The other day I was looking at a pile of work. It was stacked high in front of me, almost to a level that I was unable to see beyond it. And with each piece I removed, another two were being added.
Sometimes I was able to peel off far more of the pile than was being added. And at one point, I had it down to a level that I felt would mark victory, that I had it down to a level that I would then be able to manage. Then I chose to take on more, thinking that I was over the prior bouts of being overwhelmed. Hey, I caught up, I knew then that if I caught up, it’d be easy to keep up with even more on the plate.
However, a week later, it was overwhelming once again. I was swamped, possibly worse than before.
My ego got the best of me.
I had ignored the idea that while I had caught up, I should lighten the overall load. Essentially, when I finally put the effort into getting around from behind the eight-ball of this load, I instead opted to increase my chances of falling back behind that ball and getting bowled over. Seems like fun, right? It’s like every time we show the briefest of examples that we are able to handle a larger workload, however short lived that example is, we (well I at least) feel that it is sufficient evidence to suggest that as the new norm.
But that is wrong. And I need to learn that.
Ego is good at that. It can be insidious in its ability to convince me that these brief flashes are the norm, that it was an anomaly that the rest of the time I wasn’t able to push through the work. Then, when it proves wrong, it slaps me for even thinking it in the first place.
Damned if I do; damned if I don’t.
Thing is, these brief flashes aren’t the norm. They can’t be. Circumstances shift continuously, meaning that the environment that supported me catching up, supported my achieving a larger volume of this work load, won’t be the same tomorrow. Or maybe it would, but then it could (and likely would) shift to the opposite the next day. There’ve been plenty of days that getting any of this work done is a fleeting dream. In fact, those days are more common than their counter.
To fix this, I have to make a decision as to how much I can handle. I need to couple that with what am I willing to handle. And then, of that, what is leading me to a more fulfilling outcome? What of the work I am doing is additive to my goals?
Recently, I finished reading “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday, a modern stoic philosopher and former executive with the now defunct American Apparel. Along with that, I listened to a few podcasts with Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist with the Wharton Business College of the University of Pennsylvania. Then, on top of it all, I read a few articles by Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked” and “Indistractable”.
It was similar to a perfect storm of information that began to lead me into this direction.
In a lot of ways, each of the sources of information reinforced the other in regards to how I was approaching both the work that I was doing and the work that I wanted to do, or rather, the work that would bring me the highest level of fulfillment. Both Adam and Nir specifically often talk about productivity along with the meaning that work derives. The specific area in this case where I learned was that although there is work we either enjoy or feel that we must do, if it is draining rather than sustaining, or if it is a distraction from the more important tasks, then is it worth doing? The answer, of course, is no.
What I was doing with my time isn’t important. It’s fruitful in some ways in that I am learning. Or in some cases that it entertains me. But overall, the net value was negative. Sure, I was learning from it, but at the cost of applying that knowledge as it was using more time than I had available. If I could not utilize the information I was gathering in any meaningful way, more learning in that direction is then mishandled.
The point of learning in any situation is to better one’s self. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is akin to a trivia buff, who uses their brain capacity to store trivial knowledge to answer sporadic questions on varying degrees of topics. While this knowledge might be impressive in the moment, it isn’t beneficial. Does one pick up on the similarity between the words trivia and trivial?
The fact that I was learning is great; however, I wasn’t allowing myself time to see if I could apply that knowledge to real world scenarios. I was becoming, in effect, a trivia buff.
Additionally, I was finding that my knowledge-base was narrowing. I was working so hard to work in this way that I was limiting the availability of other sources of knowledge to enter my world. Had I not lightened this load initially, I’d have not come into contact with the sources above as quickly as I had. And given that they each came about in the same timeframe, it better helped to reinforce what I needed to pursue.
Acquiring knowledge without a plan to apply it was only one problem in the mix. The other was that I was opting for this work to avoid other work.
This is an area where both Nir and Ryan both come in. Avoiding discomfort is one of the chief aims of ego, as well as a source of distraction. It is anything that takes time or energy away from the goals I have. Writing is one prime example of a goal I have that this was pulling me away from. And funny enough, writing was one of the reasons I am trying to learn in the first place.
Writing, although an absolute joy, can be the antithesis of fun. But as something that can be troubling at times, it is a thing that I must do. Yet, because it is discomforting to do, I find reasons to avoid it… even subconsciously.
It had come to a point where I needed to really examine what I was doing with the work that was constantly piling in front of me. Listening to those names above along with advice I had heard from many sources in my past, I decided that it was time to cut this extra stuff back. I held onto the most important ones to do, the things I could not see myself parting with for whatever reason that is. The rest? I started ejecting.
These changes may not suddenly release the creative time I was missing from this, but it will at least make that time available for when I am ready. And that is what’s more important.