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Work in Waves
We've been trained most of our lives to perform at a minimum effective level, consistently, with the odd break for holidays and if we have an enlightened employer, or are in the enviable position of not needing one, for illness and bereavement.
When we get time off, whether it's arranged or enforced, we often reflect on how things could be better. Most of us never get to do anything about it, accepting it as our lot.
I don't think that evenness, monotony, smooth sailing or consistency are natural, normal or productive.
I think we work best in waves. Periods of intense focus and productivity alternating with down time that could be anything we enjoy.
Many of us aren't superhuman. We can fake being effective for an 8-hour working day and sure, we are delivering results, but we know we could be so much more effective.
Now I'm not making the case for indolence. I'm making the case for going with human cycles. Sometimes we're at our best, and we crush it, and we produce astonishing work, and sometimes, it's just really good work, and other times, it's just a lot of work.
Other times we could spend a whole day doing "work", but producing almost nothing of value. In fact, some days we just make things worse. That email chain you should never have engaged with, but did because you just could not give less of a shit to do what you were supposed to, but just didn't have the energy? Yes, that.
We have fewer daylight hours in the Winter, unless you're near the equator (I'm looking at you Californians with envy here) — is it any wonder we don't have as much energy?
Some days we just don't have it. Those are the days I suggest you get off your bike and just chill.
Trying to be effective on a day you just don't have it is like being at the bottom of a huge hill on a heavy mountain bike and dead legs. You are just not going to make it up, and if you just end up pushing the bike up that hill, you're going to burn out and have no energy for the ride home. If you wait until you feel good, you're going to burn up that hill, down the other side, and then straight up the next hill.
We're cyclical creatures. All creatures are cyclical. Our diurnal nature is biological, and it doesn't just apply to waking and sleeping, fasting and feasting, but also working and resting. And just as the waves of life change from place to place, from latitude to latitude, from season to season, so should the way we work.
Have you ever played Tiny Wings? You know how it makes sense to tap the screen to bring the bird down at just the right point on the hill so that you make the most of your ascent? And how the rhythm changes? Like that.
Part of an effective strategy for addressing insomnia is to get out of the bedroom if you don't fall asleep within 15 minutes. Why? Because it's a form of CBT. You don't want to associate your bed with sleeplessness. The longer you spend in bed, tossing and turning, the more you drive the point home to your brain that bed is where I lie awake.
You think work is any different? You don't want to associate your computer with procrastination, do you?
Eventually, you will feel tired and go back to your bed and fall asleep.
Eventually, you will find direction, or drive, or focus, or just the fear of a missed deadline and go back to your laptop.
Until you do, and if you can, live your life.
The person who came up with the idea of "work/life balance" was clearly paid by a corporation. Balance is temporary and unsustainable, and what's work doing in that equation anyway?
Work in waves.