A while ago I was having trouble working. I had just begun a new workout regimen, which was taking up a lot of my focus and willpower, as well as leaving me more tired with the same amount of sleep. I felt as useless and helpless as I can remember, staring at a todo list with very simple items on it, and being all but unable to get myself to finish them.
Thoughts tend towards permanence. As I sat there staring at my list of things to do, I noticed a thought cross my brain: I used to be so productive and now I'm not.
In these situations, I find it helpful to remember that everything passes. My least productive days will yield to more productive days, and my most productive days will be followed with less productive days.
Knowing that I will be productive again when I'm unproductive helps me put things in perspective. Rather than wallow in the doom of "losing it" and being unable to work efficiently again, I see my failure as a temporary valley. This enables me to keep a good attitude about it and focus on crawling my way out of that valley.
On the other hand, when I'm operating at my peak, I try to remember that I won't always be like this. That helps me appreciate the work I'm doing, focus on keeping the ball rolling as long as possible, and deriving enjoyment from my performance, soaking in the view at the top of the mountain.
There are very few things that are permanent in life, and clinging to those things or even hoping for them is counterproductive. It's better to develop strategies that account for life's variance and capitalize on it.
Dating is another example. I think it's always better to assume that it won't be permanent rather than to assume it will be. Taking this attitude will allow you to fully experience relationships while they last, fully appreciating the other person. When single, it allows you to enjoy the benefits of being single, knowing that it won't last forever. Contrast this to someone who takes their partner for granted, assuming the marriage will last just because of a half-day ceremony, or someone who complains about being single, ignorant to the benefits of being so.
As a rule of thumb, it's usually helpful to understand how the world really is and to plan around that. Almost everything in life is transient, so enjoy it while it lasts, and plan for what may come next.
Photo is Shibuya, Tokyo at night. Some awesome videos from the recent Japan trip:
One of my favorite proverbs is "this too shall pass" - it's wisdom through both good times and bad is powerful and something I try my best to keep in mind. As Abraham Lincoln put it:
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
The picture isn't showing for me. Anyone else having this problem?
I took a nap today. I slept for about an hour and a half, woke up, thought about doing something productive, and then went back to sleep. Sure, I'd gotten a handful of small things done before the nap, but overall it was a pretty unproductive day.
Having unproductive days isn't the end of the world, but at this point in my life, it feels like I'd better be trading productivity for something valuable: tea with a friend, visiting Iguazu falls, bungie jumping in Hong Kong. Not a nap.
It's times like these that doubt creeps in to an otherwise optimistic mind. Maybe I'm just not that productive. Maybe I'm a bad startup cofounder. A reader tweeted me asking how I can be so productive and still have so much fun, which made me feel like a total fraud. I'm not being productive or having fun, just sleeping.
For a while I tracked how good my days were, and one very clear finding was that the worst days felt like they were the new normal, but never lasted beyond a handful. Maybe five days out of a month would be unproductive days, but each one felt like it would extend forever.
These catalogs are selling summer. They are selling beaches and cookouts and time spent outside. They are selling free spirit and relaxation.
But we know that none of these things are contained in the glossy pages, the website, or the box that brings the clothes. You can't buy summer or beaches or cookouts. You create them.
I've not purchased any new clothes this year in part because I've begun to recognize that purchasing clothes brings me nothing but the clothes. There is no way to get the things the clothes symbolize other than creating those things for yourself.
There are hundreds of productivity to-do apps available for the iPhone. I know because I've downloaded at least twenty. After each download I set up the system, import all my tasks and become incredibly productive for the next three days. After that the system slowly gets used less and less - except Evernote. Downloading these apps is selling me on the idea of being productive. I'm using a superficial temporarily effective system to jump start what I want to do.
Instead I just remember. If it's important to do I remember to do it. I try to prioritize three things - thanks to some inspiration from 27GoodThings.com - and focus on doing those things until they are finished.