There exists a time at 8pm on a Tuesday night where I’ll haggardly look away from my monitor to be shocked by the number of crooked nails on a headboard. It magically floats out of nowhere, but I always find myself ready to hammer them down.
Clang, clang, clang. I’ll look up, and it’s 11:30pm. Clang, clang, clang. My hearts racing. I start biting my nails. Scratching my mosquito bite scabs. Sleep is futile.
I’m talking about the toxic work black hole. Symptoms are a frantic closing and re-opening of your email inbox or an amount greater than 30 tabs open on your browser of choice.
Maybe I should get checked for ADHD I think to myself. I imagine myself walking into the doctors room. They ask me: “On the typical Wednesday night, how many Chrome tabs are open at one time?". A single tear rolls down the cheek. They attempt to shut down my laptop. I sob uncontrollably.
I think I have a focusing problem. But when it gets too extreme it becomes a rather toxic cyclical loop that can consume you like a depressed teenager on social media. You read about your competitors or other businesses that are thousands of miles ahead of you. You put in some work. You see no immediate results. You forget to finish the work. You read more about your competitors doing additional things ahead. You read someone’s newsletter that they somehow many to write every single day. You try to finish your newsletter. You type a paragraph but can’t
This is the existential work loop that drives non-productivity. It’s the best way to look back on a week and think - holy shit, how did I do nothing?!
So the natural question is - what does a good work week look like? What is good work? When I run a visualization exercise, I imagine myself drawing on a whiteboard to heavily nodding office workers or a blog post drawing thousands of likes on Twitter.
But these moments are not realistic. The best part about working cannot be the payoff. Those just never seem to come enough! If I were to finish writing a newsletter, shipping code, or operationalizing a task, our revenue does not suddenly hockey-stick (long-term). These things must be long term ventures that take years in the making.
And so I think the next best way to improve working has to be identifying an optimally routine work day. This day has to pass two checks:
If you completed every single day you would reach your goal by whenever you wanted to reach it.
You must be feel moderately content when you start your day and generally accomplished at the end.
That’s it! Nothing more and nothing less. There are no fantasy outcomes and no literal pats on the back. Realistically it’s just tasks that get completed and a feeling of content at the rest of the day. Do enough of these daily tasks and your goals will be reached.
For example, while I’m writing this piece, my mind will wander to how I can improve my business. I’ll think of just checking Google Analytics, or implementing a new question creation system, and then realizing I don’t have time so I should find someone to hire, or maybe I could just complete it myself I meant whatever right?
And yet that’s not really work. That’s more like the output of said work. And so when it comes down to what I will actually be spending my time doing, it becomes much harder to really plan. And this kind of plan is something I probably have to make.
I can sort of draft it out. Here’s an example of my ideal day with how my time is spent.
Ideal work day
1 hour coding / analytics
1 hour of writing
1 hour of product planning / thinking / operationalizing
2 hours of things I have to do…
Delegation / Motivation meetings
5 hours of REAL work. That’s realistically an 8 hour day. Maybe 9. At least for a desk job.
Okay now that it’s structured. If I do this every single day for the next 5 years I’ll have at least accomplished my goals. If not those goal, then I was happy and felt accomplished each day.
But the only thing standing in the way is the distraction black hole. And once you trigger the black hole you’ll get sucked in. Remember that scene in Game of Thrones when Ned gets his head cut off? Man what did that severed head look like…….and it’s never just one severed head.
I’ve narrowed down three triggers in the distraction black hole:
stupid physical surroundings around me.
Physical surroundings are pretty easy to solve. Moving the fridge on a different floor definitely helps. Or maybe like a chair seat belt.
The hard ones have to be the stupid brain and the stupid computer. Both have an effect of multiplying the effect of stupid onto each other. Want to watch that Game of Thrones scene? Well your computer has gotten very advanced at giving you that as easily as possible.
This is a problem I’m still trying to solve. I know the answer to this cannot completely be meditation. The answer to everything in life cannot always be meditation. That would be far too convenient. But in due time, I think at least identifying the problem and possible solution is something that was productive. And writing this, has at least put the plans in action!
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