Happy Bubble Time

Happy Bubble Time

Here’s a concept I’ve been mulling over: Happy Bubble Time.

A couple weeks ago I tried to name the good feeling of pursuing a personal experiment, like learning how to roast a duck (mmmm), designing contraptions that grant me new capabilities, and working on personal logomarks. Unlike simple pleasures that can be bought and consumed instantly, these kinds of tasks require a considerable amount of prep work. To even start them, I have to possess a particular state of mind, comprised of equal parts obsessive interest and focus.

  • The “Happy” in Happy Bubble Time comes from the fulfillment of an obsessive interest. I get happy when I learn something new and insightful that can serve as a useful principle, because good principles save me time later and make me more productive. And I’m just very curious about how things work.
  • The “Bubble” in Happy Bubble Time refers to the way that FOCUS works for me; in my case, focus is not the result of an increase in thinking intensity, but is the ability to forget everything else other than the problem at hand for at least a little while. It’s a little like entering a state of meditation, consciously pushing every extraneous thought from my head, until I’m in what feels like a bubble of reality.

As I was in the process of naming Happy Bubble Time (henceforth known as HBT), I realized that having as much HBT as possible was something of a life goal. And the funny thing is that while HBT is steeped in values that seem unproductive, it nevertheless is also the mechanism by which I may achieve optimum productivity.

My initial thoughts follow.

Elements of Happy Bubble Time

The aspects of HBT I’ve defined are:

  • It’s not the desire to be lazy. It’s the desire to have a serene, undemanding lifestyle.
  • It’s about having the focus, time and capability to produce good things…without pressure or guilt.
  • It’s a sense of enjoyment, freedom, and having permission to play without worry, for at least a little while.
  • It’s productive, because the result of true HBT is something new that you can show to people. If you haven’t learned or made something new, it’s not HBT.

HBT is similar to the idea of Flow, described on Wikipedia thusly:

[…] the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

HBT is maybe a more specific expression of Flow, adapted to my personal mix of desire, belief, and whimsy. When I’m in my private pocket of space-time, I feel free to explore and create. HBT is like the goose that lays golden eggs, except you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.

To acquire HBT, you need to make room for it. If you are an impulsive dreamer like myself, the quickest way to get a bubble of time is to metaphorically shove all the chores under the bed. Inevitably, they will surface again, which creates anxiety, and isn’t worth it in the long run. The secret to my own work-life balance, I think, is to be able to MANUFACTURE Happy Bubble Time on a regular basis.

On a side note, dealing with chores isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be for me. I recently decided that having a good attitude was an important enabler. It’s related to the maxim to “not take things personally”, and not letting negative judgements derail action. And with these realizations, the chores themselves start to share similarities with HBT by being productive. Chores must be done so HBT can exist. HBT exists to move the entire Dave Seah life journey one step further down the foggy creative path.

Combining Happy Bubble Time and Chores

It’s accurate to say that HBT is just a form of compartmentalization, seasoned with a pinch of self-gratifying rationalization. At risk of sounding like a lazy slug, I don’t want to feel pressure or be forced to do anything. I don’t want to think about doing the dishes or filing my taxes. At the same time, I want to achieve and do great things of an original nature. HBT is the mechanism that allows me to concentrate enough to get something done, and it’s also the way I want to feel about work. HBT gives me an escape hatch in 15-minute increments. HBT gives me an approach to cracking difficult problems, 15 minutes at a time. HBT may be one of the secret principles that drive my personal time management scheme.

The distinction between HBT and GOOFING OFF is important to make: HBT always produces some kind of result. It may be a new insight. It could be a small logo design. Perhaps it’s a piece of writing. The result is tangible, and it is mine to collect or assemble into something greater. This entire blog, some seven years and 1500 posts of TLDR, is a product of HBT applied over and over again. I didn’t sit down one day and decide to follow a path that led here. I was lucky enough to stumble into a format that allowed me to SAVE my work in a way that produced interaction with a lot of interesting people.

To reiterate: while the product of HBT is somewhat random due to it being the results of “whatever I feel like doing”, it is nevertheless “tangibly productive”; something gets made. It’s not predictable in the way a production line or well-planned project is, but the process does produce something that can be harvested. In time, a great mound of raw output is accumulated, and it can be refined into something more polished.

Likewise, chores and other unpleasant (or daunting) tasks can be tackled by applying a 15-minute minimum effort. Clear the mind of negative associations and thoughts of how un-fun the task is, and plough for 15 minutes. 15 minutes of work, as with exercise, is better than nothing. And oftentimes, I find that once I’m moving I can keep going. The negative thoughts I have MAKE it awful; when they are gone, then the resistance is lowered. As the chore progresses, I get the feedback I need to see something is happening, and this triggers the optimization/completion subroutine in my head. Furthermore, having fewer chores means MORE ROOM for HBT moments, which is a good feeling.

Generating Happy Bubble Time

As I said earlier, the creation of more Happy Bubble Time is becoming my goal. To achieve this goal, I need to build a system of time and task management that produces results that can be productively harvested, despite the random nature of its output. This suggests a different model for task tracking than I’ve seen before, and I have some ideas on what this can look like.


  1. Puranjay 11 years ago

    I used have something similar to this: after an hour long workout, I would come back home, whip up a post-workout meal (usually a protein shake with a meat heavy salad) and take a warm bath. I would be in a Zen like state by this time. I would either work on my writing, or experiment with a new recipe. Call me a loner, but evenings spent this way – cooking or writing after a workout – would be infinitely better than going out to a bar with friends.

  2. Avrum 11 years ago


    David – I look forward to purchasing/reading/using whatever you come up with. I’ve always thought that First Care (Merlin Mann) – http://www.43folders.com/2010/02/05/first-care

    and your graphic sensibility (and ideas of your own) would produce a powerful, meaning-making productivity system.

  3. CR 11 years ago

    You so forgot the “T” in the HBT break down. ^-^

  4. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Puranjay: I’m much the same way…I like my solitude. Maybe moreso than other people! I need a little bit of socialization, but the ratio is something like 8:1 in favor of me-time.

    Avrum: Thanks for the link to Merlin’s article! Somewhere between meaning and belief, action is born. Meaning is what I care about.

    CR: Heh, I guess you could say that! I think the time part is actually part of bubble, as opposed to being its own concept, which is probably why I didn’t think to list it. Good catch, though!

  5. Katie 11 years ago

    Dave, I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for years, and I just wanted to let you know I really appreciate all of your writing on productivity and your processes. The concept of Happy Bubble Time resonates with me immensely and I look forward to your future writings on the subject. :)

  6. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Katie: Thanks for the kind words! I’m looking forward to writing more on Happy Bubble Time also…is there something that comes to mind that you’d like me to consider? It will help shape the article, and may even help get it written sooner! :)