I cringe and stumble over to the lights.
Flip them on.
What time is i--shit.
It's early afternoon. Think.
Lots of caffeine while working on the new cabal project, all wired up, worked all night, slept morning, and now it's the afternoon and I haven't even slept that much.
My head hurts. I'm probably dehydrated.
Kind of in a fog, moving slowly. Open my laptop up.
Gahh, I can't think. I need some food and water in me. And do some easy work. Easy, that's the ticket.
When's the last time I ate food? It's been a while.
And thus began my morning... err, afternoon. I awoke in one of those hazy fogs where you treat yourself badly the day before, and you wake up tired, dehydrated, on a screwed up sleep schedule, and having not eaten in a long time, with no clear urgent deliverables or meetings to hone focus.
So I kind of stumble around, brush my teeth, and am trying to plan my day through the fog. I need food and easy work. I think, I wonder if any movies are worth seeing at Bobby Brewer's, I'll watch a movie and eat and catch up on my email.
I check the movie schedule, and it looks like an excellent movie is starting... right now.
And suddenly, the fog is gone and I'm in somewhat frantic action. Stretching, clothing, pack, and I'm out the door, feeling awake and alive, all the fog shaken off.
I arrive at Bobby Brewer's... and, oh. Wrong movie. It said "Sacrifice" on the schedule, I thought it was the 2010 Chinese movie about the Yuan Dynasty. Instead it's some lame tacky psychological thriller. Dang it. I watch five minutes and then skip out, going downstairs to order some eggs, vegetables, bread, and coffee.
And I start thinking.
Huh. That frantic action to get here was pretty cool. I did a reasonably good job at everything that needed to be done immediately, completed things quickly, moved with haste here, and was awake and alive when arriving.
It was kind of unpleasant in the hazy fog, but without the frantic action it probably would have taken me 20-40 minutes to come out of it, maybe longer. Instead, the ticking clock meant a whirlwind of haste, and feeling awake and alive.
So I start thinking. When do people take frantic action?
Because this is cool, this is good. I wouldn't want to constantly be in frantic action, but it beats the hell out of lazy hazy confused foggy mode.
Would it be possible to approach the next section of a creative project with frantic action, even if not required?
It seems to me that most people don't take frantic action unless two things are present -
1. It's absolutely necessary or some external factors go bad. (Deadlines, urgency, changing conditions, etc)
2. The task either seems like it'd be possible, or it's the only option.
If you'll think on your life for a moment, the times you took frantic action... I'm going to bet most of the the time there was some outside conditions that made it necessary, and the task seemed doable (or you had no other choice).
It reminds me of Parkinson's Law, which I'm a huge believer in -
"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
By not having time to do it slowly, you do it more quickly.
This suggests that you could intentionally schedule things so they require frantic action to complete.
This seems like it'd produce results.
Or, as written in Hagakure, perhaps it's possible to cultivate this desperate frantic action into your personality and craft -
Lord Naoshige said, “The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.’
“In the Way of the Samurai, if one uses discrimination, he will fall behind. One needs neither loyalty nor devotion, but simply to become desperate in the Way. Loyalty and devotion are of themselves within desperation.”
1. I think external deadline + achievable task (or no other option) is naturally conducive to frantic action.
2. While there's probably downsides to it, periods of frantic action seem like they lead to immense production.
3. You could probably manufacture this by intentionally setting your schedule to require frantic action.
4. This is where I'm not sure - can you take frantic, desperate action even when it's not urgent to do so? Warrior spirit type stuff?
This is fascinating to me. Your thoughts and experiences very much appreciated here... weigh in in the comments about your experiences with frantic action, doing a lot, and cultivating it within yourself. Let's explore this.
Best thing that I ever read about college:
This guy has it figured out. I burned through his entire blog my senior year in high school in about a month and it made life so much easier when I came to college. Zen your way through life.
No doubt about the other projects: my grades would suck if I weren't so busy. I know I have a good deal to do and so when I sit down I usually am way more focused than everybody else I know.
I've tried to do homework with friends before and I always get mad when they try to show me pictures of cats or something on facebook. I would rather get work done and then hang out, then do both and not do either of them very well.
It sounds like being able to switch on this frantic action mode would be useful for quickly getting low-level routine tasks done and thus freeing up more time for productive work, the get out of bed, shower, shave, and eat in 10 minutes kind of thing. It seems hard to be able to enter this mode at will though, when there is no external deadlines or pressure. Guess you've got to construct a mental game or fiction, and impose your own deadlines etc on yourself.
Interesting stuff, I'm going to try and see if I can make myself desperately insane and use that focus and sense of urgency to get discrete task/subtasks done more efficiently.
As a recent graduate I used to practice this. It worked, but I was also able to get extensions when I messed up. The problem is that it builds bad habits. Please note, this is my personal finding for me. Perhaps leaving it till the last minute is good (in the short term it solved this perfectionist's problems). I don't consider it a good long term plan, except perhaps occasionally when the alternative would be something like the 'hazy fog day' Sebastian described. Others will probably disagree.
Yes, I believe it is a problem in that it reduces the amount of disciple being practiced and ones ability at dealing with Parkinson's law is lowered. Once out of university, the skills for dealing with projects with self set deadlines haven't been practiced. This applied for my 400hr end of year project.
