I was talking to a creative friend the other day, and as so often our conversation naturally shifted towards productivity and day-to-day work.
Working as a creative freelancer or entrepreneur comes with all sorts of perks, but invariably just as many obstacles - if we don’t learn to manage them effectively.
Today I’ll get into something that’s not just applicable to business, but any kind of situation in daily life - I call it the grey area. The grey area is that feeling of being stuck in between, of neither being committed to one or the other thing. This could apply to taking time off to travel vs working, or listening to a friend vs mentally planning the next day, or working out vs creating to do lists.
We might physically be doing one thing, but mentally we’re somewhere else. We want to relax after a day of work, but we’re still stuck in our heads. Or we’re talking to a friend on the phone, but really we’re already stressing about the next day. Or we're going on a road trip, but instead of fully taking in our surroundings we're planning work and envisioning the future of our business. Or we’re at the gym, but instead of concentrating and giving our very best we’re distracted by the people around us and thinking about all the things that we need to do when we finally finish working out.
Here’s the issue with that: you’re not really being present with whatever it is you’re doing right now, and so you can’t fully enjoy it. You won’t get into that famous flow state many artists talk about (the fulfilling feeling you get when you're completely absorbed in a task).
I’m not saying you always have to fully enjoy what you’re doing, but I’m advocating presence and living right here right now.
What else are you doing right now as you’re reading this? Is your mind wandering off thinking about what’s for lunch? Or are there some quiet nagging thoughts in the back of your mind telling you that you really should get to work right now? Or are you rushing down your breakfast without actually paying much attention to the food you’re eating?
In relation to work and daily productivity I see this come up with myself (and my creative friends) a lot. We love the freedom of working for ourselves and we want to make full use of it. So sometimes we end up binge watching Game of Thrones all afternoon. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But while we’re sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee in hand we can’t quiet those bugging thoughts that tell us we “should” really be replying to that email, or we “should” actually post on Instagram right now instead of being “lazy”. Or maybe it’s actually something a lot more important, something that we know means progress and will get us ahead, closer to our long-term goal, such as sending off an invoice that means we’ll get paid, or editing a blog article so we can finally hit publish.
Whatever it is, procrastinating on things that we know need to be done actually makes life way more stressful than if we consciously assign time to do those things. We know deep down that we’re procrastinating on important work. But instead we’re retreating to the couch, because our flexible freelance life allows us to do so at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon. And somewhere inside we feel that self-inflicted pressure. We’re mentally punishing ourselves for not living up to our own expectations and our own standards, for not getting ahead, for prioritising short-term over long-term gratification.
And this is the grey area. You’re watching your favourite series, but you’re not fully with it.
So either do the work, or watch TV. Just don’t be in between. You’re neither relaxing, nor are you working. So what’s the point? If you actually want to relax, then let your mind relax and make good use of that time. Your body and mind will thank you for it when you get back to work, feeling refreshed, energised, and with creative focus.
And if that negative feeling bothers you too much, then get to work and stop worrying. Deal with the present moment. You can only ever deal with worries and tasks in the present moment, everything else is just happening in your mind.
The same applies to most other situations in life. If you can be present with your task or stay in the moment your day will feel so much more rewarding, your relationships will grow and get stronger, your mind will be more focused, and your day will be more productive. It’s a different form of meditation, a way to get into that flow state which always feels great.
And if you decide to commit to work instead of watching Game of Thrones [or insert favourite series here], you might actually switch off at 6pm that night, feeling great about having achieved something, happily putting up your feet, turning on the TV screen, and having a cup of hot chocolate. It will feel great.