied.

I thought about all of this and then I thought about how often I feel happy, proud and satisfied with a day’s work. The answer: almost never because I can’t actually measure a day’s work. I also asked myself how often I feel like I am just working all the time. Answer: there really is no beginning and there is no end.

A lot of other people feel the same way. They’re mostly my age and so I guess you could call them sort of millennial. And that generation comes with a host of problems when it comes to productivity. But the feeling is the same for almost anyone who has information thrown at them all day from a laptop or a desktop or a phone and now, even from a watch. In my case, I thought maybe it’s because the media industry just is what it is. It’s an around-the-clock, always working, always thinking, sometimes producing kind of thing.

There is no beginning and no end to our work because we’re driven to distraction by a lot of things that don’t concern us. So the proverbial toilet ends up getting fixed after hours, at home when we’re too tired to care about the results of our efforts. What is it that is more important than looking back on the day you just had, appreciating that you got some work done and then literally clocking out.

Why can’t we just optimise our work days? And before you tell me there is an app that can help with this sort of thing, let me just say: using an app for this would only take more time.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.

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