Download: MP3 (54.2 MB)

Note: This episode happened before I made the decision to start practicing Small Scale Sabbaticals. A few days after this episode was recorded, I decided to take off a week every 7 weeks. It’s interesting to listen back to some of the thoughts that were going through my mind beforehand.

Do you feel like you’re making an effort to say no to things, bringing on help, not doing too many things at once, and somehow you’re still overloaded? You’re still exhausted, you still feel like you have no time, and still don’t seem to be getting any more done?

It seems like no matter how much I say no and regardless of whether I’m hiring people to help, I somehow don’t end up having more time. What I’ve realized is I consistently tend to ramp up everything until I’m at maximum capacity. I’m bad at slowing down. I’m bad at taking breaks because I fall prey to the idea that they’re unproductive.

We talk about why breaks are actually helpful, the two kinds of breaks, the importance of thinking time, being able to take breaks even when you have kids, the piano teacher that always knew, and leveraging procrastination to get more done in less time.

Show Notes
  • Focused Time
  • 03:28 Successful people have super focused time:
    • Super focused work time.
    • Super focused break time.
  • 03:47 Sean: The average person works 8 hours a day at a day job and probably 3 of those are on Facebook.
  • 03:55 Ben: “I’d say more like 4 or 5 of those hours are on Facebook.”
  • 04:00 Sean: Well, we’ll try to be nice but what I mean is it’s not really focused time. They’re getting distracted and getting interrupted. The key is having super focused time. Not only focused work time but focused break time.
  • You don’t necessarily have to work a ton of hours to get a lot of stuff done.

  • Why should we take breaks?
  • 04:35 What’s the benefit of taking breaks? Obviously you’re not working during that time, so it seems like you would be less productive, but it can do a number of things for you:
    • It shakes up your routine.
    • It gets you out of your element.
    • It helps you gain some perspective.
    • It lets you see things from a different angle.
    • It freshens things up a little bit.
  • What does a highly focused break look like?
  • 06:40 It’s concentrated. It’s boxed in with time, and it’s boxed in with a specific freedom. Instead of a break where you just lay around and not work, it’s a certain allotment:
    • I’m going to allow myself to play a video game.
    • I’m going to allow myself to spend 15 minutes browsing Reddit.
  • 07:21 Ben: “Remember when you would write stuff on your whiteboard that was distracting you? You wrote down things like ‘Facebook’ or ‘Twitter’ or whatever was a distraction. I would look at that and think ‘Yeah, that happens to me all the time.’ I’d be sitting there working and get stuck on a problem or I get bored with what I’m doing and I kind of look to those distractions because I don’t want my mind to idle. I don’t want to deal with the frustration or the conflict that I’m feeling right now so I’d take a break. But it’s wasn’t very intentional. If I were to actually sit down and add all of those little things up, it ends up being a huge waste of time for me. Very unproductive. I had the thought: knowing that those are my distractions, what if I intentionally said ‘Okay, for 15 minutes, from 8:15-8:30, I’m going to get on Facebook.’”
  • 08:36 “I feel like I’m less likely to retreat to those things because I know that there’s a time scheduled for them. But it also calls those things into question: ‘Would I really schedule 15 minutes just to play around on Facebook? Is there another kind of break that would be more productive or more fruitful?’”
  • 08:58 Sean: There’s something about scheduling something and writing it down and seeing that it’s something you’re setting aside time for that brings to light how important or not important it is. It shows you whether it’s valuable or just silly.
  • 10:12 When you schedule time for a specific kind of work, it helps you be more focused. You’re boxing it in. It’s overwhelming to feel like you have to try to take a stab at the big huge list of things you have to do during a small window of time. Instead, set aside time for a specific task: this hour is for writing.
  • 11:13 Ben: “Before I go to bed, I try to do a brain dump of all the things I know I need to handle the following day. Mostly because it helps my brain to release those things so I can go to sleep. I feel like that’s a necessary Step 1. When we actually schedule those things and designate a time and a place for them as Step 2, it takes even more pressure off our minds.”
  • 11:54 “It’s just like you were saying, instead of worrying about the question of when something is going to get done, actually designate a time for it. That allows your brain to focus on doing the thing instead of having to process whether or not it ever gets done.”
  • Small Scale Sabbaticals
  • UPDATE: I’ve since decided to go ahead and take a week off every 7th week.

