The Practice of Easing Into Your Day

The Practice of Easing Into Your Day - Brass Tack ThinkingMost of us draw a pretty clear line between “work” and our “personal stuff”.

Whether that’s organizing the calendar for the kids’ school stuff or ordering those shoes from Zappos or calling to make those long-forgotten appointments, we clearly delineate what qualifies as “work” and what qualifies as “personal”.

In part, that’s been driven by the office environment. We’ve always been told no personal phone calls, no using email for personal purposes, all that stuff. Work started when the clock started, no matter whether you were ready for it or not. And Personal got put on hold until the Work clock stopped. You had to draw a definitive line in your brain about what was allowed in during what hours.

Here’s the problem with that.

Our brain doesn’t delineate between Work stuff to do and Personal stuff to do.

It’s simply a swirling mass of things called Responsibilities or Tasks or Things to Remember or whatever that all gets jumbled up and takes up the same space in our brains.

One of the reasons making lists for Work projects is helpful is because it helps get things out of your brain so you can focus on the tasks at hand.

Most of the “Getting Things Done” systems emphasize that our brains don’t distinguish between Work and Personal and encourage us to work them all in together, but we don’t. We still treat Work like Work and Personal as off-limits during Work time.

I think that needs to change, and quickly, especially as the world of work becomes so much more dynamic and fluid and the lines are blurring constantly between our Professional and Personal lives.

My friend Pam Slim refers to what she calls a Body of Work to describe the entire woven tapestry of our careers. Rather than being defined by jobs or roles or projects, our Body of Work is the collective, sometimes meandering path of everything we do to create and contribute to the world around us.

Why shouldn’t our work and personal lives blend better?

This occurred to me this morning because I realized that I work so much better during the day if I allow myself an hour or so of attending to more personal or affinity projects first thing. It’s like a sort of mental warm-up, getting the things that are top of mind off and running, or checking off a few satisfying and gratifying things before diving headlong into the Work challenges that surely await me.

This morning, that was dusting off my Goodreads profile and adding and updating a few books. Tomorrow it might be making a few appointments for the kid, or taking the dog for a walk.

I realize not everyone has the luxury of working at home as I do, but even in an office environment, I think you can practice this.

Take the first hour of the day and don’t work on priorities so much as whatever comes to mind first.

If you’ve read The Artist’s Way, you’ll know about the practice of Morning Pages, or writing purely stream-of-consciousness stuff to get it out of your head and clear the way for focus and clarity.

Same idea.

The point is that we are dynamic, dimensional people. And when we feel like we’re better balanced mentally, when we feel like we’ve taken the time or made the effort to invest in ourselves while we work, or at least alongside it, we feel more fulfilled and less stressed overall. No, I don’t have science to back that up, but I’d bet we can amass quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to support it.

So if it’s at the top of your mind, do something to move it forward, or finish it, or spend a little time lingering on it. Think of it like stretching before your run, or a cup of mental coffee before you start the stuff that isn’t so pressing in your mind.

Some days, maybe that is a pressing deadline or project. Cool, roll with it.

That might actually mean saying no, you can’t make meetings right at 8:30 in the morning, and proactively blocking off Free Brain Time on your calendar – quite literally – so you can spend time following where you brain takes you and free up some space.

Whether if it’s investigating an article you read last night or sending an email to your niece or tapping out the first few paragraphs of a new short story, do it. Go with it.

Let your mind go where it wants to for a while so that later, it’s relaxed and pliable enough to willingly go where you need it to.

Have you tried this at all? How do you ease into your day? How can you make that work in a more structured environment where you don’t have as much flexibility?

Looking forward to your comments.

  • Unmana

    That makes sense, though I need to get better at practicing it.

    I work from home too, and I’m trying to make it a habit that, after checking email and all that first thing and making sure there’s nothing I need to respond to NOW, I spend an hour or so writing a blog post. Sometimes, the hour passes by and I haven’t made much progress — in which case, fine, I’ll just return to it later. At other times, I’ve written three blog posts (I often seem to have ideas for more blog posts when I’m writing one, funnily enough) and taken up four hours in the day. But that’s okay, because I’ve had two blog post deadlines looming over me anyway.

  • Ian Cleary

    Hi Amber, I start work about 6.30 am and I go to the gym from about 12.30 to 1.15. This 45 minutes is what I look forward to every day. I work as hard as I can in the morning to get my work done before the Gym. In the afternoon I’m ready to get stuck in again and get some more productive work done.

    I reckon that if I didn’t go to the gym I would get less work done. It’s great to take a break from work, recharge and then get back into it again!


  • Warren Whitlock

    My advice: If you can tell the difference between work and play, you aren’t doing one of them right

    • Amber Naslund

      Oh, I don’t think I agree with that Warren. In fact, I think we over inflate the idea of “if you’re doing what you love it never feels like work” stuff. Work and play are distinct for a reason. That doesn’t make either one of them inherently bad, but they engage different parts of my brain, are there for different purposes, and both have major implications for the quality of my life.

      But I *don’t* subscribe to the notion that people who don’t always think work is play are doing it “wrong”. I can still find my work to be full of effort and challenge and enjoy it but distinguish it from true recreation.
      This idea that we’re giving people that “OMG if you aren’t having a blast at work every day, all day long” is, I think, as unhealthy as the idea that we should forego work entirely in favor of recreation, or vice versa. What a crappy standard we’re setting.

      • Warren Whitlock

        Anyone that knows me would laugh at the notion that I ever stop working.

        I agree that trying to change work so you can pretend it’s play is counterproductive.

        Where we differ is in the frame of reference on what constitutes enjoying work. As Fritz taught us in “The Path of Least Resistance”, trying to change is generally a waste of time.

        To me it’s a simple choice. I can’t always choose what I am doing, but I get to choose whether I’m having fun doing it. And sure enough, whenever I choose to enjoy what I am doing, smile, and put it in a frame of reference that states it IS what I want to do, I’m having more fun, I’m more productive, and get to infect others with my joy.

        Most people use ‘work” as a negative. I never did, but have learned that using my quote above, I’m just semantically choosing to call it fun.

        It’s a small difference, but small things can make huge changes

  • Pingback: Monday Motivation | Kelley & Hall Book Publicity, Book Marketing, Book Promotion