It's Not The Work You Do, It's The Work You Don't Do

It's Not The Work You Do, It's The Work You Don't Do

A conversation with a friend about how to allow yourself to rest caused me to reflect on the following things I've been focusing on lately:

  1. Being okay with doing things a bit at a time
    People are very fond of the pomodoro timer, a way you can set yourself to do work usually for 25 minutes on, 5 minutes break, and on the 4th break you take a bit longer. The pomodoro timer is certainly useful for giving you a more tractable-feeling amount of work—a time-bound unit rather than an outcome—but it's just as important because it keeps stopping you. The more comfortable you become doing things a bit at a time rather than all at once, the easier it becomes for you to do big things. It's working: I have noticed myself not taking all the recycling out at once, and believe me, that's a deeply ingrained and difficult-to-break habit. If you're happy doing things a bit at a time, you're happy stopping when you've reached your limit for the day.
  2. Being happy with what you've done
    Something that also allows me to feel like I can get some rest after a day of work is whether I feel like I did a day's worth of work that day. This ties in very strongly with the previous point: trying to brute-force something very big, not managing it and not getting as far as I'd hoped is not conducive to this feeling. Breaking off a piece and getting it done—even if you could've done a bit more—is better than bashing your head against the wall.

    One way to this is keeping a 'work journal': write down all the key things you intend to do at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, note below if you did them and if not, why not. This serves a dual function of an 'achievement log' and also of making you justify to yourself why you didn't do things you could've done if you could've done them. If there was a legitimate crisis that took your attention away, or if you did actually work the whole day and had just underestimated the time needed, you'd feel OK about it; if you've just been messing around all day, less so.
  3. Working out what's actually going on in your head
    A lot of things here, but one I've noticed especially lately: I sometimes have a hard time regulating my own inner emotional 'tone'. If people around me are feeling down and clearly acting it, it can be easy for me to absorb that unconsciously. If I'm on my own and feeling a bit down, it can be easy for me to spiral in the absence of anything corrective.

    I've talked about how podcasts distract me, how they prime my mind to expect a certain level of stimulation, and that's true, but they also provide a useful vibe-setting exercise. Podcasts are great for this because many of them tend to have consistent emotional tone—so if I want to pickle myself in chill good vibes, I can. For years I've wondered "what are the criteria by which I'm grouping some of my podcast playlists", and when I realised they served this regulatory function for me, the answer immediately became clear to me: I am most often in a situation where I want a consistent mood, and anything that may provide something unexpected is to be reserved for the occasions when I feel I can take whatever is thrown at me.

    This can make for a bit of a conundrum: I want to feel positive but also I want to feel not distracted. Baseball podcasts are great for this: people talking in a generally upbeat way but I only really understand a small fraction of it, so it's not distracting in the way that something I'm a bit more into might be.

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