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01 May

101.9 Work in work time

Do you find yourself not very productive in your work time, and still tethered to it when you are at home? And somehow it seems that fun, true fun, is nowhere to be found, despite not much productivity happening either? Then it might be that you are unintentionally mixing work and fun to the point where none of them really happens.

We all enjoy clean, well-organized environments. The very definition of a clean house, besides removing dirt, is that items can be found in the location in which they belong, and not spread everywhere else. Thus items that belong in the kitchen, are to be found in the kitchen; items that belong in the bedroom, are in the bedroom, clothing items are in the wardrobe, and not on the floor. This is not to say that clothing items on the floor or a plate in the living room would necessarily pose a health and safety risk. It is to say that we enjoy organization and compartmentalizing, and associate this with clarity and cleanliness. Why clarity? Because we then know we can make plans of getting dressed, without having to search for our favourite shirt on the floor or in the laundry basket; we can make plans of cooking without having to search for utensils.  Cleanliness and organization support our plans, and thus our clarity.

The same tidy approach can be applied to our use of time. Whenever we let activities spill over into places in which other activities are supposed to happen, we lose clarity. Because we let things spillover, we will now need to undergo some mental manoeuvring - how and where can I put back the activity I couldn’t do because another activity spilt over? It might be we are thinking this while attempting to perform the task we needed to finish, which makes us perform even slower.

Letting things spill also confuses us about the nature of our leisure time - I am at work, procrastinating, so I am kinda enjoying this thing, but also feeling guilty for it, so not really enjoying it so much. Or I am at home, and was supposed to have fun, but still need to finish these tasks - is it fun time yet?

It also makes us lack clarity about how much time we truly need to finish various things. And makes us feel like we are letting ourselves down, both in terms of achievement, and in terms of leisure we promised ourselves, or time with our family. Not having clarity about our own time (how long it takes us to do things, how much time we currently have available) makes us less confident, and less able to plan. It is like not knowing how much money you have on your debit card - can you go for this dinner with your friends, or will this mean some bill or your savings account get unpaid?

Clarity is very important, and gives us mental comfort and wellbeing. We support our clarity and stay out of our own way by not letting activities spill into the places in which other activities are supposed to happen. This requires an ability to focus on keeping certain activities within a certain place, as you would bring plates back to the kitchen, even if you ate in the living room, in front of your favourite documentary.

Most often, when people let activities spillover from their neat compartments, disorganization and mental chaos ensue. Most of the time this spilling happens in two ways: we over-plan for the day (assuming we will get done too much) or we procrastinate on the things we said we will do, because we don’t feel like doing them yet.

It might be that we procrastinate because the task is not something will really believe has value for our career or lives, the case in which we should learn to say no more. But it is perfectly natural that, even if what we need to do is perfectly aligned with what we want to get done, we feel fear or apprehension in starting.

The cost of procrastinating at work, from fear that some project might demand too much of us, or because we don't feel like tackling a certain task, is that work tasks remain to be accomplished at later times in the evening, when we should be relaxing, enjoying ourselves and family. With not enough time to relax, the next day we are even more tired, distracted, and likely to procrastinate. We are thus building a downward spiral of not getting our work done, and not enjoy our lives either.  We need to acknowledge perhaps that doing certain things might require not just work and focus, but also our courage.

The cost of doing fun or distracting things at work, to avoid a particular task, rather than getting it done, is that the fun itself is not fully lived, and the task will still be lurking over us until the evening.

To be able to enjoy the clarity of compartmentalization, we must be able to use the time for our work in the best way possible. Not procrastinating might mean we have to confront hard tasks head-on, or that we might have to tackle tasks we are emotionally insecure about. However, it generally buys us the wellbeing of having proper work time in which we achieve what we want, and proper relaxed time afterwards, instead of mixing everything up, and leaving us both unproductive and tired.

Attack your work in work time, head-on, and use the time you spend at work to make actual progress. If you do that consistently and don't allow distraction to seep in you will be much more productive than most of the people around you. Then let yourself fully enjoy your leisure time. This will make you more energized and happier about your life than most of the people around you.  And stronger and more courageous when you have to tackle the productivity tasks again.

Though this is a commonsense, simple strategy, the virtues of practising it and applying it as a habit are well worth the effort of rejecting the chaos and temptations of mixing things up. More than energy and achievement, this approach can give one crystal clear clarity, and remove confusion regarding how long tasks actually take, what can be accomplished, and whether there actually is any leisure time to be found.

Mixed time of work procrastination with distraction is not worth a quarter as much as proper leisure time. And the mixed time of procrastinating on leisure for doing work in a moment of tiredness is not worth half as much as proper work time. Add value to your time by respecting your own need for focus and compartmentalization, and start practising this habit today.

See connected lesson 101.9 Work in work time

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