My mind has been scrambled the last couple days. I don't know why, it came on very suddenly. I've made massive strides over the two weeks before - I accomplished about six months worth of work over two weeks. I felt on top of the world. I wasn't even very tired afterwards, I felt good, ready to go.
Then yesterday, just bzzt - nothing. Foggy, almost like confusion. Couldn't focus at all. Strange. I said, y'know what? I haven't had a day off in a while, I'm just going to take the day off. Went and sat at a cafe and listened to some audio for about four hours, walked around and saw the city, went and had a massage, and then sat and ate fruit. Spend like 10 hours in a row just thinking and relaxing, which is good, I don't take full days off very often. I had some good ideas when I was out at the cafe and took some extensive notes, so I got some production out of it too without even trying to.
Now, I wish I could say, "And then I was recharged, and today I was awesome!" But no, I woke up in a fog again. Damn this. I track my time and have some routines to keep me running well, but I was foggy despite it, unable to focus really. Suck, what is this?
I was working, but it was half-working. Now, half-working is a big problem in my opinion. Half-working tires you out as much or more than real full working, but you get about 5% as much stuff done. Yes, 5%. Good work requires something like focus. It doesn't necessarily require the highest levels of focus and flow (though that stuff is very good), but it requires working through the mentally difficult parts when they come up. The worst part about half-work is you cruise through the easy enough stuff, then stumble on a difficult part.
This is doubly bad, because when you come back to your work, you're staring the hardest part in the face. This sucks, you need to kind of regroup and double down to get re-started while staring a difficult or complex part of work in the face. But again, I was in that mental fog and so I start half-working on it, and then I wander off again. And I try to come back to the work, but then - bam, there's this hard problem staring me right in the face, that I already failed to conquer twice.
In this way, half-work tires you out more than real work. Real work is cool, you work through it, you feel good and accomplished. Half-work is brutal, because you keep getting defeated, and you keep spending time in the worst part of it accomplishing nothing.
Around 2PM, I say, "This isn't any good. I'm either going to go for a run or take a nap. Which should I --zzzzzzzzzzz" - so the question answered itself.
But then I woke up only three hours later, still in a fog. Ah, what is this madness? I've been riding extremely high for three weeks, and had a solid entire month before that, and I'm back in a fog. I don't want to be in a fog and I shouldn't be in a fog. What is this?
More half-work. Okay, Sebastian, cut this out, this solves nothing. Stop half-working. I go out for a while, have dinner, they get two dishes wrong (sugar in the coffee I ordered and the wrong vegetable dish), but I don't even bother correcting them, I just skip the coffee and accept the vegetables. I go to buy a USB headset from an electronics store, but then they say it'll be a 2.5% extra charge if I pay by credit card. And I say, "No, that's not okay." And the guy says, well, that's what it is. So I leave the store.
Outside, I'm now confused. I didn't buy that cheap headset because it was 2.5% more? I'm in a fog. I'm not thinking clearly.
There's an inexpensive spa nearby that only costs 170,000 VND for 90 minutes of essential oils and hot rocks and things like that. I go in, piano music is playing softly, hot rocks, there's a nice fishtank and I zone out and look at that. This is better than half-working, I'm now recharging instead of having my batteries run down for no reason.
I come back to my friend's home where I'm staying, and he wants to go over some strategy and planning with me. I'm foggy at first, and then, BAM, my mind shifts into gear and I'm on and I'm thinking clearly again. This is good, I feel like me again, and my output has been good since then.
I'm all for powering through the pain and forcing myself to do something I think is valuable but difficult - whether it be exercising, or forcing myself to sit down and write, or to do something otherwise taxing or difficult or scary. Discipline is good. But sometimes, I think it takes discipline to realize you're at your limits for whatever reason, and to rest and recharge. I ran myself into the ground from '04 to '08 with lots of work, lots of travel, running a main company, building up a good side project, and studying business full-time at the same time. Lots of time I'd be finishing my homework on an airplane back to Boston, I'd stop at the bank with my luggage still with me, wire money to a contractor, go home, drop my luggage off, head over to the computer lab to print my paper, head to class, then stay up and work in a database for a few hours before sleeping. 100 hour workweeks weren't anything particularly rare.
I didn't listen when my body said it was at my limit for about five years, and then I crashed for almost all of '09, I was just reading books and being rather reclusive. I'm a big believer in disciplining and willpowering through difficult tasks, but sometimes I think you gotta accept when you're at the limit and cool your heels, even if it doesn't make sense and you'd rather you weren't at your limit . It seems a little wasteful to get a massage yesterday and go to a spa today - this is the sort of thing I'd do every week to two weeks at most, but recharging and keeping myself out of the half-work daze has got to be top priority. Either producing, flowing, accomplishing, or resting, recharging, rebuilding. No halfway measures - halfway means no work gets done but I get run down in the process. That's a losing formula in the long run.
The other observation I've got - helping other people is a good way to pull out of a haze. When it's for yourself primarily, it's easier to indulge in low energy or distraction or fogginess. For someone else, you've got to snap to a little bit more and build/fix/plan/accomplish things together. I think that's my new M.O. for where I get into a fog - rest for a while, then start calling everyone I know and like to see what I could help them with. I should probably put together a list of like 30 people that I'll call in order when I get into a fog, and whoever's around that needs something done I'll put my talents to use for them. It's hard to half-work when you're linked up with someone strong and virtuous and doing good things together.
Don't half-work! Work, or don't work. Half-work ruins your mind while solving nothing. Break through and do real work, or respect your body and recharge. To jump back into the flow, help someone else you respect do something, that'll pull you out of the fog.
