Concerning the Ebb and Flow of “Work”



As I write this, I’m preparing to spend a week in the mountains. And, in fact, by the time you read this I’ll already be in the mountains.

Up until this point, the entirety of 2015 I spent working on The Focus Course. Now that it has shipped, I’m taking some time away from work.

When you rest well, it should leave you feeling recharged and re-energized, ready to get back to work. I love to work. I love creating things and connecting with people. But work needs and ebb and and a flow.

I’ve discovered that I work best with seasons where my focus is solely on the idea and task at hand. Where I eat, sleep, and breath one particular project. And then, I need time away from work. To give my mind space to breath.

Perhaps you can relate, or perhaps you think I’m crazy, but taking time off isn’t easy for me. My tendency is to work, work, work.

Though I don’t let my work time come before my family time, I do have to remind myself that even my working hours aren’t all about “creating”. It took me several years before I realized it was just as important for me to read, study, and learn as it was for me to write, make, and ship.

In this short and sweet interview with Cameron Moll, he shares about his work and life as a designer and the founder of Authentic Jobs. I love this quote:

I was always building stuff with my hands growing up. Like always. Wood projects, go-karts, radio-controlled airplanes, that sort of thing. I think we underestimate sometimes just how much those kinds of activities, the ones that seem completely unrelated to our careers, play a vital role in shaping who we become and what we do with our working lives. The tools I use now in business are totally different from those I used in my garage twenty years ago, but in the end they’re all the same. They’re just tools that facilitate synthesis and creativity. And ten or twenty years from now, those tools will be totally different again. Mastery of creation and composition is much more important than mastery of tools.

I love that sentiment: “Mastery of creation and composition is much more important than mastery of tools.”

Here, Cameron is talking about the tools we use to build things. But I believe that this could also be applied to our workflows and our lifestyles as well. That mastery of creation is much more important than mastery of workflows.

We often ask people about the tools they use to get the job done. We’re curious about their work routines, their schedule, their priorities, etc.

But we rarely ask them what they are doing to stay sharp. What do they do in their off time? What hobbies to they keep? What does their family life look like? How do they spend their free time?

Who we are and what we do when we are away from our most important work is just as important as the energy and focus we give to doing that work. Because we are who we are, everywhere we are. Eating a healthy meal, having a good night’s sleep, telling our spouses that we love them — all these things impact the quality of the work we produce.

The lines between work and life are much more blurry than we like to imagine.

Another article I read just recently is this story about how William Dalrymple writes his books.

It takes Dalrymple 3-4 years to write a book. The first 2-3 years are spent reading, researching traveling. Then, the final year is spent writing.

Dalrymple shares about how his writing year is “completely different from the others”. He stops going out much. He gets up at 5:30 every morning to write. He works out in his back shed where there is no internet connection. He doesn’t look at his cell phone or email until after lunch.

In the final year I go from a rambling individual to almost autocratically, fixatedly hardworking and focused and that is the one discipline of being a writer. One year in four or five you are completely eaten up by the book. If it’s working, you’re really dreaming it, it’s not a figure of speech, it’s a literal thing. You’re harnessing the power of your subconscious.

As artists we so often hear about these seasons of other artists’ lives: the intense, focused, eat-sleep-work seasons. And we think that this is what life is like all the time.

But it can’t be. Dalrymple couldn’t spend a year focused on his writing without the preceding 2-3 years of reading, researching, and traveling.

You have to be inspired first before you can create.

You have to learn before you can teach.

You have to experience before you can share.

There is no shame in taking time “off” of your work, in order to learn something, experience something, and be inspired.

This is the ebb and flow of work. This is having multi-year cycles where we grow in our mastery of creation beyond just mastery of tools and workflows. This is why resting well is so valuable and why learning, thinking, and discovering cannot be underrated.


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P.S. Just a side note to mention that the challenges of work-life balance, fighting a sense of overwhelm, and giving ourselves space to think and margin for thought are all foundational topics to The Focus Course. If this article hits home for you, I bet you would find immense value in taking 40 days to work your way through the course.