  • 12:18 Sean: Are you like me in that the word “break” is something you only do on a day-to-day basis? I have a hard time thinking of taking longer-term breaks like once a week, or once a month, or every so many months. We talked about this in the sabbatical episode (Related: 072: Small Scale Sabbaticals). I was playing around with this idea of taking a week off every seven weeks.
  • 13:04 Ben: “Has that worked out yet?”
  • 13:07 Sean: I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t set aside time do it. I wish I could just peek into that alternate universe for that one. I’m just not making the choice to set aside time.
  • 13:28 Ben: “Yeah, that’s kind of funny thing though because you just said making the choice. It’s not like, ‘IF my circumstances line up correctly for that to happen.’ If you had said that, then it’s not going to happen.”
  • 13:55 Sean: You initially want to think that this one week you take off will be a wasted week and it’s so unproductive. But how much more productive will those other six weeks be? That’s what you don’t know.
  • Productive breaks
  • 15:35 There are two kinds of breaks:
    1. Breaks to relax.
    2. Breaks to do less important tasks.
  • 15:46 Sometimes just stepping away from a big pressing project to work on something that is not a priority can feel like a break. It feels relaxing, because you’re freeing yourself from something that you have to do. Of course it’s nice because you’re also being productive.
  • 16:11 Keep a running list of tasks or things you need to do that can be done during a smaller break. You could have a completely separate list for these unimportant items, or depending on the software you’re using you could tag various tasks within other categories that could be accomplished in a short amount of time.
  • 19:32 I like this comment from Kyle in the chat:
    • Kyle: “An important break I take at least once a week is my “minimizing” break. I clean and organize my physical and digital working spaces. I pretend someone is coming over for the first time and that the person will need to use my computer and would go mad if things weren’t organized. It definitely boosts clarity and productivity.”
  • The importance of thinking time
  • 21:16 Do you ever just sit and think?
  • 22:03 Sean: I do with some considerable frequency. I sit in my bean bag and put my phone in airplane mode. There’s no potential of distraction. This is where I process a lot of things. It’s hard to fight the instinct to go for your phone when there’s a lull. In my case, I tend to fill my time with podcasts. But I have to check myself. I have to practice not just hitting play on the next episode but allowing myself to have quiet time—allowing myself to have time during the day where I’m not doing something or pumping stuff into my ears.
  • 23:13 I do still like to have my phone nearby even if it’s in airplane mode just to log the ideas because I get so much good stuff whenever I’m just sitting and thinking.
  • 24:09 Ben: “It really helps to write things down physically too as opposed to just typing them. Physically writing something fires a different part of your brain than when you’re typing. You tend to retain those ideas better.”
  • Being able to take breaks
  • 28:55 Sean: Ben, maybe you can help address this sentiment: “That works for Sean because he doesn’t have kids. I can’t.”
  • 29:56 Ben: “I honestly don’t feel like I’m the best example of somebody who’s doing this really well, but if you were to take inventory of my week and list out the things I spent time on, those things would probably line up pretty well with my values. Because we value those things, we’ve chosen to make sure that they happen. I don’t know if that’s helpful except to say that yes, it is possible.”
  • Questions
  • 32:01 “Why take breaks if you love your work?”
    • Too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing. We can’t just drain ourselves and work endlessly, even if we really love what we do.
  • 34:13 “Why do we place more importance on doing instead of thinking?”
    • Sean: I think the obvious answer is we feel like we’re not being productive. Because doing produces tangible results, we can see the results of things that we have done. We can’t immediately see the results of our thinking and thought process.
  • If we don’t spend time thinking or evaluating and looking over the big picture, the doing could be leading us in the wrong direction.

    We might feel like we’re making progress but if we don’t take a step back and think about where we’re headed, we could be going in the wrong direction.

  • The teacher that always knew
  • 35:21 Sean: Maybe this is why I have such a productive output: I am by default a procrastinator. I don’t want to do something until I have to. Even in school: as long as I wasn’t failing it was fine to me. So for a three-week research paper or essay I had to do, I would wait until the night before and stay up all night. I spent eight hours writing until the class actually started and would end up getting 78 on the paper.
  • 36:53 I would do it with piano lessons too. We were supposed to practice two hours a day. That’s a lot of time now but it felt like an eternity when you were a kid. I would play the piano all day long but not practice the measures my teacher went over with highlighter and put parentheses around: “10 times daily at 60 BPM!”
  • 37:39 I would play and goof off on the piano—I’d enjoy myself—but I wasn’t doing deliberate practice every day. I would wait until right before the teacher came over to our house and scramble to polish everything up. Sure enough, I did pretty well (at least in my mind). I was good so I could wing it. But the piano teacher always knew. She said, “You did really well, Sean,” and I forget how she put it but basically she said I wonder how well you might do if you practiced every day.
  • Leveraging procrastination
  • 42:19 I tend to create situations where my back is up against the wall and I have to perform. I’m not sure if that works for everyone.
  • 42:32 Ben: “I think that maybe the danger in that is when or if you choke under the pressure, you could start to believe that you’re a person who doesn’t meet deadlines. You could end up believing that you’re a person who’s incapable of producing that amount of quality in that short amount of time.”
  • 43:15 Sean: I so strongly don’t want that that I don’t even allow the first step of sliding in that direction. You know that fear of “What if I don’t show up? What if I don’t make it happen this time?” I don’t even allow that question. That question is not an option. It’s as if your best friend is hanging off a cliff and you’re holding the rope—it’s not a matter of “What if I let go this time?” This is your best friend! This is important to you! It matters to you. For me, it’s wrapped up in how much I care about my reputation and the quality of my work and my output because of the public commitment that I’ve made. Those are different from person to person. Some people don’t have as much stock in their own reputation or commitment in terms of public accountability.
  • 44:23 Ben: “There’s a study that was done on people who are under stress where they asked the question “What do you believe about stress?” The people who believed that stress was negative or harmful to their bodies, their physical response was a reflection of the way that they believed. The people who believed that stress was actually a good thing and an occasion to “rise up” actually experienced a positive physical response to stress.”
  • 46:38 The people who follow your work can also tell when you haven’t been practicing or improving your trade.