No, boredom isn’t always bad

In a previous post, we talked about having more than one project going at once, to provide continuing progress. When one gets stuck, you can switch to another.

This sounds fine, but there’s a caveat. Changing projects can undermine the boredom that got you going in the first place.

Huh?

OUT OF BED

With luck, our work provides not only an income, but also the fun of creating, problem solving and completing. Work can be interesting and stimulating, something that gets us out of bed in the morning, ready to take on the challenges of a new day.

sleep

An antidote to dullness and ennui, in other words.

However there’s more than one way to slice this apple, and the truth is that alternative projects can undermine interest in the first one, killing the urge to complete it. This isn’t just about using up the energy or time that can be spent on something else. It’s about the hunger that impels the task.

Example 1: After jousting with your editor on the phone for an hour, you’d rather slit your wrists open than make those marketing calls.

Example 2:  Designing your new kitchen online was fun. Too bad about the client newsletter that’s now overdue by a week.

Ideally, our ventures should work to satisfy different internal masters, rather than competing to achieve the same ends. Otherwise there’s a chance we’ll lose interest forever.

Don’t let your projects fight each other to keep the boredom at bay.

Photo by Nastya Dobryvecher

 

Clear and hot – or strain and pain?

focus

Focus is good, they say. It’s supposed to be a key to success – concentrating on what works, and not getting distracted. Whole books have been written about it.

Short-term focus means fixing on a task and not wasting your day on side activities. Then there’s sustained focus, over a longer period. Enemies of this are said to include acquisitions, new ventures, and sitting on too many eggs at once.

Unrelenting focus isn’t always for the best, though. It can lead to number watching, impatience and unnecessary fiddling.

Not everything happens just when we want it to. Projects get stuck. Trying to push them forward isn’t always going to work. We need to rest, wait for inspiration, let time to pass. 

NO ITCHES

That’s when alternative ventures are valuable. They allow us to lie fallow on the prime one, without the feeling of going nowhere. We can move from one to another without getting itchy. 

Two side projects are good. Three may be even better.

Contrast between activities is useful, for example gardening as a break from book writing. The secondary projects need not be profit-related. When business progress is stubborn, you can switch to improving your tennis slice.

Everyone wants Unicorn rates of growth, like those of Airbnb or Uber or Clubhouse, but mostly this isn’t how it happens. Growth typically occurs on a compounding basis, which means that the first few years show modest returns.

Maybe it’s like planting an orchard. No matter how ambitious we are, or how much effort or intelligence are applied, a few seasons have to pass before the first crop. There’s a natural maturation process that can’t be rushed.

Focus sounds clear, hot, laser-like. Just what we all want to be. But it can also lead to forced thinking, strain and pain.

Focus isn’t always sharp.

Photos by Michael McAuliffe and Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum

2021: A Break Odyssey

Instead of making new year resolutions for 2021, here’s a better idea. Break something, pull it apart, and remake it.

The problem with resolutions is that the associated actions have to be continued for at least three months in order to convert them into a habit.

The brain pattern – and the muscle memory that goes with it – needs to be replaced by another. No easy task. Each time that we fall back into the legacy, comfortable way of doing something, it continues to be strengthened. A clean break is needed.

One problem with forming a new pattern is that until it’s properly in place, we keep making silly errors and causing ourselves to look stupid to others.

Too bad. It’s an unavoidable part of the process.

Most people don’t attempt to build a new habit. Instead they try to get a better result from the old less-than-optimal pattern of thought and action. That’s as likely as persuading your dog to bring in the letters instead of chasing the mailman. 

If you’re a cruel-minded kind of person who loves to win against others, their habits are invaluable. You can use them as a guide as to what these people are likely to do next. They rarely alter their routines.

Still, in a year that’s been a nightmare for many, there’s been progress. Folks have been forced to adapt to new situations, which has meant changing the old ways of doing things.

Let’s make that a harbinger of 2021 – a year for the dissolution of bad habits. Many of them are not actually bad, just not as useful as they could be.

Break, pull-apart, remake. A tenet for the twenties.

At some stage, you have to clean engines

Do what you love, we’re told, and it won’t even feel like work. Sounds good, yet the truth is that you’re not going to embrace everything about a job.

A friend recently announced that she was giving up writing fiction, because she didn’t enjoy the process enough. Other people, she said, loved creating novels. She realized that she didn’t.

Hold on, what didn’t she like?

LEARNED COMPETENCE

Fiction writing has a number of components, including plotting, crafting sentences, writing dialogue, and editing the raw drafts. A bunch of skills are required.

Some people are natural story tellers. They get carried along by the power of their tale and can hammer out a first draft in weeks, though the prose may be unexceptional in quality.

Other folk love crafting sentences and paragraphs, while having trouble shaping the whole thing into a coherent narrative.

The tasks you don’t like doing can be a grind, but they’re part of the skill-set. You learn to be competent at those aspects that don’t come naturally or easily.

This is why any profession or trade is a love-hate affair. You can delegate or contract out stuff you really don’t want to do, but some of it can’t be avoided. It’s difficult to be a mechanic who refuses to clean engines, or a general practitioner who won’t talk to patients.

Too bad about my writer friend. You can’t love it all.

Successful by choice

There’s usually more than one way to accomplish something. Ideally, you’ll want to have at least three methods open to you.

If fitness is your goal, for example, try not to rely on jogging alone. Also have a choice among swimming, weights, exercise machine and sport.

WHICH TODAY?

Varying your activities will “keep your body guessing” and make you fitter faster. It’s also great to be able to get up in the morning and ask “what one will I do today?”

If yoga is your thing, train regularly with more than one group. Self-employed? You’ll want at least three clients.

Not only does variety stop you getting bored, it also creates a buyer’s market. The providers of activities will have to compete against each other for your attention, which means you get the best possible deals. 

A range of alternatives isn’t usually possible at the start. Let it evolve. Begin with a single activity, than add to that as opportunities arise.

Achievement – it’s a matter of choice.

No deadline, nothing done

If you want to get things done, place yourself under pressure or accept external pressure. You’ll work more effectively.

Build it into your schedule – without going so far as to cause panic. One person’s pressure is another’s ease, so choose the amount of push that enhances your efficiency.

Russian concert pianist Konstantin Shamray says: “Once you are busy, really busy, you get more organised and get more done. It is as if some hidden reserves open up within you.”

YOUR LEGACY

Without some urgency Parkinson’s Law applies. Restrict your working time, by say booking an afternoon round of golf before going into the office in the morning.

Another hack is to make a list that’s too long, knowing that all the items don’t have to be knocked off in 24 hours – although you will try.

The scope of projects that benefit from self-imposed deadlines will vary greatly, from “This is what I intend getting done before bedtime” to “Here’s what I want to make my legacy.”

Lifetime’s work or a well-filled hour. A firm schedule can benefit both.