Liveblogging The Productivity Doldrums, Part III: Doomed

Summary: After the relative success of Day 1 and Day 2, I was looking forward to a Day 3 filled with productive movement toward my personal business goals of designing a new website and getting it installed on the server. What happened instead was that I got distracted by multiple social interactions, and lost my momentum at several points, and ended up having a completely non-productive Wednesday. And I don’t feel good about it.

## continuing the slump

From 4PM to 5:30PM I was at Sid’s studio. I ate some sugary candy, which is never a good idea for me. On the way home I noted that I felt energized by this social interaction, and it occurred to me that it was because I’d spent a good amount of time laughing. I stopped by the supermarket on the way home, and back in the basement (now a shambles from having moved out the monitor), I ended up spending 15 minutes being sleepy and unproductive, checking Facebook and email.

I crashed hard and woke up at 6:30PM. Alarmed, I started looking up sleep disorders online to see if it was symptomatic of some more dire disease. Was it diabetes? Leukemia? Some kind of blood anemia? Were the sessions of sluggish non-movement signs of a metabolism on the brink of crashing permanently, triggered by organ failure? It’s 7:00PM now.

comparing slumps

You know, this also happened yesterday. I had felt tremendous resistance to starting my project work, not being particularly excited about opening InDesign and swishing around the text. It seems weird, though, that a mere lack of desire would cause such a physical feeling of sleepiness and apathy.

I stilled myself and started cataloging the elements of this sensation. Was it a feeling of depression, or was it actually physical? Mentally, it’s pretty clear that my mind is functioning fine because I have no problem typing my thoughts out in real-time, even with my eyes closed. I’m a little thirsty, but my body is not feeling particularly like jumping up and getting water. I am here thinking that it would be a good idea, and that I should get up, but I’m finding it far more convenient to just slump in the chair. It is pure lack of desire.

So I try to will some excitement into my body, but it is completely apathetic. I note that there is some physical fatigue accompanied by headache and dizziness, which could be just being a little dehydrated. There’s no one downstairs. There’s no one upstairs either. Compared to the fun of being around other people, it’s pretty bland down here. Still, I could force myself into a diagnostic mode…let me see if my body is even capable of going upstairs, even if there’s no one there and nothing to do. This gambit will work only one time, because the novelty of the experiment wears off. I should make it count.

As expected, my body is always up for an experiment (at least it’s not boring), so I wobble toward the stairs, overshoot and land in the laundry room, where I find a large folded-up comforter on top of the dryer. I sort of lean into it and almost fall asleep on my feet, but I willed more energy into myself by taking deep purposeful breathes, sucking in my gut, squaring my shoulders, and marching up the stairs. For 15 seconds, I was all business. Once I made it into the kitchen, I looked for a cupfor water and gave it to myself. My mind, scattered and unfocused, offered no guidance, but I did realize I could take advantage of its distracted state and get some dishes done. It was a predictable, comforting mechanical motion. As I put away utensils, gathered wayward plastic bags, and wiped down the counter, I became aware that my body had no lack of energy whatsoever. I was a little tired feeling, so I took a big drink of water and felt better.

Since I was up in the kitchen anyway, I thought about making dinner. By now it’s around 7:30PM. It’s still nice out, so I decide to take the scooter to the supermarket 2.5 miles away to pick up the ingredients to make a pork stew. Perhaps it is merely the computer environment downstairs that is sapping my energy.

8:00PM. Mysteriously, the energy has come back, albeit temporarily. The scooter ride was neither invigorating or draining of energy, though it was a nice feeling to be out and about at dusk. By the time I got home, I was legitimately hungry and needed food. I ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple, and an ear of fresh local corn. Feels like I’m fast-forwarding to the winding-down period of the evening, which is kind of a bummer because I didn’t get to the layout task. However, two insights have come about:

  • It’s possible that the huge resistance I felt to starting before was merely in my head. Although it felt physical, I was able to go upstairs and do some cleaning. I was able to get on the scooter and go shopping. As a commenter noted yesterday, the mere act of moving and starting seems to kick things off. The brain may complain, but after things start moving it shifts into commentary mode to keep from getting bored.

  • It’s also possible that I am not naturally a maker, but am instead of manager. Being in a room of creative people and helping them do things is actually very energizing for me. Secondly, what I seem to have no trouble doing no matter how little energy I am professing to have is WRITING and ANALYSIS. Hmm. On the other hand, maybe things that are worth doing are supposed to be hard.

the second wind


p>After dinner, I watched two episodes of Gilmore Girls to finish out tumultuous Season Five, which was a season of transition for all the characters. Stressful to watch! I’m also boiling some eggs to put in the pork stew I made. It’s now 10:30PM.

Suddenly, I’m feeling like working on the layout, so I am opening it up. Finished the layout at 12:30PM while reducing my pork stew and making soy sauce eggs for tomorrow’s lunch. Time to hit the sack! But it wasn’t time to hit the sack…I ended up staying up for another 2.5 hours before I could tear myself away from the computer (chatting with California relatives, messing with my farm on Farmville) and at last shower and sleep. 3AM!

