Finding ZING

Finding ZING

SUMMARY: Having analyzed the factors that undermined my productivity in weeks past, I’m now looking at the “process of doing” itself. My working theory is that I find the prospect of doing the many necessary-yet-boring tasks incredibly taxing. I need to get past this, using my limited personal resources of energy to overcome a lot of built-in personal indifference. It’s maddening, but I have formed a plan. Read onward for the details.

Boredom Boredom Boredom

I have a lot to do, and yet I am bored by the prospect. As I wrote last week, I believe this is because I’m looking for a mental burst of excitement, something that can draw me into the moment and engage me right away. Without it, I feel kind of sluggish and bored. I’m going to call this drug-like desire for immediate gratification ZING. I want ZING.

There’s two ready sources of ZING I can think of, neither of which I have access to. One is having lots of disposable income, so I can buy gadgets and pay for expensive adventure trips. The other is to have a companion or comrade to create excitement as we explore and play. Unfortunately, I don’t have either at the moment.

My current goals of creative independence and community connection are, in hindsight, my campaign to create the conditions under which ZING may be harvested. However, working on the campaign does not generate ZING itself. This is what I want to address this week.

The Work

Since I don’t have a reliable source of easy ZING, then I need to generate it while I am doing my work. The work consists of this:

  • Building Needed Technology and Process Knowledge – For example, if I want to sell internationally, I need to figure out how that works and put some kind of process together. Likewise, if I want to make iPad apps, I need to learn IOS programming or find competent developers within my budgetary constraints.

  • Creating Assets – An asset is a “item of value” or “resource”. Examples: creating a new form, writing a blog post, taking photos of interesting things I might write about.

  • Refining Assets – Most assets I make have some value, but not enough to really create desire. In the marketplace of desire, people seek the exceptional, not the marginally-interesting.

  • Delivering Finished Works – This is just doing work I’ve promised to other people.


p>All of these tasks require me to be at the top of my mental game. As I’m feeling sluggish, that is a problem. Without external responsibilities in the form of a boss or family, I have to self-motivate. I’m not even that excited about any of my hobbies, because I can’t spend money on any of them. Getting the work going is what will generate the money that allows me to feed the entire machine.

Removing the Resistances

Within each of these tasks, I must find the hard-to-reach ZING to power the process. There is nothing going on in my life that is generating ZING, so I can’t store it in a battery and use it for work.

Hm. Tricky.

The first thought that comes to mind is that I need to let go of notions of quality and of timeliness. Quality is something I think about a lot, and I hate the idea of making something that sucks. It can be paralyzing. Combined with Timeliness, it is absolutely paralyzing. Timeliness, in this context, is the notion that I should do things as fast as possible, with “instantaneous” being the highest level achievable. This is a stupid notion when taken literally and applied to everything, and yet I have done this. I regard speed as a mark of worthiness, and this is a terrible thing. So I will take heart and make the following notes:

  1. Don’t worry bout Quality. It will come, with time.
  2. Forget about timeliness as worthiness. Tasks take as long as they need.

When I remove those two bugaboos, I’m left with selecting what to do.

Perhaps the smart thing to do is just to be dumb about it: just do everything until it’s done. That would mean giving myself up to the process as its humble servant, which could be GTD or AutoFocus or whatever. Giving myself the choice to do one thing before another is probably just as draining as doing the actual work. One of my many resistances is being told what to do and how to do it; if the resistance goes away by merely accepting it, maybe life becomes easier. This has many interesting parallels to the spiritual aspects of religion. Leave your troubles behind! Eliminate desire and embrace nothingness to just be! Historically, I’ve never been good about giving up my troubles or letting go of my ability to choose, fighting it (or being confused by it) every step of the way. I suppose this is worth trying. I can’t decide what to do first anyway, because they all seem equally important or annoying. Might as well give it a try! My list now looks like this:

  1. Don’t worry bout Quality. It will come, with time.
  2. Forget about timeliness as worthiness. Tasks take as long as they need.
  3. Choosing what to do first, in this context, is a false freedom. Instead, see the task and then do it.

I think I have mistaken the ability to choose, in the context of living my life and picking my goals, as a kind of freedom. It really isn’t; the freedom comes from being able to pick which path to push through, instead of having someone else pick it for me.

If this is the case, then I can just power down the list of things in my Trello board.

Finding the ZING in the Work

With the resistances out of the way, I now have to face the work. I don’t get to waste time choosing what to do, but I still have to find the ZING in it. Otherwise, distraction will set in and life will be quite miserable.

I have three thoughts on this:

Experiment-derived ZING

First, the insights from the previous section might be able to power me for a week because it becomes the basis of a zing-generating experiment. If I make every week an experiment (which I actually have been doing since May), then I have a level of ZING powering me through. However, this is a type of ZING specific to doing experiments, which generate assets (blog posts) but not refined assets (products) or new capabilities (new online store). In other words, I have enough raw assets; it’s time to build-out that needed capability and refine raw assets into products. This is what will generate revenue to fund the entire ZING process.

Tiny tasks: more ZING than meets the eye

Secondly, I’m struck by the huge number of small things that need to be done. Small things don’t get me excited, and therefore there’s no anticipation of ZING. Instead, I feel an apathetic MEH-ness toward tiny tasks that accomplish little by themselves. Of course, I know it’s necessary to break large tasks into small ones to make them achievable, but the lack of epicness tends to bore me while the sheer number of small tasks freak me out.

