Work is almost synonymous with stress in our culture. If you’re working hard, you’re exhausted, stressed, and stretched thin. So you only work a fixed amount of hours per day if you can manage, you get weekends off, and then once in a while when you need to restore what work has taken from you, you take a vacation.
Whenever I want something, I ask myself if there’s a problem lurking behind that desire. Do I want that doughnut because what I really need in my life is a doughnut? Or do I want it because I crave stimulation, because I rely on novelty to keep my life interesting, or because I’ve eaten too little today and need calories.
Do I want to see this girl because I really like her? Or is it because I’m lonely or bored or need validation? Am I working on this project because I want for it to exist? Or is it because I need money or want recognition?
Behind every action is a reason, and some of those reasons point to larger underlying problems. What’s the underlying problem behind these escape valves from work? Why do we need time off, vacation, and weekends?
Have you ever worked on something and wanted desperately not to stop? You know, one of those projects you’re so engaged in that you’re fighting your looming bedtime? It’s not usually easy work, either.
If you enjoyed the work less, you’d call it taxing. But instead, it’s restorative. You feel alive, putting your faculties to good use, and seeing progress unfold in front of you. That’s one of my favorite feelings in the world.
If I feel overwhelmed by work, my instinct is never to take time off from it. That’s a patch of the symptoms, not a solution to the underlying problem. Instead I think about how great work can be, and I ask myself what’s standing in the way of my work being that enjoyable.
A system that separates work and pleasure is a bad system. Instead, we should seek to derive pleasure from our work and allow our work to relax us. Isn’t that the best outcome? I want as much productivity as I can possibly extract from myself in a sustainable fashion.
There are two ways by which we can improve the world. We can spend high-quality time with people, and influence each other. We can create work that helps other people reach their goals. That’s about it.
Sometimes you hear people say things like, “I worked really hard during X period of my life, and I lost track of what was important. I wish I had worked less.”
To me, that’s the wrong conclusion. Don’t work less, make your work more meaningful. Learn to extract all possible joy from your work. Spend your time working on projects that are good for the world. Then work more, because it benefits you and others.
I do take time off from work, but only when I’m spending high quality time with good friends or family. I always have time to have tea with a good friend, or a meal with my family. I barely worked at all the week I spent at the island chopping down trees alongside a couple friends.
But weekends? Stopping work at five? Taking vacations where I do nothing? Come on. I think it’s funny when people suggest these things, because my goal is the exact opposite. I want to fill more of my hours with work, not fewer. It’s not that I’m denying myself the pleasures of these things, it’s that I have a visceral revulsion to them.
I love work. I love doing it, and I love what it stands for. I love that it makes me a better person and can make the world a better place. Sometimes I have to slog through a draining task, but usually work is energizing. If you don’t feel this way, you can hide from the problem by taking time off, or you can examine the problem and change yourself and your work to be symbiotic.
Photo is from the Atacama salt flats. It reminded me of the picture I used for Love Work I.
Sorry about the weird Wed/Fri posting schedule these past two weeks. I’ve been in heads down mode working a ton on Sett, squeezing in some work for the next version of Cruise Sheet, and writing every day and learning Russian. VERY excited to show what’s coming next for Sett and Cruise Sheet.
The Cruise Sheet upgrade I’m working on is almost done, which should free up some spare time to preschedule posts and to finish editing the habits book.
Also– shout out to Radhika who has been helping with some Sett stuff and doing an awesome job with it.