As I wrote in last week’s Bullish: 5 Ways to Combat Summer Laziness, it’s been a less productive summer for me than I expected, at least so far.
I’m not getting up at the crack of dawn.
In fact, while I shared my exciting and extremely functional to-do list system in Bullish: My To-Do List Revolution, it’s easy to flip through the beautiful artisanal recycled organic macrobiotic bamboo paper (exaggerating a bit) and see that the pages for April are hyperactivity-inducing SOLID BLUE INK of varying thicknesses and fonts (Can you call them “fonts” if they’re you’re own handwriting? I say YES) all seven days of the week, every week. Whereas the pages for the weeks of June and July contain entire days containing nothing but sketches of sunshine.
As I also mentioned last week, I do have an assistant and a web designer getting things done. I also get royalties for some cool shit I did in the last few years. I also didn’t relax throughout my entire twenties. So, it’s cool.
But there are businesses to start. Books to write. Things to make happen.
Here are five more tips for combating summer laziness.
1. Engineer your body for non-laziness.
What are things that make you sleepier? Big meals? Carbs? Too much alcohol? Don’t do those. (In restaurants, I’ll eat anything with a poached egg on top, but at home, it’s all protein, greens, and coffee.)
Even too much sleep can make you sleepy.
Conversely, a bit of sleep deprivation (one night, not days or weeks of it) can induce a sort of euphoria, an elation with the world and with sunlight. Going to bed at 3am and getting up at 7:30 makes me feel like I am cheating death by getting more life. Author Laura Vanderkam correctly points out that everyone gets 168 hours per week, but obviously, narcoleptics are conscious for less of it.
If I steal 4 hours of awakeness per week from the time I would have been asleep, over 20 years, that’s 4,168 hours of life, pure life! For me, though, the key is to take this stolen time in serious stretches, never more than one night in a row – being constantly an hour or two short on sleep is a terrible way to live.
Finally, exercise increases your executive function. From the NYT:
One form of training, however, has been shown to maintain and improve brain health — physical exercise. In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions.
To get yourself to exercise if you don’t want to, put on your exercise clothes first thing in the morning or right when you get home from work; make that a mindless habit. And then tell yourself that you’re going to go to the gym for five minutes (or run for five minutes), and that if you don’t like it, you can leave. (I have never actually left the gym after five minutes except one time I had the flu.)
2. Rip yourself out of the familiar.
David Sedaris went to Japan to quit smoking, feeling that the shock of the terribly unfamiliar and disorienting was the only thing that would work (it did). Sedaris says he got the idea from a book that suggested that the best way to quit smoking was to move, and if you couldn’t do that, to move your couch.
If you work on a laptop, it’s easy to get up and move. Maybe all you can manage is the conference room down the hall. Could you bring in a cushy ottoman to rest your feet on, and then turn your chair away from your desk and be more comfortable than everyone else? (I haven’t really weighed in on the “having it all” debate, but I think that a pretty basic part of “all” is being able to physically arrange your body however you want. I’ve lived much of my life in pursuit of the goal of no one telling me where to fucking sit, and I have no regrets whatsoever.)
I think working in coffeeshops is overrated – they’re okay for getting one thing done, but I’m never able to gather up my computer and all my papers and materials and work out a complex system or series of tasks or organizational problem in a coffeeshop. I am a big fan of moving work surfaces – I have a desk, a standing desk, and a table on the balcony, and always feel especially decadent working from bed.
I also like to abscond to foreign countries with little or no preparation, work on the plane, and then think things through usually much more brilliantly while eating exotic foods and hearing different languages and breathing different air. I just shove all the trappings of my life in a giant suitcase and pick up with my regular life once I’m someplace completely foreign.
3. Find ways to make work pleasurable.
You’re allowed to enjoy work. If you’re a freelancer, you’re allowed to work in a bikini (DOING IT NOW!) Or in your yoga pants, on a mat, while stretching. Or while soaking your feet in the kiddie pool.
If you’re at your job, I suggest a Snapple bottle full of white wine (just kidding). Er, maybe some new headphones and a hip-hop dance party in your ears all day long? (In NYC, everyone’s wearing large DJ headphones, which have the added advantage of broadcasting from a mile away that YOUR EARS ARE UNAVAILABLE and anyone who wants to talk to you will have to interrupt you, which hopefully means they won’t.)
