Feeling bored? Don't read this
Anyone who has ever learned to drive a car with a manual gear will have vivid memories of stalling when trying to change gears. I will never forget the old Ford Fiesta that I started to learn to drive in and how difficult it was to change gears. Not just for the usual reasons that learners have problems, balancing the clutch and engine speed, but because the gear stick was more sticky than gear. I sometimes had to resort to using both hands to change it. My Dad still has flashbacks to being in the car when my brother managed to switch from third gear into reverse on the dual carriageway. Thankfully we all lived long enough to laugh about it and even passed our driving tests (although not in the Fiesta).
Moving from summer holiday mode into work mode can be just as challenging, and only slightly less life-threatening! It’s great to be busy again but shifting gear from lying by the pool to meeting deadlines isn’t always easy. Due to a slightly unfortunate confluence of events I ended up overlapping deadlines with my summer holiday and felt slightly cheated out of it as a result. However, I can highly recommend spending coffee breaks floating in a swimming pool. Slowing back down again after a busy period is difficult too. Working with a number of clients and trying to manage a work flow that fits in with theirs sometimes means putting their deadlines ahead of everything else, including holidays.
But when the work has been sent off and I’m waiting to hear back I feel like the car is stalled. I have plenty that I could do but just can’t seem to generate the momentum or motivation that I had when I was so busy just a few days earlier. They say that if you want something done you should give it to a busy person. Certainly in the weeks where I feel as though I have a lot to do I somehow manage to get more done than I ever thought possible.
I’ve tried out various methods to track my work over the past couple of years. I’m a big fan of bullet journaling because I love having a physical to do list - that orange notebook in the photograph has only recently retired from active duty as a bullet journal. There’s something about committing a task to the list and then joyfully ticking it off that technology can’t quite match for me. Having said that, I’ve recently started using Trello to manage my work flow. I like having a visual reminder where I can move things around and add and archive lists. It has a Pinterest-feel to it and dragging and dropping cards to the archive is almost as satisfying as crossing items off on a to do list. I also have a very low tech whiteboard and post it note system in my home office that I use to plan the week ahead.
One tip which I picked up is to break down some tasks into how long it will take to do them. So I’ve kept separate lists of jobs which will take less than 15 minutes, less than an hour and over an hour. I use these for all those things that I never seem to get around to doing but know I should. The less than 15 minutes duration list has proven to be a great way to get started again when I’m not frantically busy. Just doing a few of them has been enough to get me motivated to start working again on bigger tasks.
Benefits of boredom
There is a lot to be said for downtime too. I came back from my holiday vowing never to take work away with me again! There is too much emphasis on productivity in my opinion. Antidotes to stress such as mindfulness meditation and exercise are sold as ways to be more productive rather than having benefits entirely unrelated to being a good worker bee. Research has shown that boredom has benefits too, especially for increasing creativity. I’ve been trying to build a little more boredom into my week, resisting the urge to look at my phone while waiting or putting the radio on in the car. I’m not sure if it’s added to my creativity but given the chance I definitely enjoy doing nothing. Until the lights change from red back to green again.