career Subscriber Exclusive

'I've spoken a lot about not loving work. Here's how I actually set my boundaries with it.'

I've been talking about work a lot recently. 

It started on Mamamia Out Loud, when I admitted during records that, to be perfectly honest, work isn't my top priority and actually, I often resent the concept of it completely. 

This escalated when Mia Freedman stepped in and asked me to argue my case in an episode that we dedicated to the topic. Yes, I got into a debate with my actual boss, Mia Freedman, about why I don't love working. I followed this up with a column about generational expectations and why work isn't totally working for younger people anymore, in the sense that it is failing to provide stability or access when we take into account issues like the climate and housing crises (things are so bad that I can pluralise 'crisis' in sentences now). 

Simply put, I love my job and I'm passionate about all of the writing and presenting and journalism that I do – but it just isn't everything to me. And despite the fact that I am ambitious and dedicated, I don't buy into hustle culture (an ideology of overworking for overwork's sake). 

But what I haven't taken the time to explain is all of the reasoning that maintains my boundaries with work and stops it from seeping into my personal life. It didn't actually occur to me until this week, when Holly Wainwright pointed out how difficult she finds this process, that I might have some kind of wisdom to share (albeit a rather silly, pointless kind of wisdom). 

As a very obvious disclaimer to this conversation, I have to note that I am incredibly privileged to work in media, a very topsy-turvy landscape where a lot of guardrails that appear in other industries don't really apply. I am also 30 years old, I do not have a mortgage and do not have anybody financially dependent on me, which is a set of hefty privileges. I acknowledge all of this – these are just the things that I tend to consider instead of routinely placing work at the top of my priority list. 

We'll start with the extremely basic: I outright refuse to check emails and most Slack messages outside of work hours (unless it really seems like there's some shit going down in there). The truth is, I've learned to make an honest appraisal of the stakes and, unless you're responsible for lives or millions of dollars, or potentially both, the likelihood is that most things can just wait. 

But then there are deeper assessments that I've made over the years, the primary one being something that I've learned through years of freelancing and many more people seemed to learn whilst working at home during the pandemic, which is that we can be really, really honest about the hours in which we're genuinely productive. 

I worked with a therapist throughout the first lockdown because I started to struggle with depression and found, like most people, that being confined to the house made it really difficult to hold all of the threads of my life together. The most revolutionary thing to come out of those sessions with her bespectacled face over Zoom was a timetable that she helped me put together, which included strict brackets of time in which to wake up, work, and sleep. 

Watch: What is the value of unpaid work? Article continues after video. 

Video via UN Women.

When I added up the time that was allotted for work in that schedule, it came to four hours across the day and it literally didn't make any difference to the amount of work that I was producing. And I swear, it's not just me. Research from a UK study has found that over the course of an eight-hour workday, most workers are only productive for just under three hours a day. As much as most of us have been forced back into regular work routines now, I still try to be as honest with myself as possible about that bracket of productivity. 

I don't necessarily believe in quiet quitting, I believe in working ridiculously hard for four hours and then loudly leaving.

With any luck, employers will also become more honest with us about productivity, too, as the net benefits of the four-day work week become more obvious with more large-scale experimentation. By the way, the results of a recent experiment involving 10 Australian businesses found that it was incredibly successful and employers rated the working model an average score of 9.25 out of ten. 

On top of this, I try to be as pragmatic as possible about the reasons that I'm actually working. I have financial goals set in mind beyond, you know, just keeping myself alive. For example, I've made it very clear to myself that working right now is working for the sake of saving up a house deposit – yes, a comically difficult goal but a goal nonetheless. 

In a way, thinking about work like this can be the ultimate antithesis to hustle culture: it's targeted and reminds you of the transactional nature of work, instead of allowing it to become the be-all and end-all. 

Listen to the Mamamia Out Loud team discuss working from home below. Article continues after podcast. 

Finally, I try to be realistic about all of the emotional energy that I pour into other parts of my life and acknowledge that, in general, most relationships will actually outlast jobs. In fact, the average tenure in a job in Australia is just over three years. For parents and carers, this will probably be painfully obvious but yes, we (and sometimes our governments) should value the effort that we put into the people around us on a par with jobs. Work can't be everything because people and well-being need to take up most of that space.

I know that a lot of this may come off as naïve or patently ideological. I also know that it's going to take work systems, legislation and employers a long time to catch up, even if general sentiments towards work are changing. But I do think that within all of this, there's a set of questions that we can keep asking ourselves if we find ourselves getting burnt out or too swamped by our jobs. 

The first of which is honestly just: how important is work, really? 

Elfy Scott is an executive editor at Mamamia. 

Feature Image: Supplied + Mamamia. 

Mamamia wants to hear about your current financial situation and how you feel about money! Take our short survey to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher!
Unlock unlimited access to the best content for women