Ever curious, Drake’s calls on friends, family and acquaintances for an episodic enquiry focused on a single theme. Illustrations by Alec Doherty.
Returning to our on-going series of Surveys, this time around we approach the eternal question of work/life balance. Bringing together a group across a range of professions, from acclaimed sculptor Thomas J Price to busy V&A curator Johanna Agerman Ross, our participants offer a peek into an average working day.
Reflecting on the daily rituals and processes that keep them productive and engaged, our crew reveal the unique and varied ways they approach the so-called 9 to 5. Whether it’s carefully managing their environments or identifying their most productive hours, each uncovers their personal tricks and tools used to navigate the working week.
John Spinks, Photographer
My time is arranged around my son's school day, (he's eight).
Before he was born, my days were quite shapeless; I'd do what needed to be done when it needed doing and most of the time that seemed to work well enough. One of the very many remarkable things he brought with him when he arrived was a sense of time being precious. I could see it passing before my eyes as he changed and grew. I began to try to structure my days quite carefully, these days school drop off in the morning and pickup in the afternoon are good moments for me to start and finish the working day.
I'm doing a lot of writing and research at the moment, and writing I find terribly difficult. I've discovered that for certain periods I'm able to work in particular places, but that after a time I have to find somewhere new. That can simply be moving from room to room. I try not to leave the house if possible. For about a year though I've been working in the reading rooms at the British Library, Humanities Two is my favourite. The ritual of walking the short distance to my son's school then taking the train to Euston and wandering down to the library is one that I really enjoy. It might be time to move on again soon though.
In the past I would make photographs whenever I could grab a few hours, now that has changed and one day each week is devoted to going out with a camera. It has made an enormous difference to the way I work. It allows time to think much more precisely about where I'm going to photograph and how I'm going to do it. In an interesting way, structure has brought freedom.
Thomas J Price, Sculptor
Over the years I’ve learnt how I best function via trial and error, with one discovery, ‘there is no short-cut to quality,’ shining through in particular. This is fortunate because I seem to take ages to do anything. I can turn any activity into a drawn out ritual, from the way I grind and then slow pour my coffee each morning, to selecting the correct studio clothing for the task in-hand, (I mean, I even have an “ideas jacket”.)
I think of my day as beginning the night before when I take time to mentally go through what I’ve just been working on, the ideas that have been generated and the objectives I want to achieve the next day. I’ll often make a list, but mainly it’s about preparing my unconscious mind before I go to sleep.
I definitely consider the thing people call “creativity” as just a skill that needs to be practised daily to maintain its development. I find the practice a real pleasure, so it’s pretty much been absorbed into my way of life, with almost everything presenting an opportunity to do so. I’ve come to think of this as “managing my brainwaves,” but practically speaking it’s just a guided form of daydreaming. The relaxed mind keeps a particular idea in focus, allowing its unconscious faculties to fully engage with a myriad of flowing possibilities and then taking hold of the thoughts that pop to the surface in order to inspect them more closely.
Now this might sound good but actually to the outside world it probably just registers as me staring into space, which I do a lot. Staring into my coffee, staring into my unconscious; staring into the imagined life of the person sitting opposite me on the train. It’s all just practice.
Johanna Agerman Ross, Founder of Disegno magazine, V&A Curator
In the last year my commute to work has changed from a one-kilometre bicycle ride through Hackney, to a 12-kilometre ride across London, taking in all the major landmarks.
The setting of my work has been similarly transformed; from a small creative studio publishing independent magazines, to a vast, national museum with a collection of over three million objects.
With so much of my routine changing completely, it might seem an odd thing to focus on, but what strikes me the most is how much physical ground I cover daily. Besides the bike ride, working in a museum entails frequent walks to meetings, to the collections store and to check in on the galleries spread over a 12-acre site. As a result, all sartorial choices are now made with comfort and flexibility in mind, while not looking out of place next to suits and ties.
It means that I am on constant look-out for lanyards, bum-bags, garments with a lot of pockets and the perfect flat shoe. It’s a novelty to let my occupation influence the way I dress to that degree. For the first time in my life, I feel like I don a uniform, albeit one that I have decided myself.
Geordie Willis, Brand Director, Berry Bros & Rudd
My working day can be wonderfully varied, from art directing a photo shoot in East London to hosting a lunch in our 19th Century Directors’ Dining Room. I also spend a lot of time travelling, whether that be back-and-forth between our historic home in St James’s Street and our warehouses in Basingstoke, or indeed farther afield to visit the talented wine & spirit producers that we represent. Whiling away the time in transit, I’ve become rather addicted to podcasts.
My commute is just long enough to enjoy the extraordinary The Daily from the team at The New York Times and I’ve recently powered through The Butterfly Effect, a remarkably tender depiction of the porn industry by master storyteller Jon Ronson. I’ve also just discovered Charlie Gladstone’s The Mavericks Podcast, in which he talks to people who have done something a little bit different, from authors and artists to retailers and chefs. Working for a 300-year-old family business is rewarding in so many ways, but it is also important to find some space to think and be inspired. I’ve been encouraged to try The Mindfulness App but to my shame I haven’t yet found the time. I’m sure that when I do I’ll be wondering why I’ve waited so long.
Stefi Orazi, Graphic Designer and Author
I have a fairly short attention span. Over the years I’ve learnt how to use this to my advantage in my work. I like to have a lot of different projects on the go at any one time. I’m not one for routine and no one day is the same. I currently have three self-initiated projects that I am working on: a book on the Barbican Estate, a follow up book to my first entitled Modernist Estates: Europe, and an online property lettings platform. I interweave these projects with ‘proper’ work, designing for clients such as Waddington Custot Gallery, the V&A and the Barbican Art Gallery. One minute I might be typesetting an art catalogue, the next photographing an octogenarian in a brutalist Parisian estate, and the next interviewing the woman who manages the launderette in the Barbican.
I think it is important to work in the way that suits you. I’m not a morning person and take the first few hours out of bed at my own pace, which sounds like a luxury, lazy almost but conversely I’ll work to 8pm or beyond most evenings and weekends if I need to. I’m currently working from home, which has it’s own challenges, but I have different places for different types of work. I love the background noise of cafés and that’s where I do most of my writing.
Juggling so many projects means there’s always a deadline on the horizon which keeps me motivated. I make endless ‘jobs on’ lists — the process of writing everything down is the key to making this work without my head exploding.