That said, I’m reminded that that even small tasks are surprisingly large. There’s a story in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about a student that can’t write a 500-word essay about the United States. The teacher helps her reduce the scope more and more until it’s narrowed down to a single brick in a building, after which prolific writing explosively ensues; the general idea is that the more you look, the more you see; perhaps the same thing applies to those so-called “boring tasks” that I have in my list. My ability to execute in small steps is blocked by my own vision of future excitement. Just starting with a small step and writing the hell out of it might lead to its own form of excitement.

ZING from playing a role

Thirdly, I am reminded of a time when I did know what I was doing every day. That was during my 30 Products in 30 Days back in February. While I did something different every day, there was an anchoring process that didn’t change: (1) conceptualize, (2) make, (3) deliver. This was the most fun I had all year, though it was exceedingly tiring. I think I can say that there was ZING produced every day, though I was a little disappointed by the lack of epic return at the time.

I’ve been wondering how the 30-day experience would work itself back into my routine. At the time, it was a special experiment to see if I could even do it, but I didn’t think it was sustainable. For one thing, I made way more assets than I could comfortably manage into my online store. That lead to the following “month of marketing”, which resulted in the new-and-slightly-improved website. I had found it incredibly difficult and soul-sapping, but was happy to have produced something new. I regained an appreciation for how difficult work eventually produces results, finding opportunity in uncertainty, and so on.

It occurs to me that there is a role that I am more comfortable adopting now. That role is that of the creative entrepreneur. And the role is defined by the activities that I engaged in during the 30 Products in 30 Days challenge. Let me try to state the role of being a creative entrepreneur simply:

  • Conceptualize / Make / Deliver
  • Refine / Productize / Deliver
  • Build engines of productivity / Harness
  • Build roads of commerce / Deploy Goods

The first one is what I did during the 30 Day Product Challenge. The rest of them are new. If I do any tasks that are on these lists, and deliver on one of them every day, I think I’m doing the right stuff.

Realistic Expectations

From my productivity reboot experiements, I had learned that I seemed to get only a few things done every day. That was while I was fighting distraction and running on low amounts of energy. That energy derives from ZING, the sense of excitement and curiosity that fuels my brain.

In this post, I’ve outlined a few new attitudinal changes that I think will help reduce friction further. I’m not sure if this will lead to an increase in the number of things I can get done every day; that will be part of the tracking I do in my private Scrivener process journal. I’ll track the following:

  • ZING levels
  • Number of different tasks started
  • Number of different tasks completed
  • Adherence to the “creative entrepreneur” role
  • Informal non-judgemental thoughts on quality and timeliness achieved.

A second consideration is that I have more external commitments for the next two months than normal. I estimate that this is going to take up 50% of my available time, which is a bummer. If I can also find ZING in these tasks, that will be a lifesaver.

So that’s the plan for the coming week or two. Let’s see how it goes!



  1. Bill C. 10 years ago

    Awesome blog post! One thing I like about the simple GTD-based system I use is that for each task, I track: the energy level need to completed it, a time estimate, and the project it’s related to. When I’m completely zapped, it’s nice to know that I can pull together a list of items from the quick-hit-low-enegery task list and derive some ZING from the simple sense of task completion. It also reminds me of the larger goal I just moved towards, which also gives me a extra little ZING to complete other related tasks for that project. It may not be the project I wanted to focus on that day, but in the end, it dug me out of my energy-zapped state and I’m happier to have moved something forward than spin my wheels clicking on links all day :)

  2. Joan Vick 10 years ago
  3. Andrew Steele 10 years ago

    Another great article Dave! As a self-proclaimed productivity hacker/enthusiast, I always enjoy these breakdowns of your internal conflicts with just Getting Stuff Done. (Intentionally didn’t say Things, to differentiate the overall struggle versus the well-known GTD methodology.) ;)

    I’ve wrestled along similar lines as you in trying to find ZING. Two things that I’ve taken to heart related to what you’ve written:

    In terms of roles, I’ve found that there is often great benefits to be had in taking on an even more over-the-top role than just ‘Creative Entrepreneur’. When I’ve got a big task with lots and lots of steps, I hunker down and take on a Barbarian role, envisioning myself hacking and slashing away at the problem until it lies defeated/completed at my feet. Or when I’ve got a mountain of small tasks, I envision I’m a speedy Ninja, striking down task after task before they even know what hit them.

    Which brings me to my second point, which is a bit less fanciful. Often, I can find ZING in just knocking stuff out one after the other, keeping a mental ‘scorecard’ in my head of how many little things I can knock out one after the other. My To-Do List ( taught me the value of taking bigger tasks or even projects and breaking them down into small chunks so that I get a little reward for accomplishing something, even if it’s as small as sending out that e-mail I’ve been putting off for days. Think about it, what sounds more awesome: “I sent out some e-mails” or “I sent out 9 e-mails.” The first is only a single hit of ZING, the second is 9 mini-hits of ZING. Even if each bit of ZING is smaller, because you’ve set yourself up for more of it you get an exponential gain. ;)

    And yes, these are definitely principles straight out of gamification, but they’re more effective than you might think. Suddenly “Build a Website” becomes 30-40 mini-hits of ZING, and you’re thinking to yourself “Jackpot!”

    I’m actually trying to work on building this concept, as well as work-life balance and 4 areas-of-energy balance, into a Life Management app. Gone through 4-5 mental revisions on it so far, not quite committed anything to code yet. Maybe this weekend. ;)