Recently I talked to a friend who told me that COVID might have saved his life. Now before you get angry, he wasn’t talking about the disease (obviously). He was talking about the fact that he had stopped doing all sorts of things that he thought he “had to do”. And he learned that most of those things didn’t matter. It was liberating. In fact, it probably saved him from a crushing depression.
I have been thinking a lot about his story.
I’ve also been thinking about my Star Wars phone game. (There’s a connection here, believe it or not.) I decided to quit this game because I noticed something. The game requires you to log on at certain times of the day in order to maximize the game’s activities. I noticed that I was often thinking about when to log on. I would realize the time and think, “Oh, I have to log on now.”
I *have to* log on?
Where did that come from?
It’s a game. Why do I *have to* do something?
And I noticed something else. I noticed that logging on at specified times was chopping up my day into little pieces.
See, if you want to do what I call “deep work” (like writing a book), you can’t let your day get chopped up into pieces. It interrupts your focus. You can’t let yourself get distracted by emails, texts, phone calls or visits to social media. You can’t constantly be interrupting yourself with mundane tasks or interpersonal drama.
This phone game was distracting me. It was interrupting my day. It was chopping it up, and lowering my productivity. So I quit. I still play my online computer game because it doesn’t chop up my day. The game’s activities are the same no matter when I log on. So there’s no schedule.
I am slowly beginning to realize how important it is that I did things like: refuse to set an alarm clock, refuse to allow myself to do busywork when I started my own business, refuse to let myself get interrupted by texts and emails.
See, so many of the people I know tell themselves they are “working hard” when they are really just doing busywork. They are merely distracting themselves.
Now here’s something else I noticed. During the COVID lock-down, I eliminated everything from my life that didn’t seem important. I ditched all contracts and projects that weren’t going to produce something deeply valuable to other people.
And you know what? At first I thought that not being able to travel would really bother me. But after eliminating distractions from my life, I realized that I no longer feel the need to go on vacations. That’s not totally surprising.
I also find that I no longer need to use video games to “escape”. In fact, I no longer even enjoy playing video games if I haven’t already gotten my writing done for the day. I used to use video games as a reward for “doing the right thing”. Now they are just pure entertainment.
And then I noticed something else. My food cravings have disappeared. I used to use food to get myself to not waste so much time on video games, and then I’d use video games to get myself to not eat junk food. Now both of those cravings have vanished.
And I have no doubt that the cravings disappeared because I stopped chopping up my day. The cravings disappeared because I stopped doing things that don’t matter.
I believe, now, that I never successfully lied to myself ever, at any time in my life.
Now I can see that my brain always knew when my “work”, my schedule, my “priorities”, my jobs, and my “projects” weren’t really useful. Of course my ego didn’t like to lose arguments. So my ego would try to “double down” on my useless endeavors by telling me to work harder, show more passion, or convince someone else to join me in my foolishness.
But my brain knew. My brain knew all along.
And the real result of spending so much time doing things that didn’t really matter was that my brain demanded to be soothed, distracted and numbed with junk food, video games and vacations.
I had noticed a long time ago that I seem to have my best ideas when on vacation. Now I see the truth. I had my best ideas because I wasn’t chopping up my day. While “on vacation” I was sleeping when I was tired, eating when I was hungry, and moving my body when I felt like moving my body.
And lo and behold, my brain and body were more productive.
My brain and body were more productive when I wasn’t “working hard”. Because “working hard” is something that I don’t need to tell myself to do unless my ego is demanding it. And my ego only demands hard work when the work I’m doing is bullshit.
So speaking of bullshit. If you are suffering from fatigue, brain fog, the need to escape, foolish cravings, burnout, or vague, unsettling and undefined stress, consider the following possibility. Consider the possibility that you are “shoulding all over yourself.” Consider the possibility that all the things you think you should be doing are, in fact, merely chopping up your day and destroying your productivity.
You know those dreams where you have a homework assignment due and you forgot to do it?
Fifteen years after graduating from college, I had another one of those dreams. Fifteen years. And the only thing shocking to me now is that it took me so long to realize how much harm chopping up my day with busywork had caused.