The other day, I found myself staring at the screen with glazed eyes. I can’t do this. I just CANNOT do this.
I sighed. It wasn’t like the task was even that hard. So I rallied, then leaned in to work…
…only to compulsively click over to Facebook. Anything to escape.
I know I’m not the only one who’s felt like this. Sometimes, a bit of meditation or a few minutes swinging my kettlebells gets me back on track. But other times, I can go for hours, fighting myself to just get it done already. Why am I so lazy? Just… do it!
Why am I telling you about this little flaw of mine? For two reasons. First, to lend some encouragement if you’ve felt the same—you’re not a weirdo. It happens to the best of us.
Second, I want to question why “laziness” is considered a flaw at all.
Why we suck at productivity
I’ve written before about why we procrastinate. Basically, we’re either afraid of the work, we’re afraid of the outcome, or we can’t find meaning in the task before us.
Perhaps I should have included another, much simpler reason: We’re tired.
How many times have you sat down at your desk after a lousy night’s sleep and browsed Facebook for a solid hour before even glancing at your tasks for the day?
How often have you dawdled after lunch, knowing you weren’t in the right mindset to get back to work?
Your brain feels helpless in the face of a growing mountain of tasks, and you end up in pseudo-work limbo where you’re not doing anything of value, but dangit, you’re trying.
Maybe there’s a better way
As a society, we deeply value productivity. We have millions of articles on the topic. I’ve written a few myself. We trade life hacks like Pokemon cards and tell each other “don’t work too hard,” but rarely do we actually mean it.
But maybe, instead of kicking yourself for not bringing your A-game every day, there’s room for some grace.
Maybe there’s room to move a bit slower.
One of my friends from college is an artist—a painter. He spent a lot of his free time with his acrylics. I remember one day I was complaining about how I too wanted to spend more time drawing. In response, he told me how he balanced his homework with his desire to paint. He said (and I paraphrase):
“I’m learning that I need to listen to what I want to do. If I’m forcing myself to do homework when I want to do art, I’m going to sit there and not get anything done. So I’m giving myself permission to just do the art.”
At that moment, something clicked. Of course! If you’re hitting a wall, sometimes it’s far more effective to let yourself off the hook to do the thing you’re pining for instead—whether it’s art, spending time with loved ones, or just sleeping.
Then, you DO return to your work, you can approached it with a relaxed mind and zero resentment.
“Move fast and break things” can break you, too
Move fast and break things—It’s Zuckerberg’s famous motto. Funny enough, he actually changed it back in 2014 when he realized it was actually, uh, breaking Facebook.
Yet the phrase has stuck in the startup world, along with another Silicon Valley favorite, “Hustle harder.”
I get it. We need to stay focused, stay on our game, in order to do what we set out to do. However, I think going all-in should also mean recognizing what it actually takes to go all-in.
Your all-in might mean taking certain days off to recharge, balancing heavy work with some time to play, or simply being gentle with yourself when you need time to rest.
Giving everything you’ve got and then burning out two weeks in isn’t going all-in. It’s setting yourself up for failure.
The benefits of working slow
What’s “working slow”? I don’t literally mean typing slower or futzing around on Facebook every few minutes. I mean taking the time to do your work well, while also caring for yourself well. When you do this, a few things happen:
1. You find the work that actually matters
In “The 4-Hour Workweek,” Tim Ferriss challenges his readers to cut back on the hours they spend working as soon as possible, rather than waiting until you have more income. His reasoning? It’ll force you to only do the activities that bring real change to your business, and force you to consider ways of making income that require a lower time commitment to begin with.
I remember reading that with strong skepticism. I ONLY do high-value work, I thought. But at the same time, the idea was so enticing, I gave it a try. Instead of writing a blog post I had on my to-do list for after lunch, I relaxed (and instead spent the time reading more of Tim’s book).
Toward the end of the day, I had only one hour left. Instead of a drawn-out blog that I wasn’t invested in, I ended up writing a high-impact email for my subscribers that was very different from my usual emails. It suddenly clicked that it was far more important to deliver exclusive content to my email readers than to pump out another hit-or-miss blog post.
The result? I revamped my whole content production strategy. I like it a whole lot better now, and my blog traffic is still growing.
(By the way, you can subscribe and get those exclusive emails using the form at the end of this post!)
2. You have more time for your other interests
What drove me nuts about working full-time is how impossible balance seems. I always got home too tired to do anything except make a simple dinner and zone in front of a screen.
When I started freelancing, I ended up spending my free time doing more work, even though I was mentally winding down. Now, I now make a point to practice my other loves, like continuing studying Japanese and learning how to play piano.
For you, you might want to spend an hour doing a craft with your kids. Maybe you need time to get outside and just breathe. Try taking breaks throughout the day and see what happens. Or, if you already take breaks, trying taking them without any guilt. Just enjoy that freaking you-time and be fully present. Then see how much easier it is to get back into your work afterward.
3. You feel better
I don’t have to tell you that fewer working hours means a happier brain. According to a recent Gallup study, 53 percent of employees say that a job with work-life balance is “very important” to them, and I’m willing to be that number skyrockets for those who are self-employed.
What I DO have to tell you, though, is that you actually can work fewer hours and still have a happier brain—and bank account.
“But what about the 8-hour work day??” you cry (dramatically fainting onto the nearest chaise).
The 8-hour workday is B.S. The average American office worker is at work about 8.8 hours a day. Yet of that time, they only do productive work for about 53 minutes on average. (Source)
The rest of the time? They’re putzing around on social media, chatting with coworkers, going to meetings, yada yada.
As a business owner working from home, you can zone in far easier and have quite a few more hours of productivity. You’re already ahead of the curve. But also remember that your ability to give hardcore attention lasts only a few hours. It’s why some companies (including Amazon) are experimenting with shorter workdays for their employees.
The bottom line is that it’s okay to take the time you need to relax. You’re going to accomplish basically the same amount of work in a 5-hour day as an 8-hour day.
If you’re waiting for permission, here it is: Go make your brain happy.
It’s really an exercise in being present. You may just well find that when you show up fully for your play, you can show up fully for your work.