What Needs to be Done

It still amazes me how easily and consistently I ignore advice even when it is repeated from multiple sources over and over again. For example, as I struggle to grow and reach my potential there are two pieces of advice that have come up time and time again in books and conversations: block off time for only your craft and find a mentor.

Yet, I continue to ignore that or procrastinate it or justify not doing it or fill my time with filler work that isn’t truly important. I’ve never been good at taking other people’s advice or learning from their mistakes, I always seem to learn the hard way (cue: dcTalk). Instead of blocking off significant time to write daily I just pump out a blog post and call myself a “writer”. I know I should be spending 4 hours a day staring at a screen, showing up consistently so that the mighty Muses will know where to find me, I know what I should do, I know I have the ability to do it, but yet I neglect it. Part of me is scared… scared the inspiration will never come, scared that art is beyond me, scared that the time will be wasted… so instead I guarantee that inspiration won’t come on my own terms, I stay firmly planted away from frontiers of my own mind and potential, I waste the time myself.

Similarly, I avoid looking for a mentor. Part of it is a genuine ignorance to where to look. How do I find someone to keep me accountable? I’ve never really had mentors in my life. I love my father, he is a great man, but our lives are so different that he can’t really provide guidance. The relationships I’ve had with religious leaders have been primarily harmful to my development and I’ve never been involved in sports. I had an Army sergeant that was a bit of a mentor, as well as a college professor but it would feel so strange to reach out to them and I don’t think they have the skills to help. I guess I could pay for a life coach… but that feels weird in a way, I’m not sure why. Maybe that old adage “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” is true and I’m not ready (but how do I get ready), or maybe that statement is spiritual nonsense.

I wish I could say this blog post is a recommitment to fixing my problems, but it really isn’t. It is simply me doing some introspection and voicing my frustrations. Maybe someone out there has advice? It is rare that I open myself up for advice* in a broad way like this, but feel free to email me (pjneiger@gmail.com) or send a message to my SurveyMonkey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH). Blargh.

*I actually loathe people who offer unsolicited advice. It is one of my only pet peeves.

Setting Myself Up For Success

Working from home provides unique challenges to overcome. Sure, I love the freedom and flexibility of setting my own hours and accepting the jobs I want to accept, but I don’t have a boss peering into my office to make sure I’m being productive. The only pressure I feel is the internal need to do what I promised to do and make sure I have enough cash to not starve. It takes discipline, focus, and a sense of entrepreneurship that school didn’t train me for, particularly when it comes to my professional projects that I don’t get paid for. When I’m writing or creating art or exercising there is even less pressure because the only person I will let down is myself, and I tend to be very forgiving, I can always relate to my own excuses.

But, the most important thing I’ve found to keep me on task and doing my work is to establish a system for success. For me, that system starts before the day does. The most important 30 minutes of every day actually starts the night before when I meditate on the day and prepare for the next.

Every night (well, every night that I’m not a huge slacker), I have a staff meeting with myself to figure out what my goals are for the next day. This includes everything from paid work to exercise plan to writing. I type up my expectations for the next day and then I print it out and set it prominently on my desk.

For example, the list sitting next to me says:

Saturday 2/18
– Khan Academy, Stoic Study, Meditation
– Exercise – 5-Mile Run
– Exercise – Yoga Video #7
– Website – Complete Book Recommendations Page and go ive
– Website – Write one blog post
– Book – Research new computer for Audible recording
– Reading – 1 hour
– Errand – Home Depot for shovel and planting soil
– Work – Civitas – Complete XX project and continue XX project ~4 hours

Once I have a list of tasks for the next day I get my house and office ready. I know that when I wake up my motivation will be at an all time low and I need things as organized as possible to encourage success. First, I set out my workout and work clothes for the next day. Each morning I put on my workout clothes and don’t take them off until I’m done exercising. As much as I loathe pants, I don’t work in pajamas. Then I get the coffee prepped, set the necessary workbooks and such next to my computer, and clean up my desktop.