A productive day! But not without consequences…

the next day

I didn’t set the alarm. Wanted to see when I would wake up, which was 8 hours later at 11AM. So far, my body is at least waking up naturally when completely exhausted. I then got a call from my buddy Ashish at 11:30 about getting lunch. I said, “sure”, though I knew this meant that I would be disrupting my scheduled startup routine. I figured it would be recoverable.

Before leaving, I checked my email and saw the status report from Manager Angela (“NAGela”) to confirm that today I’m focused on my own website work. Unfortunately, the day was already half over! This is mildly depressing…I savor it because it’s directly tied to staying up late last night to get some work done. Of course, if I hadn’t had the bouts of non-productivity, that wouldn’t have happened. I’ll be curious to see where the patterns are forming.

hey, it’s that voice!

In the shower, it strikes me that the voice that is refusing to do the work is an awful lot like the voice I used to hear at the gym. When I was just getting started with the gym regimen, this voice used to say, “ow ow ow this hurts let’s stop because the body wants to.” As I have commented before, it turned out that this voice was lying to me; the body was perfectly capable of going longer, capable of pushing past the 2.5 minute, 5 minute, and 10 minute intervals of complaint. A similar voice was talking to me, metaphorically speaking, when I was not getting out of bed. I then recalled yesterday’s mid-afternoon lethargy and how it miraculously disappeared once I went upstairs to do something that wasn’t work.

Having established that there was a pattern of similarity, I visualized all three situations as a “naysaying voice” that was the remnant of being a spoiled little brat child. that I thought I grew out of. That’s the child that doesn’t like helping, doesn’t like doing what he’s asked to do, doesn’t share his toys, etc. The body, I’m finding, is otherwise apparently completely willing. I really don’t like being around people who don’t like to pitch in, and recognizing that this impulse was in me gave me a choice: I could ignore that voice and instead been the cooperative, energetic, and helpful person that I want to be. I didn’t want to be this dark child of laziness and doom. So I hushed it and got up. After a few moments I forgot that it had ever been there as autopiloted through the “leave the house” routine.


From 11:30 to 12:30, I got caught talking to someone online about Flex. I was further checking mail, etc. I had not reviewed my notebook or done my daily planning. I figured I could wing it without any dire consequences and still get my website design done.

I spent 12:30 to 15:00 was spent riding to Ashish’s office on my scooter (about 20 minutes each way), after which we went and had lunch. We had a good discussion on the nature of productivity with respect to our personalities and values. As for my actual lunch, I ordered the Special #9 from Taco Colima, which is a burrito, a hard taco, rice and beans. Also had a diet coke with it. Feeling rather sluggish and sleepy. I don’t want to do something and to just go to sleep? Or can I move? The answer from yesterday and this morning’s experience was yes, I should be able to move. I am actually able to shut my eyes and type at a high rate of speed, so there’s nothing wrong with my typing attention. Then again, I’m pretty much used to typing. A nap does feel good right now…so tempting. If I stop moving I’ll definitely fall asleep. So…I choose to empty the litter box, vacuum, and then pack up this giant monitor. Shutting down!

It took an hour to pack up this giant monitor and load it into the car. Then I set it up in the 97 degree studio, did some light office work (entering receipts) before heading home around 530PM. Stopped by the grocery store, bought some supplies for making a refreshingly-fruity but light ice beverage. Although it still needs something, here’s what I got:

  • 16 oz water
  • 1.5 cups of frozen strawberries
  • a cup of ice
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • blend for 30 seconds

The result is a somewhat watery but refreshing drink; the balance I am going for is a flavored water that has ice crystals and juice bits floating in it.

I then spent the next few hours vegging out and not doing anything. However, I didn’t go to sleep, because everytime I feel sleepiness coming on I have been making sure to stand up and start doing something involving brainless body movement. Actually, wait…that’s not true. I feel asleep at the couch after eating dinner, which consisted of the pork stew I made yesterday with white rice, for about 30 minutes. At least I think I did.

The entire day is now almost gone, spent on social activities and moving. Contributing factors to slothfulness: my monitor isn’t here! The desk that the monitor was on is a huge mess. There actually are no free surfaces on which I can put my computer and work, which is kind of creating resistance. And I haven’t been moved to clean the desk because I don’t really have a place to put all that stuff in the rest of the office, unless I ust huck it into a box. Which I don’t want to do. The backup plan was to move the other workstation to the main desk, and use the perfectly-serviceable 1600×1200 flat panel instead of the laptop to save my eyes. The laptop, an older MacBookPro 17″ running Windows XP exclusively, has been my main production system for the past year.

Anyway, it’s after midnight (1230AM) and I haven’t really done anything today. I didn’t start with my planning ritual, and all that happened was that I let a bunch of stuff happen to me. Compounding the problem is the lack of working space without my old monitor setup. I will have to rectify that tomorrow morning. It will be an abbreviated day because I’ll be on the North Shore from noon to evening.

tentative conclusions

I have a tendency to drop everything for a quality one-on-one social interaction. This wreaks havoc with my creative output. It suggests that I might get more mileage out of being a manager of creatives, at least when considering I tend to prioritize the communication between people over doing the production work by myself.

I also saw the problem with working late at night…because I’m largely in synch with the daytime, a late night disrupts the second day by making it start later or with less energy to push through the tough parts of the day.