Diabolical Work Strategies

Diabolical Work Strategies

This week started out pretty horribly, productively speaking, but I gained a powerful new insight into doing the boring work by substituting a sense of duty and responsibility with something more visceral.

I woke up late on Monday, muscles sore from moving furniture at my friend Sid’s studio over the weekend, and proceeded to have the fuzziest of days. It took enormous effort to even list the major to-dos of the week in my Scrivener journal:

  • International Fulfillment
  • Shopify Setup
  • Organizing Digital Content
  • Various Website Projects

Instead, I spent the day being very tired. I woke up at 11AM, and every time I sat on the couch or stroked a purring cat thereafter I would find myself sputtering awake amidst furnados of cat hair a couple hours later . Groggily, I managed to do a little research on IOS programming, and in the process discovered that there was a local Adobe Users Group Meetup in the evening. I almost blew that off, feeling that I needed to redeem myself for the day’s sloth, but then realized that I was just being lame about meeting new people. So I went, learned about PDFs, and discovered where all the digital media freelancers had been hiding in Nashua. Awesome! I finished the day with a quick 15 minutes at the gym (really all I could muster), then went home.

Tuesday I rose at around 9AM, having had the presence of mind the night before to turn on my alarm clock. Facing the great to-dos of the day, I found myself feeling very bored and unmotivated. Journaling a bit in Scrivener to explore the feeling, I identified the source of this soul-crushing weight: I was not allowing myself to enjoy myself at all because I had placed such importance on the business-oriented goals. I was, in effect, burning myself out. The business work is not the goal itself; it’s merely the path through which I can attain my real goal of having a leisurely creative life. In other words, working hard now so I could play later in style. Ironically, this is exactly the kind of rat-race existence that I’ve been trying to avoid, and here I was gaslighting myself with feelings of not being fast enough or dedicated enough for the business work. Pah!

Still, this insight didn’t get the work done. What I really want right now is superlative experiences that excite and drive the creation of superlative works. Too bad that the tasks at hand, such as figuring out the maze that is international fulfillment and payment processing, seemingly lacks anything superlative in itself. It’s just hard to get excited about. So in the meantime, I thought that the wise thing to do would be to avoid burnout by insisting on the fastest production times as the worthwhile metric, and allow myself to take the time to explore. This was the general impulse, I think, behind my inclusion of “Happy Bubble Time” in the daily schedule I designed a few weeks ago; I had not realized that this was the specific reason I wanted it.

That said, I managed to get through a client call and visited Sid’s studio, which was coming together quite nicely under the new floor plan. Then I got home, cooked dinner, and fell asleep after requesting an email quote on printing 250 Emergent Task Timer pads from Papergraphics, my commercial printer.

Wednesday had to go better, right? I burst out of bed at a reasonable-ish 845AM (better than 1130AM, I thought) and popped open the laptop to start my continuity journaling in Scrivener. The words didn’t come through the fog. Was I dehydrated? I quaffed down some gulps of icy water, and felt slightly better, but I was pretty sure that my brain was in full-blown super procrastination mode, fighting all efforts at structure. I wasn’t even using the pretty new Emergent Task Timer forms. I wrote down some notes, trying to describe the foggy feeling:

  • There was no clarity or definition, and part of me was refusing to seek it out.
  • There was a sense that there was nothing to look forward to.
  • There was stubbornness due to lack of certainty about anything worthwhile.

Even if I were to tackle the big tasks of the week, it felt like there was no “big payoff” likely to happen. Nothing easy, anyway. No sense of mission, either. While I was no longer filled with resentment about having to do these tasks—the insight of last week—there was no positive feeling to replace that vacuum of emotion.

I had half an hour before a call with Amplifier to discuss their fulfillment services, so I decided to take a walk around my condo development. It had been raining all week, and a brief window of sunshine had opened up. Perhaps the walk would do me some good. At least I wouldn’t fall asleep again.

As I walked, I felt a sense of peace. The condominium development I live in is one of the nicer ones in the area in that it has a lot of grass and trees, as it abuts a protected bird sanctuary and a small river. Strangely, there was no one else walking around, so it felt like I had the entire development to myself. It takes about 8 minutes to do the loop, and at minute 4 I had an important realization: what I really craved wasn’t excitement or freedom from work at all. What I really needed was mental stimulation. I had found the tasks of the week to be boring, and therefore I wasn’t mentally engaged even though I was no longer resentful. The need for mental stimulation also fits with this month’s Groundhog Day Resolution to connect with more people. Actually I don’t want to connect with people in the networking sense. I want to be mentally stimulated by conversation and camaraderie. Screw meeting people for the sake of being social! I want my brain to be tickled, every day.

A Subtle Shift

This may not seem like an enormous insight on first glance…of course people want to be mentally stimulated, right? This is just another way of saying that I don’t want to be bored, right? That I want my work to have meaning and value, and so I do it out of a sense of duty and honor to the holy quest for self-actualization?

After thinking about it, I’m starting to believe that as important as purpose and personal values are in my life, they don’t provide me with energy. They are instead shapers of my energy, guiding how I apply my powers toward particular end goals. The energy comes from somewhere else: mental engagement and curious optimism, perhaps, mixed with the desire to see what happens and how it ends. It’s about the hunt for undiscovered powers that can be understood and controlled. I love that stuff.

I had written some time ago about how I realized that maintaining a good attitude was essential in being able to tackle the hard work, which is on the same axis as the need to remove resentment toward it. A good attitude, though, is about generating positive energy that presumably leads to greater self-motivation. Up to now, the best I’ve managed was to “fake smile” my way through difficult times, telling myself how “lucky I was” to have the opportunity to do so. This energy only went so far before collapsing, as it did at the beginning of this week.

It seems to me that seeking mental stimulation is actually a better way for me to energize myself. The trick is to find what IS mentally stimulating in the work, then focusing only on that without regard for “goals” and other such managerial nonsense. There’s a time and place for that, but not while one is doing the work. Separating the creative energies from the smothering management mindset is necessary.

This is an important shift in strategy, and it feels a bit diabolical. Before, I was trying to muster my sense of responsibility as a productive citizen to make me do my work, almost out of a sense of duty to myself. That was an important step, realizing that my own goals are not to be treated as a second-class priority in life. Now, I am going on step further and saying that my goals aren’t the drivers of my actions; instead, it’s my desire to feed my own brain and stimulate the hell out of it, because it’s only then that is produces useful work. It is the creative side of me. Goals are the managerial side, and the best that it can do is to feed the creative demons and harvest the good bits from the ensuing carnage. Perhaps I’m not a manager at heart…instead, I might be a monster! Rarrrh! :-)

I’ll put it into action on Thursday, and I actually got quite a bit done. Experimentation will continue tomorrow and through next week.

1 Comment

  1. Annie Mueller 7 years ago

    Interesting and thoughtful analysis of your work, motivation, and changes. Brought some clarity to struggles I’ve been having myself. Thanks for sharing this, David.