Even better, can you find a way to abscond from the office and actually get more done? For instance, “I need to concentrate on this report hardcore to get it done by 4pm. I’m going to head out of the office and find someplace quiet.” (When I had a 9-to-5 job, I would sometimes work in nearby Bryant Park or at the library.) If you can pull this off, Tim Ferriss suggests that you could persuade your boss to let you work from home one day a week, then two, and then you’re the badass who works from a beach in Tahiti without anyone realizing you’re gone.
Obviously, this doesn’t work for many professions (if you’re a schoolteacher, do exactly none of the things above), but working conditions and freedom are very good reasons to pick one profession over another.
I have come to think that, for most people, what work you do isn’t as important as how you do the work. I’m finishing up a masters in education, but I am very unlikely to ever work in a school – I can write math books from cafes in Buenos Aires.
4. Find some inspiration somewhere, anywhere.
From Turning the Mind Into an Ally, by Sakyong Mipham:
“Laziness has a draining quality, as if we’re low in life force. Sometimes it’s hard to see because it feels like who we are. It encroaches on our most intimate ground. It manifests as an allegiance to comfort. We may get plenty of sleep, but we’re completely uninspired.”
In my series on asking for more money (Bullish: How to Ask for More Money, Part I and Part II), I repeatedly emphasize that increasing your income can be a means of caring for your future self (a nice lady who needs some options and resources!) and for your loved ones during inevitable crises, and for increasing your influence on the world (which I presume would be, you know … positive).
If that’s inspiring, awesome. If not: cat photos!
Seriously, be an inspiration whore. Take it wherever you can find it. There’s nothing wrong with requiring a never-ending supply of inspirational quotes, books, songs, photos, etc. It’s kind of like how, when you start going to the dentist, you’re pretty much committing to going there regularly for the rest of your life. It’s cool (you crazy dentist-addict).
Personally, I have discovered that I am not inspired by stories about other people doing inspirational things, or doing what I’m doing but better, or doing what I’m doing in a shittier way but making more money from it. I am only inspired by injustice and incompetence; in both cases, it’s a feeling of “I can fix that!” You don’t have to be inspired by what’s marketed to you as “inspirational.”
(See Bullish: You Know What I Find Inspiring? Mediocrity and Bullish: How to Motivate Yourself to Be Motivated.)
5. Make a “back-to-school” plan (even if you’re not in school).
Various studies report that it takes various amounts of time to ingrain a habit. Fortunately, the habit of going back to school was ingrained in most of us for twenty years or more. Trick yourself into doing it again.
Sometime in mid-August, buy yourself a new windbreaker and some #2 pencils.
Write yourself a “curriculum.” Picking your classes used to be kind of fun. Why not design your career in the same way?
I wrote a whole column on just this topic – see Bullish Life: Get Your Back-to-School Game On, in which I also suggested writing your own “final exam”:
If you’ve planned what you want to get done in the next nine months, why not plan your own “final exam”? Make a test you’ll take in June. Maybe it says “Did you write a book proposal? Where did you send it?” Put it someplace important. Remember once asking “Is this going to be on the test?” Well … now everything important to you is on the test.
The NYTimes just ran an article entitled The “Busy” Trap. While Tim Kreider is right that being busy is nothing to brag about and that busyness for its own sake “serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.” I do think that being against busyness is an attitude only possible for fairly privileged people. (See Bullish: Social Class in the Office.)
For everyone else, it’s a pretty urgent matter to build up savings, and a sort of redundant supply of opportunity (for instance, a network of people who could get you a new job if you lose yours), so you know where your chemotherapy is coming from. Shit is urgent.
For instance, Kreider writes:
The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
Which is true if you’re a writer or entrepreneur; maybe less true if you’re selling real estate, trying to pay off your debts, or just trying to laser-focus on finishing up that degree.
There’s a time for everything (see Bullish Life: O Magazine Can Make You Feel Awesome About Turning 55 in 20-30 Years), or at least a time for creating and a time for satisfied relaxation. (See also: Bullish Life: Does Happiness Demand That We All Just Chill?)
A few more weeks in a bikini, and it’s back to school, back to business. Also, there’s no reason you can’t start a company in a bikini; I’m just saying.
originally published on TheGrindstone