i take a lot of photos of my cat, and it’s kind of embarrassing. i used to be the kind of person that would scoff at people who loved their cats. i used to think that they were being a little over the top. but now, i can’t help but be part of the club. sophie, the little black cat my girlfriend adopted, has become a source of huge joy in my life.
it is hard to figure out exactly why i lose my shit over this cat. when i wake up in the morning, she is asleep on the pillow next to me. when i work at my desk, she is perched in her little cat bed to my left on the windowsill. when i sit and watch tv, she finds a spot nearby. perhaps what i like to much about this cat is that she prefers to be nearby.
usually i enjoy things because they puzzle my brain. i like challenges, difficult questions, and changing environments. the joy i feel when i spend time with my cat is a lot different. it is simpler. and as an over thinker, this confuses me. when my cat closes her eyes when i scratch her cheeks, i think “why do animals elect to spend time with us?” and i still have trouble finding the answer.
we all know 9-5 does not make sense, and my question is where we are headed next. what’s wild about companies like lyft is that it operates on its own schedule. artists, filmmakers, web developers, and more have the opportunity to work on their own schedules and don’t have to be tied down to a specific place or schedule. not only is this exciting, but it also is collectively powerful since it gives our workforce considerable agility.
as i interview young people who make a living online, it becomes clear to me that there are common challenges: time management, motivation, marketing, health care, etc. while an employer usually took care of some of the more managerial tasks for us, we now are burdened to make these structures for ourselves. my job, at least for the time being, is to help my peers figure out how to be their own boss.
the formal job market is posted online and has a series of clearly defined hoops to jump through in order to land the position. the informal job market exists in the background, and the key to becoming a part of it is being curious and testing assumptions.
i got a lot of my jobs just through shaking hands and asking questions. people often will grumble that certain industries heavily depend on “who you know”, and they’re not wrong. jobs are created by people, and it pays to know the right people.
what’s thrilling about finding work in a loosely organized field is that you can open yourself to huge opportunities if you play your cards right. the hard part is that there is no handbook, and at the end of the day we all have to eat. they key is knowing your strengths in both formal and informal spheres, and using them to your advantage to get where you want to go.
people are different, and the way people work varies as a result. i am a morning person, my girlfriend is a night owl. our productivity levels heavily depend on the differences in our personalities, upbringing, and values.
i’ve noticed that i get a lot of my writing done in the morning. in the evening, after 6pm, it is incredibly difficult for me to write. however, it is a great time to study. studying requires long instances of uninterrupted silence, which is more easily found when the day is done.
on the bus, i can get very little done. but, this is when i either listen to a podcast or a playlist. i can scroll through twitter and instagram, or take a moment to just think. the best part is identifying this window (and others) in a mindful way.
by identifying my morning hours as “office time”, evening hours as “study blocks”, and bus time as “focused play”, i now can sort my to do lists into the scheduling slot that works. i know that if i need to research health insurance plans, i might get the most out of it if it do it in the evening. if i need to write an e-mail to a client, i will do it in the morning when i’m writing anyway.
your system may be different from mine, but identifying the cycles of your work allows you to name them, and to categorize the tasks you can reasonably get done. and this is a kind of superpower.
you may be trying to get your shit together. i know that at least for me, i try to solve all my problems at once. as a result, i end up not solving any of them. “this is the day i change for real!” i’ll say, and then a week later i will be right back where i started.
instead of implementing a lot of discipline, try keeping a journal of when you implement a little bit of discipline. “today, i am going to wake up on time without hitting snooze.” one goal, no more. if i can do this for a week, i’m already better off than i was before. and then i move on to the next goal.
this is kind of a tortoise-and-the-hare lesson, but maybe in a way you haven’t thought of. we are made of little victories, and the key is getting enough of them to realize that you have made a huge change by the end of a year or so.
if you’re like me, you have a ton of ideas an prototypes in the works. it’s very difficult to sustain one hundred ventures, and the ones that end up succeeding may be only about two or three. a friend of mine pointed something out to me recently over a bowl of ramen.
“i tend to go through cycles of interest. i’ll work on one project for a period of time, and then lose interest and move on to the next thing. this happens for a bit, and then maybe a month or so later, i’ll come back to that first thing i was working on.” how exciting! this is an orbit that functions on a longer scope than the daily routines we are used to. can you imagine if we had the scope to see how our interest wanes on a project only to be rekindled months later?
i love emergent systems. these are methods and processes that just sort of happen. my friend saw that the gets things done, but at a slower pace with wide breaks. imagine sitting in a kitchen. boil water for pasta, let bread bake, and make the pasta sauce. you don’t have to sit and watch the bread bake – you can walk away and work on something else and return when you need to.
similarly, notice that your interest is an orbiting thing. banging your head against a wall on a project traditionally is not helpful, and walking away is a great idea especially if you can bring fresh eyes to something else. by cultivating this method, you can have a continuous set of fresh eyes on your project, and soon you will have a fully cooked meal.
a system is a set of working parts. you are part of many systems, and you also have systems in place. your job is a system that uses your skills and pays you for it. you eating schedule is a system of keeping you nourished. basically, if there is any kind of process with multiple factors involved, it’s a kind of system. and this is thrilling, because of how many systems are in play at any given time.
i often think about creative systems. my problem is that i don’t have a lot of time to make the at that i’d like to make. i have to factor in schedule, audience, energy, and the presence of my muse. some things i can control, some things i can’t, and my ability to produce good work depends on the sustainability of my system.
currently i meet once a week with my friend jaron to record video and podcast interviews. we are both free on sundays, our interview subjects are free on sundays, and we have all the equipment to make it work. it is not a problem to meet weekly, since post-production time is so minimal. there is no friction at all in the process of producing this content, and thus it is a good system.
i don’t always finish writing books because i lose steam. this can also be viewed as a system problem. either i wasn’t motivated enough, didn’t have enough research, or didn’t outline enough time to sit down and actually write. national novel writing month (november) is a system that exists online, geared towards motivating writers to finish their book through social accountability and gamification. it’s a system that produces a manuscript, even if it’s terrible.
for you, i encourage you to write out systems that currently exist in your orbit, and if there are any ways you can tweak or refine them to better suit your goals. even better, can you invent a system of work that maximizes your creativity, your profits, or your happiness?