Working for yourself; on sanity & productivity

Disclaimer: I don’t have kids, and the projects I work on at the moment involve me working totally alone, i.e. no phone calls / meetings, most of the time, and are long term things. 

Dreaming is easy. Executing on said dreams, not so much. And I have come to believe this is in large part due to the isolation and subsequent doubt that results from working alone with no feedback or reward mechanism along the way…

  1. People like to feel busy, because it makes them feel productive & important.
  2. People like to tell people how busy they are, because it makes them feel even more productive & important.
  3. People like and need to feel productive & important because feeling productive & important is the same as feeling useful & needed.
  4. If you feel useful & needed, you feel connected.
  5. Feeling connected is sanity.
  6. People like to feel sane.

Working from home, for yourself, trying to make things happen…. is basically the opposite of that:

  1. You will not feel busy which means you won’t feel productive or important.
  2. You will not have anyone to tell how not busy you are which means you will feel even less productive & important.
  3. Instead of feeling useful & needed, you feel useless & unnecessary.
  4. If you feel useless & unnecessary, you feel isolated.
  5. Isolation is insanity.
  6. Insanity is insanity.

The reason for this format is to emphasise that 1 & 2 are quite simply feelings that need and can be overcome to ensure your dream happens. But the impact they have on our mindset and chosen course of action can be huge, as we see by looking at 3-6.

I have often felt tempted back to a job title and the immediate status and respect it would earn. Wanting and needing that is totally human, and something we shouldn’t be ashamed of. (I want to write separately about the relationship between ambition and shame, particularly in the UK, particularly for women).

Feelings as obstacles – how to overcome 1 & 2

This is not a claim that I have my sh*t together 100% of the time. Or even 50%. But some days I do, and that’s all you need. Overtime I have figured out some reliable strategies for overcoming self-doubt and maintaining sanity. Here they are:

  1. Stop reading this article and go for a walk in a park, no matter the weather – I promise you this will be 100000% more effective than reading the rest of what I have to say. You don’t need it to be sunny and you don’t need to live next to a beach to enjoy a stroll in nature. Strolling alone with music in your ears and the wind in your hair under giant trees is magnificently special and will release more endorphins than most forms of exercise, which are likely to be in manmade studios or gyms. If it’s cold, wear the coat, hat, and gloves you bought for when it’s cold. You’ll wind up doing two more laps than you planned.
  2. Skip a meal – if you want to sound fancy and call it ‘fasting’, go ahead. Three meals a day was an invention and the importance of breakfast is a myth. We eat too much. And that’s all there is to it. Just because it’s unprocessed and ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean you can eat all of it. Try not eating until 3pm and see how much energy and focus you get. You’ll then have enough calories left for the dinner of your dreams.
  3. Commit to at least two appointments / classes / things a week – preferably in the morning (a tangible reason to get out of bed is helpful). Structure is an obvious help but with a blank diary it requires serious decision making skills to commit to the same thing week-in week-out. I go to my Yoga teacher Stewart’s class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s my favourite thing to do and the closest thing I have to community. When I made decisions about what classes to go to on the day this was much more stressful and less helpful. We have a very small, finite amount of decision-making energy, removing decisions frees up space to BE and THINK. This is why Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day, or so I’ve read.
  4. Eat mindfully and without screens – when I worked at Google we ate lunch in the cafeteria in social groups or over meetings. When I worked at a bank we ate lunch at our desk. Neither is optimal. The best way to eat if you want to feel rested and energised for work is alone, staring into space, mindfully eating your food – which means slowly and gratefully. I often pop across the road to Pret, deliberately  leaving my phone at home, and sit at the bar at the window watching space and/or people. I love it. It’s awesome. I don’t have to be sociable, I don’t have to look at a screen. It’s literally like a mini-retreat in the middle of my day. People are afraid to dine alone. I used to be. This makes no sense.
  5. Ignore the need to feel busy – being busy is bullsh*t. It’s a society conditioning thing. I’m pretty sure how it happened (because of Economics) and I don’t feel the need to explain it. I think we all get it. But it doesn’t exclude us from feeling shame from an empty diary. When I worked at Google we had lots of meetings which didn’t feel that useful. When I worked at a bank there were very few trades happening but lots of sales people at the desk for 12 hours. Offices are full of things created to distract us from ourselves and from hard work. You don’t need to work 8 hours a day at the same desk to be productive. Progress can be made from a good 30 minutes of work, daily. Don’t forget that. And please don’t beat yourself for not being a slave to your desk. Go for a manicure ffs. It’s fine.

As always – thoughts, comments, experiences, disagreements, agreements, opinions are WELCOME.


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