I really think the ideal is to be able to set a period of the day for focused work. I'm working on it still, and working on expanding my time period. I really like the analogy in the book you mentioned Rumena. I believe I got a high out of the heroic dash from the burning building (working 40hrs straight was one of the bad episodes of that). Getting sick afterwards sucked. I'd like work to fall in such a way as to leave me enough space to play hard as well.
I was the guy working till midnight to finish off an assignment while a classmate would happily tell me how good it feels to finish... :)
Wow, you just made my day! I had been feeling guilty of this, while at the same time trying to justify it because I know somewhere deep within me that I am doing the right thing... Yeah, hand in deadlines are next week (I'm a student), I have only done half of what we're expected to do, and we did have 5+ weeks for it. Of course, I have been paying attention and taking notes and am absolutely well informed what I need to produce, have the ideas and even some basic drafts - and I know I will do well. Still, I am stressing out, but looking forward to the intensive week I will have.
Of course, there is another point of view for this one - I was reading 'Simplify your life' a few years ago (great German book by Kuestenmacher et al), there is also an English edition); it suggests that doing your work on time is like walking on a piece of wood on the ground, while doing it in the last minute is like walking on the same piece of wood but this time it's between two buildings, high in the sky, and one of them is burning... It makes you feel more 'heroic' - achieved the impossible - while if you had done it on time, it doesn't have the same gratification value.
. My proudest
You can manufacture this systematically by entering an environment that supports it, but I'm not sure it's sustainable. Who can be frantic all the time? What goes up must come down, and there is always a price to pay.
My left ring finger hurts first when I work without an anti-RSI program. It's a war injury from a frantic double all-nighter from 2006. But I have never forgotten the things I learned from that project.
I did a few frantic weeks during a six months visit at Carnegie Mellon. Before going there, I had heard of myths about students working 60 to 80 hours, and I thought I didn't belong to that class of people. It turns out to be easy when everyone around you is doing it. It becomes the new normal. And, when I went back home, I did mostly nothing for about six months.
My most interesting frantic episode was a maniac week in 2008 that ended in a row of three days and three nights of working constantly, without sleeping. Your project becomes the only thing that exists. It's surreal. My guess is that the price was a failure of the project I did after it, but that could have other reasons too (such as the credit crisis).
These examples suggest that if you want to be a productive entrepreneur, one way to do it would be to serve demanding customers in the face of crazy competition. This can probably done only once. If you fail, you could be broken for a very long time.
Then there is the case of Dostoyevsky. During a mock execution, where he really believed he was going to die within minutes, he realized he had no have time to waste. He became an productive writer afterward. He had a samurai attitude about his art.
I still don't know if you can transcend the conservation laws of the cost of action. At less wrong, they talk a lot about anti-akrasia techniques. I doubt whether successful use will cause higher long-term productivity. It could be that you just crash at some point. If your recovery time is not a lot less than the integral the workload, it is just a shift, not a gain.
Generally, I don't think you can change much about your style of work. A combo of genes, environment, and traumas cause a way of working, and you are mostly stuck with it. But I would very much like to see evidence to the contrary.
From a student's perspective, this explains why smart kids wait until the last minute to do all their homework. They know that they can get it all done in an hour, but if they try to do early, it ends up eating X hours because it just doesn't have to be done yet. But if they wait until the last minute, they can work with near perfect efficiency and not spend as much time on it.
So X-1 extra hours traded for the effect of one hour of "Holy-Shit-Balls this needs to get done now" style of work.
I do think there are real drawbacks to frantic action. This happens at a meta-scale during software releases, and tends to be followed by a period of malaise and low productivity. I feel that the same is true at a personal level... it's rare for me to go from frantic into sustained productivity... generally I need a recoup period proportional to the length of the frantic period.
That said, I do like a good frantic kick in the butt in the morning, especially if it can be followed shortly by a period of moderate relaxation, checking the news and email, eating breakfast, etc. That morning haze is like a drug to me, I just love it when I'm in it... so a good bucket of cold water to the face is often just the ticket.
From time to time, everyone gets so ridiculously busy than they need to make cuts on some of their activities. If these cuts aren't consciously chosen, they'll happen anyways - we've only got 24 hours a day.
Interestingly, I hit a massively busy patch last week. I came onboard as a partner at a new company that's growing fast, but we haven't hired the staff to take over a lot of the mid-level tasks that need done. So we were jamming on everything for a week, plus I have a lot of other things going on.
What shocks me is how poorly the cuts I made at first were. The things that weren't getting done were some of the most valuable. Here's three that I wasn't doing, that I've now reversed even though this week is still busy -
1. Planning/organizing: There's been a bit of an anti-planning backlash the last few years in response to stupid bureaucracy in big companies. But the more experience I get and the more I interact with people performing on a really high level, the more planning and organizing I see.
Think about it - many activities and tasks only get 5-10 minutes of planning, but then take 3-10 hours to do. If you double your planning and make a task only 10% more efficient, you've got a net gain. Yeah, it can feel like "shit, I've got to get to work" when you're super busy, but being frantic leads to waste. Don't stop planning if you have too much going on. Arguably, that's when you should plan more carefully at the start of each day and week.
Is it possible that I've already adapted? This is the second 4 hour period in a row where I feel great. I'd say that I feel maybe 15% foggy, but overall pretty great. I would definitely be comfortable driving a car.
In fact, I've been working on 16'x12' post it note mosaic on one of my walls, so once stores are open I'll go drive and get some more post its.
I think that eating in the beginning of every period has helped.