Today I was sitting in a lecture listening to my teacher bemoan the productivity of a colleague. This colleague (whose name I couldn’t bother to write down) is on the short list for the Nobel Prize, has written dozens of books in his spare time and holds down a demanding teaching job at a prestigious school while raising a family and participating actively in various leagues, committees and so forth. My teacher kept saying of his books, “He wrote that one IN HIS SPARE TIME! His SPARE TIME!”
Have you ever met one of these people? Someone who has many lives at the same time and they seem to be pulling them all off? They can do just about everything and with so much style and class we can’t approach their greatness even on our best days?
I look to these people for help. Right now (and for the last three years) I have taken on everything at the same time without any thought (or iota of caring) as to if this was healthy or not.
Oh, I’ve heard all the arguments. “It’s better to go in one direction at fifty miles an hour than five directions at one mile an hour.” and “Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none.” I mostly ignore these arguments.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I have a working DNA that, no matter how much good advice I get to the contrary, is not budging. For instance, I realized after years of trying, that I am not a morning person and waking up at 4 am is stupid for me. I now ignore all the studies and character assessments labeling early birds as the indomitable masters of reality. Screw them and watch the moon set, is my new motto.
I’ve also tried doing one thing at a time. That does not work for me. I need at least three pigs on the spit at a time, maybe four. I need at least hopes, three directions. This helps me in the following ways:
1. I never get bored. There is always way too much to do and I always have a direction. This is incredibly important to me. As Morrissey says, I am “Drawn to what scares me and scared of what bores me.”
2. If one direction is going badly (and this happens weekly) I have the hope of the other two. Today, I woke up at 6 am and wrote 3,000 words–every one of which stunk hardcore. But I had great sales and my classes weren’t too shabby. Hope remains. Tomorrow the writing will go well but my professors will throw a pop quiz at me on which I will do semi-terribly. Doesn’t matter because the writing will have gone great.
3. I am forced to become ridiculously efficient, or perish. I have to think of every cog and every slot of time and I have to think really carefully about how my systems work. I have to continually question assumptions and obliterate the ones that don’t serve my outcomes. A recent one had to do with destroying the belief that slow writing is great writing. This is not always the case, I am learning. Every day I am finding new corners to smooth out and new systems to implement.
4. I get to practice the art of “Intuitive Procrastination.” This means I may not have time this week for the dental appointment, so I have to put it off, but I do have time to finish the artwork on a cover because I cleared out the day for that task. I may not get to answering that annoying customer, but I will get a paper written. In all things I must assess the ocean of my tasks and determine which objects therein are rocks and which are sand. The rocks are hard deadlines, immovable. You don’t want to crash into them. The “sand” are tasks that time will smooth over and eventually become obsolete–things like dental appointments and naggy emails from corporations to update your credit card information. If I do them today or next week, it won’t matter much.
5. It obliterates depression. On weeks where I get a lot done and have a lot of great interactions, I feel like I have a purpose, and thus feel fantastic. The feeling of no direction is the twin brother to existential meaninglessness and sends me off a nihlist cliffside. Then I’m no good for anyone and tend to pin down friends and family with long verbal essays on the nature of existence and reality and the tragedy of being a thinking being without being an all-understanding being. This behavior horrifies everyone around me. It’s so much better to have a wall to paint or a typewriter to restore. If I am chasing carrots, there is no death.
6. They feed eachother. Oftentimes in my classes I have learned about a painter or artist and can therefore recognize their work, should I come across a print or poster or . . . gasp! The real thing. I hear about philosophical principles that I can work into some fiction. Today I met a guy who is in a fight club. He has califlour ears and everything. His knowledge will help me write my next non-fic book about argument.
7. Things take too long to pay off. I realized that even if I put in 10x effort at the beginning, I won’t get 10x outcome. Effort and reward are often terribly disproportional, mostly because systems are set up to keep newbies out. I can’t get a bachelor’s degree in a year, even if never sleep. The fact is, I can only sign up for 21 credits at a time. Sure, I could triple up by drawing credits from other schools, but most schools don’t let you do that past your generals. Likewise, if I open a new online store, I can list 2,000 items the first day, but I will not make many sales, if any. I have to slowly send out little advertising birdies and accumulate customers first. Because things can take years, I put in effort proportional to the current outcome, plus one. That plus one represents growth. In the random case that things pay off right away (and this has happened!) then, grand! I struck gold.
8. Davinci, the bearded badass himself, was never just one thing, but had many careers, inventions, talents and directions. If I can be like him in any way, I’ll take it . . . Except the beard.
9. Time flies. If you’re waiting for spring. If you’re waiting for the ship to come in. If you’re in the waiting place at all, this is a good way to wait. You hardly notice the time flying. Now, our pseudo-Buddhist-meditating-spiritualist-snob culture extols the virtues of being “in the moment” but to be honest, I want to live in all the moments at once. Tried the whole “being in the moment” thing and I think it’s an idealist concept that never really materializes. Currently, I’m waiting for summer so I can hike again. I’m waiting for stocks to go up. I’m waiting for my next trip. I’m waiting for the end of the semester. I’m waiting for Sharknado 11.
10. I don’t have time for vice. I don’t have time to gossip with the neighbors. I don’t have time to watch the Real Housewives of Burly Idaho (though I’d watch the heck outta that IF it existed), I don’t have time to shop, I don’t have time to make mischief. I DO take time for myself, though, in ways that count harder. I do have time to think and vacation and hang out with people. I don’t have time to waste.