For a while now I’ve been playing with the idea to write a post about how I stay mental in times like these. Most of us have a stressful job where we play multiple roles at once. And when you think that’s not enough, as soon as you have kids you get a few roles on top. We are parents, lovers, superheroes, managers, developers, social workers and a lot of other stuff I can’t put my finger to right now, combined.
Everything has to go faster and faster, we don’t seem to be able to take a break in the constant fear of missing out or becoming irrelevant. A while ago I watched this snippet of an interview with John Cleese where he pointed out exactly what we are doing wrong.
He’s right, absolutely right. We all experience this too. When I’m at work trying to find a solution for a problem, chances are I’m not going to find it there. I do get a lot of new ideas and insights while driving home, or lying in bed, thinking about nothing. Same goes for when you immediately send a reply to an email and later thought “I should have tackled that differently”. We get that all the time, most problems don’t get solved at work and most innovative ideas aren’t born there either. It’s not that we don’t know this, we struggle to find what to do in order not to get trapped in that hasty pattern.
I’m not always a fan of meetings. At least not those where everything needs to be decided and final (and tend to overflow). It’s impossible to stick to one outcome when projects and people change. I can’t count how many times I had to go back to people, see if I could change or align their mind, and hope for a fast outcome. Instead, I want meetings to be more agile. Stick to the basics and decide what we can proceed with until the next get-together. Which preferably is in the near future and has an agenda that can be edited by everyone as soon as we step out of the previous meeting. This way everyone can offload thoughts somewhere else and proceed with what is clear without losing time, or at least reduce that to a minimum.
I’ve stopped answering to notifications straight away while developing, or just generally being busy. A whole day can go by without me replying to an email or paying attention to meeting requests. And John has a point, I’m more likely to respond better when I let it rest a bit. During the day I’m focused to get things done, so I only look at notifications at the start of my day, during lunch and near the end. Preferably turn off notifications or put your phone upside down or out of sight. It will kill productivity.
Free your mind
When I was still working as a watchmaker, my brain had all the time in the world to come up with stuff. Being focused on the manual work left my brain in almost total freedom to wonder about other stuff. I’ve written entire blog posts in my mind just by repairing watches. But I don’t repair watches anymore. Nowadays I’m constantly busy thinking about stuff. Which means my brain does not have that freedom anymore, it needs to deliver. This also means I’m mostly stuck in one mindset which is not good. To remedy this, I go running during lunch. It’s healthy and my mind gets to play around with everything that happened the last 24 hours. Not only does it provide new insights, it also makes me more focused and calmer afterwards.
You have to find your own way of freeing the mind of the chains imposed by your daily workflow. Offload as much as you can to ensure focus and allow your brain to relax. It will make you a happier and more enjoyable person. Which is something I know I need in order to survive.