“Only the man who says ‘no’ is free.”

Over the weekend I was reading some extracts from the cookery writer Nigel Slater’s diaries. He gets up at 5.30am every day and works his arse off. “I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have a book, a column or a television programme on the go. I have worked almost every week without a break since I left school at 16. I’m lucky and I’m grateful.” But he doesn’t work on Fridays, never has. “Friday is my day off. Sacrosanct. Written in stone. Everyone who works with me knows I haven’t so much as taken a phone call on a Friday for 25 years. There is the odd bugger who pushes their luck, but most people know they take their chances.”

I really identify with this attitude of loving what you do and getting shitloads done, but on your own terms. It reminded me of the  Herman Melville quote above. Which in turn reminded me of a recent post on Julian Watts’ brilliant blog, A Creative Meander. Writing about the importance of carving out mental space among the chaos and deadlines of advertising, he says, “The best people I’ve ever worked with, and the ones I’ll work with again in a heartbeat, knew how to say ‘no’. They still get it all done, and at the highest quality finish, but they don’t mix their focal planes. 
And the best agencies and companies know the threshold of their capability. And have mastered the art of saying, ‘No, not yet.’”

I’m a workaholic. It’s partly because I absolutely love my job but also because, unlike those people Julian mentioned, I’m not great at saying ‘no’. Over the last couple of years I’ve got better at it. I’ve learned to stop believing great work automatically means crazy hours. I’ve begun to realise the massive importance of time management and tried to improve at it. And, most important of all, I leave on time on Tuesdays to take my son to taekwondo. It’s a relatively small thing but, like Nigel Slater’s Fridays, it has huge symbolic significance for me. Nine times out of ten I make it home in time to get to the class. But the other one in ten is an epic fail by me. After all, as TS Eliot wrote in The Confidential Clerk: “If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms upon life, then you must accept the terms it offers you.”

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About antmelder
Creative Partner at DDB Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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