Removing the slash from Work/Life

When a task/work that supposedly consumes a large amount of time appears, my mind enters the panic mode. I need to secure time! When and where? Can I move this and that to another time?

If that task takes approximately 12 hours to complete, I try to find a whole day without any distraction. If it takes 72 hours, a week. And so it goes. I have a very logical (=predictable) way of coping with an upcoming project.

Therefore, the result is also logical (predictable). I either stretch the original period to twice the estimated length and hate myself, or I finish the task in half the estimated time and think I must be a genius and reduce the time into half the next time and of course hate myself for not keeping the new deadline.

Do I make wrong assumptions about how long a project takes? No and Yes. No because I know pretty well how far I can make progress in, say, an hour. Therefore, all I have to do is to multiply that labor-per-hour for whatever required amount. Easy.

And Yes my assumption is wrong because the labor-per-hour performance is my Peak Performance. I am totally right about how much I can achieve in my best condition. Yet I am totally (and so obviously) wrong to think that I can keep it ongoing for however long I want to.

Five Peak Hours a day allows me to finish almost all tasks I carry and enjoy most of the day slacking off, in theory. In reality, I would need several bottles of Red Bull (or even a shot through my nostril…perhaps, perhaps) and I will be spending the rest of the day in a zombie mode, devoid of any energy.

My energy comes in waves. If peak condition is the top-of-the-wave surfing experience, I need to patiently dog-paddle for five times the amount of time. I totally forget the second (and more important), and either overestimate or underestimate my working hours.

Looking back, I might have known that hidden fact all along. Of course: It is presented right in front of me every time I fail to achieve something I planned (and the rate is higher than 50%. Show mercy and please do not ask How much higher.) I just choose to ignore it, all the time.

Why? Because I always treat a “task” to be completed by “someone else.” The harder, more boring, or more time consuming a task (house chores, assignments, business meeting (duh), whatever) becomes, I separate the “task” from my identity and try to process it through hypothesis and equations, as if doing so would keep my humanity intact.

Once I set up an almighty “someone” who finishes this task within certain hours, that persona takes up an artificial life on its own and turns itself into a robot. By definition, a robot churns out constant amount of output for as long as I want. And by definition, the human being inside that robot mask is made up of waves (or mood swings or distractions or boredom/passion duality). Mix the two worlds and I would never get my calculation right, unless the “task” is completed in an hour.

This symptom isn’t limited to my own tasks. I look back on the days as a manager, and I certainly applied this Peak-Performance-Multiplied-by-Hours pitfall onto my team members. Of course I did it without realizing what I was doing, because I was already doing it to myself (on a smaller scale…). And of course the team members would get appalled by the dehumanizing demands coming from a clueless guy. Is this the reason why everybody turns into an asshole/bitch once he or she gets promoted?

The path I need to take is obvious: get the “task” back to myself. Treat the task as any other “private” activities I enjoy, and find a way to make sure everything is nicely weaved into my life.

Therefore, I recently started to incorporate my “tasks” into my daily life without a clear separation from my other activities. I no longer create a task/life boundary. Everything rides along with me, and things get done when they get done, bit by bit, along with my daily flow.

I finish a certain amount of my task, then switch to my chores, then to my reading, then to my hanging out, back to my task, then to my socializing… My life is a gigantic patchwork with increasingly blurring stitch lines. I carry my laptop everywhere because being an unpredictable human, I have no idea when I am in the “mood” for work.

The result? I am taking up more tasks that I find surprisingly easy to fit into my schedule, and I am dropping tasks that I know could fit into my life only theoretically. I am not necessarily “doing much more” as those self-help books advocate, but I am certainly in a better mental state knowing I can handle stuff that fits into my life. I am on a rough path still, but things look promising.

There is no such thing as “tasks” that I can shove into some dark holes. Everything in my life is equal in its essence, therefore, should be treated equally, as long as I welcome it in my life. Work/life balance? Everything happens is life, I would say.

  • Nick H

    You are so right, especially with the final paragraph. The kicker is (I am smiling), this attitude is only possible when you are fully in the present and do not project into future or past that any one thing is more or less important, there is no room for anxiety or else you lose the equality. Good thing.