The medieval farmer simply had no reason to adopt such a bizarre idea in the first place. Workers got up with the sun and slept at dusk, the lengths of their days varying with the seasons. There was no need to think of time as something abstract and separate from life: you milked the cows when they needed milking and harvested the crops when it was harvest time, and anybody who tried to impose an external schedule on any of that—for example, by doing a month’s milking ia single day to get it out of the way, or by trying to make the harvest come sooner—would rightly have been considered a lunatic.
There was no anxious pressure to “get everything done,” either, because a farmer’s work is infinite: there will always be another milking and another harvest, forever, so there’s no sense in racing toward some hypothetical moment of completion. Historians call this way of living “task orientation,” because the rhythms of life emerge organically from the tasks themselves, rather than from being lined up against an abstract timeline, the approach that has become second nature for us today.
I work for myself as a government contractor, and the most common method of pricing out your services is to charge some amount per hour. If you work less, you get paid less. If you work more, you get paid more.
The benefit of this arrangement is that it is simple, and because most people are accustomed to working a normal full time job of 40 hours per week. it works for the industry.
But, I had the pleasure of working a “firm-fixed price” project last year where I get paid a fixed amount for my work, regardless of how long it took me.
Because the work did not take me that long, I could go home in the afternoon and take a nap. Or take a walk. Or get an impromptu lunch with my wife.
It was great! It felt more natural than forcing myself to sit at a desk all day to make more money.
My hunch is that it felt more natural because it is more natural. Oliver Burkeman makes the case that “task orientation” was the natural mode of doing work, and that time-based management of work is the modern offender.
To the extent possible, it is probably best to be unscheduled, to perform tasks and work as nature demands, not some clock.