Wauw great post! I feel exactly the same. Sometimes you need to have real qualitytime to recharge. It anint working , if you work a little bit and doing some chillin both on the sameday. For me its recharge day or work day.
Can you detail a bit more what makes you "switch" from a foggy status to a clear one? I know that it was when you helped someone, but what exactly made you come back to thinking clearly? And in other cases, how do you snap out of it? I would love to have more precisions on this, because foggy thinking happens to me quite often. I wish I could snap out of it in a easy to reproduce manner...
Thanks bro :)
Good plans are like A and O. And it always works for me. Good sleep is importent. I recharge while sleeping.
Just thought you might want to know:
It worked! I started doing something unrelated to my techie problem and I found/saw the answer to my original problem within two minutes. Although it is not quite done yet, the hardest part is finished. My apologies for commenting so verbosely before.
Yesterday I went through a similar situation; I realized that I was basically done with a major proposal for a project except for an optional component. I have over a month before it is all scheduled to be reviewed, and most of the zest I have for the project has gone away when I realized that I had already done most of what I needed to do. All that is left is an admittedly tricky technical problem.
I would like to get it all done though, so I plan on using one of Feynmann's stories for dealing with burn out:
He had just gotten done with some big project(s) and was feeling way down. He had pushed hard and gotten some good results, but somehow along the way he had lost his drive to get anything worthwhile done. He noticed that he was letting the little stuff, like teaching and paperwork, take up a big part of his life but he couldn't bring himself to work on the "big" ideas like everybody expected him to.
This went on for a few weeks and it was really starting to irk him. He was in the cafeteria eating a meal and not really doing anything of significance when a few students walked by. One of them was tossing an empty plate up in the air. Feynmann saw the plate and starting asking himself, "How could I parameterize the path of one of the molecules in that plate?" He sat down with a napkin and spent the rest of the night accounting for the plate's lateral/rotational movement as well as the wobble that was introduced by the uneven launch.
The next morning, he felt like he was back. Something had changed. He credited the change with the fact that he had done good work on a problem that he wanted to work on, even though the work didn't really seem to go anywhere.
It seems like when you are feeling lazy, the best thing to do is gain momentum by working on a hard problem that you want, but maybe not have, to work on and then see how you feel afterwards. My plan is to just mess around with the code and try to do some stuff that I have been excited about for a long time and see where it gets me.
Hi, I took some time to read the article and show it to my girlfriend and I'm quite pleased with how thought-provoking and well written it was. I wish more people actually took the time to create worthwhile articles. Thanks
Does anyone ever feel as though you have way too many interests, way too many ideas, and way too many things you want to do that you don't ever focus on anything, and thus get nowhere? What do you do to help solve that?
Uhm well I think it could be more related to the solo-adventure you are in. The more you stay without going out with friends, people, old friends and new one, having fun, the more you consume your willpower. And it seems a thing going worse as the years pass and you become older.
Probably you just need more human relations to recharge your batteries.
You are a human being: your robot schedule approach has some dark spots. This, probably, is one of them.
I can really relate to this. Every week this seems to happen to me. When the weekend comes by, I can't seem to accomplish anything close to what I could do with the time. And yet I have so much to do. Sometimes this follows on through to weekdays, and then the entire week can turn out to be miserably unproductive.
I can corroborate that having someone else dependent on you to get something done is one great way to snap out of it. Another way is to engage yourself in a fun hobby or side project, most helpfully something that's just getting started and won't bog you down with any hard problems. This way, you can have fun and get into the groove of doing some "work", and transition into real work after some time.
Got a good question from a reader about sleep. One of my goals is to sleep less than 8 hours/night
Hello, and thanks for inviting your blog visitors to email you directly. I just came across your site today, and got some good reading out of your "top stories" list. What compelled me to write, though, was a trend I noticed on some of your "goals" posts: sleeping less than 8 hours per night.
It caught my attention, because at first glance it looks counter-intuitive. Yet I understand exactly what you mean.
Cut. Return to monologue later. Get to the askin':
How is it working out for you?
Whenever you fully immerse yourself in something, you begin to see patterns and make connections that you wouldn't otherwise make. This is why everyone who's ever become really good at pickup has dropped everything and immersed himself in it for a period of time. These days, I'm fully immersed in work, and I've begun to see patterns here as well.
If we simplify work into three types, we could say that there's easy work, medium work, and hard work. Easy work is stuff that you're so good at that it's just busy work. For me this is menial programming stuff like building a new dialog box or making a function to get something from the database. Medium work is the good stuff-- it's where you're challenged and engaged, but within your zone of expertise. Optimizing stuff (one of my favorite parts of building SETT) is something that I'd consider medium. Then there's hard work-- stuff you're not good at, but have to do anyways. The other day I had to write a small plugin in C for Varnish, a front end cache. I don't know C and was just learning about Varnish, so this was a very frustrating and difficult piece of work for me.
Completing easy work is just a matter of ignoring distraction. The work itself isn't very engaging, so I've noticed that while doing it I'm prone to distraction. Just noticing this is generally enough to keep my on track. Medium work is the fun stuff. When I have a day of medium work, I generally have a killer day where I make tons of progress and feel really good about it. Hard work is the real threat to productivity, though, because it can stop you in your tracks.
I've been working on a novel. Once every two or three weeks I set aside half a day, and I just pound out writing. This is a new project, so I've only done this three times. The first session, I wrote out an outline for the book and started attacking it. I wrote seven thousand words and then stopped in the middle of a really interesting scene. Medium work. A couple weeks later I spent another half day writing and knocked out another seven thousand words. I got back to the project a week or two later and was stuck. The next scene was going to be very difficult to write. I fought through a paragraph or two, wasn't happy with the writing, and then gave up and went back to working on SETT.