After waking up at 2 or 3:00 in the morning, I would write until about 5 or 6:00 am. New How, the first book, was written mostly in the dead of night.
I don’t remember exactly how I started this practice. Or, if I even thought of this as a strategy. I just remember doing it over and over again, sometimes varied if I caught a snooze from 6-7 am. With 4-5 hours of sleep on any given night, I’d head off to work. Which usually meant a full day of back -to-back meetings with executives of companies, solving tough problems. My head would be full of all this turmoil, when I did the kid hand off from our nanny.
I snapped at my son when I was overly tired, which was, admittedly more often than not. I remember yelling as loud as a human being can yell when he was about three for not doing as I asked. I look back at this scene with great shame today, because no three-year-old kid should be expected to follow directions exactly. It’s clear that my judgment was clouded. A lot was expected of me, (or so I thought), and so I expected a lot. On weekends, I was a like a limp piece of lettuce, ready to fall apart with even the slightest activity. I was leaving it all on the field of work with no room for failure, or life or love.
Back then, I would actually say things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. You’ve probably heard other people say something similar, right? Perhaps even yourself? So when Time ran an essay entitled, “I’ll Finish The Dishes When I’m Dead“, it resonated.
The observation the author, Brigid Schulte, makes is that time can’t actually be managed..
Time never changes. There will always be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in that time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need to, want to or should do. When we die, the email inbox will still be full. The to-do list will still be there. But you won’t.
And, the real issue is our (unrealistic) expectations of ourselves. …
So much of our overwhelm comes from unrealistic expectations. And when we don’t meet them, instead of questioning the expectations, we think that we’re doing something wrong. Managing the overwhelm, she said, comes down to knowing the underlying story that’s driving those unrealistic expectations.
We do this over and over again, based on the idea that “more is better” because of a core belief, or pattern …
Your ongoing conversation with yourself is, You’re not enough. So whatever you do will never be enough. Every human being has some flavor of ‘not enough.’ Begging the question: How much is enough? When is it good enough? How will I know?
‘Not enough.’ That rings (sadly) true.
I no longer say shit like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” but more “maybe this is a sign to try a different approach”. Things I’ve learned …
First, I’ve learned that overcommitment is the one thing that keeps away happiness. When I sleep too little, travel too much, and don’t eat well or exercise because I’ve said yes to too many meetings or projects, then I get tired, cranky, and lonely — and everything gets viewed through a tired, cranky, lonely lens. Doing more is typically not the answer. Although there are times, where intense focus is the right way forward. For example, I’ve been doing a new book proposal, working weekends and evenings as inspiration strikes. I am hopeful that this intensity now will pay off down the road, providing a clear light on the path as I get into the deeper story telling. But this project is different than New How; I ended several bigger commitments last year, as I prepared for this new endeavor. Letting go of things created the space for the new thing to have space to flourish.
2nd, the key to my productivity, is to define and redefine the ‘True North’. Just the other day an entrepreneur I’m advising was measuring success by how much he did, as if volume or efficiency is what matters. But it seems to me that he ought to review the definition of productivity. Productivity is a measure of how well you achieve a certain goal, so it only works if you’re really clear (as in, intentional) on what you want. (Link is Fast Company profile on how I stay productive, written by Lydia Dishman.)
3rd, it’s a practice. My kiddo has to sometimes put a post-it on my head to remind me to go to bed instead of finishing a project. The hubster’s eye rolling signals when I’m traveling too much for different speaking gigs. There’s no universally right way to do things and, because things change, this process is both iterative and never-ending. Like living your life on a balancing board; it takes strength just to stay on.
It seems to me this is a core life skill that none of us learn in books or in class. So I’m curious if we can learn from each other — what can you share about this? What works, and even … what doesn’t?