The Craft of Making Time

Field Reports from a Circadian Self-Test

Established in 2008, Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA) is an evolving participatory art and publishing project committed to process and reflection. ILSSA is a membership organization that fosters community, and an imprint that publishes new ideas, tools, and resources.

As a union, ILSSA focuses on improving the immaterial working conditions of our members. We long for an alternative to our culture’s obsession with efficiency and its automatic monetization of value, both of which are implicit in the old adage, “Time is money.” As ILSSA members, in our work and our lives, we prioritize process over product, and we aim to prize the quality of time spent rather than the exchange value of such time. Time is our medium, our material, and our tool—the seconds and minutes and hours and days through which we practice.

ILSSA’s publications are tools for reflection, and often take the form of a call and response. Recent calls have included Surveying the State of the ILSSA Union, a survey asking members to assess their working conditions as artists; It’s About Time, a workbook asking members to ruminate on their relationship and experience with time; and an invitation to members to write manifestos for publication. The following pages are a snapshot of one such project, Making Time, a chronobiological self-study originated by ILSSA member John Labovitz. The project was collaboratively written by John and ILSSA cofounders Bridget Elmer and Emily Larned, and designed and printed by Emily. An excerpt of the introduction to the project, and some examples of members’ self-tests, are reproduced here.


Making Time

We all have to eat. Most of us have to pay for our housing. And in order to meet these necessities of daily life, many of us have to work for eight hours a day, five days a week, at a job that does not allow us to experience much of what we consider to be quality time. Our time is limited and our days finite. We know this as we struggle to fit more into each day; to find time, to make time.

Our culture tends to treat time as something interchangeable. For the majority of us, there are no holy days or sacred hours. Outside a few shared points (lunch at noon, dinner at six, don’t call after nine), time is time, whether morning, afternoon, or evening. It’s up to us to spend it wisely. We are encouraged to fit our needs into moments as we find them, at whichever angle the sun happens to be. And so we do things (like art) when we can find the time, rather than at the right time.

Most of us have an inkling of our own time cycles. I’m a morning person, you might say. Or: I get a creative burst late in the evening. Or: I need to take a nap every afternoon. Yet how often do we actually plan for these cycles? Even admitting them can seem like an expression of failure.

This project interrogates the assumed plasticity of time, especially as it relates to an individual person. We posit that for most of us, our internal, natural time cycles are governed by something stronger than cultural expectations. Moreover, we believe that treating all time as equal can be as potentially harmful as not thoughtfully using the time at all.

What is your best time for impractical labor? For answering emails? For tackling household chores? If we save our most alert time for our most valued activities, and our lowest times for the necessities of life that do not require us to be at our best, will we optimize our experience of time? Our process of living? Our life?

By performing a brief experiment, using self-observation and self-analysis, this project helps ILSSA members characterize their personal time cycles: their individual chronobiologies. By charting—without judging—the ebb and flow of energy, whether creative, cognitive, physical, or social, our hope is to help our members understand how to better use their time.


The cover of the Making Time self-test booklet, which is modeled on the design of a 1970 U. S. field manual.


The self-test of ILSSA member Nike Desis. ILSSA member John Labovitz adapted this rating system from Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin’s 1991 book PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, in which they describe an experiential rating scale that they used for quantifying self-observations while under the influence of experimental compounds. This scale ranges from -3 (a generally negative feeling or experience) to +3 (a completely positive one).


The self-test booklet of ILSSA member Nike Desis. Test-takers are asked to identify which categories they will be measuring, and to establish a rubric from -3 to +3 for each category.


The self-test booklet of ILSSA member Nike Desis. Test-takers are asked to identify which categories they will be measuring, and to establish a rubric from -3 to +3 for each category.


Nike Desis’s self-test booklet. On these pages, the test-taker is asked to record events of the week that may have affected the results.


Nike Desis’s self-test booklet: observations on the Average Day row.


Nike Desis’s self-test booklet: observations on the Average Day row.


The reporting form of ILSSA member A Revolutionary Press.


The reporting form of ILSSA member Megan Wiessner.


The reporting form of ILSSA member Anne Royston.


The reporting form of ILSSA member H. R. Buechler.