What if knowledge work changed with the seasons?
Last week, my sister and I hiked the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier—a beautiful romp through alpine meadows appropriately named “Paradise”—and spent some time watching marmots. The furry creatures crawled over rocks to nibble on vegetation, ravenously consuming calories in preparation for the long winter. Snow would cover Paradise within a couple of months and last well into June next year. Whether the marmots were ready or not, winter was coming.
Leaves are changing in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the start of cooler weather, shorter days, and the holiday season. Some may mourn the end of summer while others may welcome pumpkins and turkey, but autumn occurs regardless. Earth doesn’t care about our preferences.
Where I live (currently in Seattle), this seasonal change is reflected in the daylight hours. Winter, spring, summer, and autumn are each distinguished by the length of their days. We can try to manipulate our schedules via daylight savings time, but the amount of daylight is immutable. Even when the U.S. makes daylight savings time permanent in 2023, our usable hours remain unchanged.
Like the marmots, humans have learned to adapt to seasonal cycles, as our hunter-gatherer and agrarian pasts required us to honor seasons. For instance, farming cycles influenced school year schedules. The long hours and warm summer weather required more labor in the fields, so children had to take a break from schoolwork to lend a hand on the family farm.
Over the last century, the U.S. economy has shifted from agriculture as the dominating industry to the knowledge sector—with manufacturing, technology, and service labor becoming the primary employment means. Our industrial need for child labor in farming decreased, so some school systems are reducing summer break.
With the help of reliable electricity and a more sophisticated supply chain, it’s become easier for humans to resist Earth-imposed seasons. During the winter, we can stay up later with the help of artificial lighting and heating. We can eat fresh, traditionally seasonal fruits—avocados, strawberries, apples—year-round. We can engage in previously inaccessible activities during off-seasons—we can make snow for skiing in late fall or play tennis indoors during the wet and rainy early spring.
Consider the schedule of knowledge workers. Apart from a two-week vacation and weekends, modern workers are in a perpetual state of Groundhog Day.
While this is a much better problem than the alternative—a primitive existence without reliable electricity and indoor plumbing—it’s monotonous and not the most conducive to our natural rhythms. Creativity requires new experiences and an occasional break from routine—both of which seasons can provide.
What if we embraced seasonality instead of fighting it?
Imagine a work schedule allowing more flexible summers to enjoy the weather and a month-long holiday break. For some professions, portions of this are possible: Teachers get summers off, landscapers are free in winter, and contract workers can pick up six-month gigs to have periods of intense work followed by a season of leisure.
Most of us can’t radically modify our work schedule, but maybe we could embrace seasonality in areas we can control.
For instance, I experimented with seasons for sports this year. In spring, I was focused on marathon running. In summer, soccer. Now, in the fall, rock climbing. This winter, I’m excited to get into skiing.
I’ve dabbled with this in my creative life too. I’ve tried National Novel Writing Month in November to cope with short, gray days.
I hope that framing a period as a season—a brief timeframe with unique characteristics—will yield a more creative harvest.
- Seasonality is inevitable and natural, so don’t resist it.
- Define themes for different seasons to add variety.