After that, I clean the house. This involves cleaning the kitchen and bedroom first, and sometimes the bathroom. I don’t clean things deeply but I do pick up the clutter and sweep daily. I’ve found that having a dirty home kills my productivity. Not only does it become a distraction to see things out of place, but it creates an excuse that pulls me away from what I should be doing. It is hard for me to motivate myself to work, particularly my writing, and any excuse I have to procrastinate I am tempted to take. It is amazing at how clean my house can become when there is other work I should be doing. I was the same in college, whenever I had a rough deadline it suddenly became necessary to clean my house, reorganize my bathroom, call my parents, etc. Basically, I remove as many excuses as possible and set things up in a way that allows me to transition into the day with minimal speedbumps.

Maybe this is a little anal of me, but it works for me. Setting up my day the night before has really upped my productivity and happiness. I have fewer wasted days where I look at the clock and wonder where the hell the day went. Maybe someday I won’t need this type of habit to create, but that day isn’t today.

My Need For Feasts

I spent the last five days “feasting”, and boy did I need it. I ate anything that I craved, including heavily processed foods, I stayed up late playing video games or watching movies, I drank more beer than necessary, and I neglected my fitness routine and my writing. I need a time dedicated to possible gluttony and slothfulness to be healthy and happy in my life, and I also need it to grow stronger.

Part of life is having a good time and enjoying leisure. Pleasure is a good thing and we should enjoy it when we can. It is certainly important to eat healthy foods, exercise, and be responsible, but that isn’t the point of living. Those practices are means to an end, and the end is joy and pleasure and fun and new experiences. We can’t spend our whole lives preparing and getting ready for some unknown day in the future when we will cash in all our hard work. No, we should seek out vacations and long weekends and sinning in regular intervals. If we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy life a little bit it can be mentally unhealthy.

If I don’t allow myself to enjoy life a little bit it can be mentally unhealthy. The first two days of my winter feast I felt incredibly guilty. I had this feeling in the back of my mind that because I wasn’t being 100% productive towards goals I was being wasteful. I felt like inefficiency was a betrayal of some sorts and I felt an internal panic. I got anxious and frantic because I was watching Netflix instead of writing, I was eating french fries instead of vegetables, and I was playing video games instead of reading. This knee-jerk anxiety towards leisure is unhealthy for me and I need to allow myself to be inefficient occasionally, I need to allow myself to be human and to have a few days or hours of guilt-free living in the moment. This is a psychic muscle that I must in order to have a healthy mind. It is unhealthy for me to hold myself to an impossible standard and sabotage my own happiness because I’m not living up to that standard. Hell, I may not even care about that standard but decades of schooling and working in an office has internalized a need for constant productivity at all costs.

Now that my break is done, I am now 10x more motivated than I was a week ago. The aches in my body from eating terribly, drinking too much and neglecting my exercise motivate me to get back into a healthy routine. The time off from writing and creating allowed me to come back more focused and with a handful of new ideas. I’m ready to finish my book, start new projects, and see what I can do with my body. I’m actually excited again to experiment on my mind and body.

If I had just pushed through the winter season without a break I would have burnt out on everything. These last five days made me realize that I really need to schedule in feasts, as well as other “off” time throughout the year. I need to establish systems of leisure and celebration, and I think using the seasons is a great way to do it. The pagans are on to something with seasonal festivals and I think having a 5-day break every 3 months is a good foundation for me. I think I’ll pair that with monthly long weekends and one day a week where I don’t have any specific goals or measures. Those types of breaks should help keep me healthy, allow me time to appreciate the reason for living, and excite me for future productivity and fitness.

Now I have some things to look forward to. Next Wednesday I can take the day off if I want and relax, and in a few weeks I’m going to Colorado for a wedding and may not do anything productive, and then in March is the Spring Equinox and I will feast again. All of it guilt free and filled with pleasure.