Transitions!

January 13, 2010

This is for Fabeku, whose brain was (understandably) totally in slow motion Monday morning.

We live according to all sorts of external rules and patterns. Even when we try not to, they are so pervasive – so assumed – it’s tricky to avoid conforming to them.

The traditional work week, for example.

Despite the fact that there must be a gajillion people not working 8-5/M-F (could someone Google that statistic for me please?) – people employed in retail and entertainment fields, public safety and hospital workers, and so forth – that schedule remains the dominant one in our culture.

And even if one of the major appeals of becoming self-employed was not to have to live and work according to that schedule any more – many of us still follow it.

Out of habit. Out of a well-practiced, well-learned pattern that is constantly reinforced by popular culture. Out of a weird sense that to do otherwise would be irresponsible, that we would not be good worker-bees if we followed another pattern.

I can hear many of you saying, “But I already know I don’t have to work 8-5/M-F!” Yeah, but how many of you actually take advantage of that? How many of you work according to a schedule that is truly customized to your energy patterns and creates conditions in which you are your best/happiest you? And if you do (high fives for that) – is it guilt-free?

Being “On”

One of the rules that is part of the 8-5/M-F pattern is one should be “on” all the time within those hours. At least it’s certainly something that is expected from employers. If you’re on the clock, you’d better be producing.

It’s a mechanical model that implies our energy is the same throughout the day and the week. That we can switch on and off like machines. That “on” is always the same kind of “on.”

Which is hooey. We are organic beings. Our energy ebbs and flows in cycles that cannot be switched on and off. Best we can do is observe what those cycles are and build flexible schedules around them.

And organic beings always have periods of rest built into whatever cycles they live by.

It’s not on on on on on. It’s on off on off on off on off on off.

Exits and Entrances

“Off” doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. It can just mean doing something different – something that allows you to exit the thing you were doing and enter into the thing you will do next.

It’s probably restorative in some way.
- a glass of water, a stretch, a meditation, a snack, a nap

It probably balances your create/connect/consume needs in some way.
- a twitter break, a phone call to a friend

It probably allows you to process information in some way.
- I love to walk the dog after writing – physical motion allows me fully organize and polish the thoughts of a first draft.

Here’s what happens when I don’t allow for the exit/entrance time, if I try to stay “on” all the time – turning on a dime from one high-energy task to the next without pause:

  1. It’s hugely draining. Without time for recovery, I end up exhausted. And, eventually, resentful of my work. Which is then crap.
  2. I’m easily distracted. It’s really hard to make myself create when I need some connection. Or connect when I am craving creation. I’ve found it’s better to let myself have what I need when I need it than to force myself to be “on” and “productive” because some schedule says I should.
  3. I’m not present with my work. Without transitions to process and release what I’ve just done, my head is still in the past and not focused on the task at hand. Needless to say, it’s not a condition in which I do my best work.

Mondays are for Getting Into It. Fridays are for Getting Out of It.

The need for transition time applies at all scales: hourly, daily, weekly – even monthly and annually.

At the hourly level, I allow myself breaks between high-energy tasks (see examples above).

At the daily level, I have little rituals for entering and exiting my day. For instance, in the morning I never go straight to my inbox – I always start with a cup of coffee and some hellos at the online cafe that is Twitter. At the end of the day, I review my daily sheets – not just to make sure what needed doing got done – but to acknowledge what was accomplished and learned. Then there is a Shutting Down of things that is usefully symbolic.

At the weekly level, my entire Friday is devoted to closing the week and preparing for the weekend. I give myself a whole day of transition. Part of this closing ritual includes setting myself up for the following week – because I’ve found I can’t really relax and let go without doing that step.

That sets up me for a Monday morning of just easing into things. My Monday mornings are pretty unstructured and almost as transitional as Friday – because how can a person go from the quiet of sabbath to full speed ahead on Monday? (Okay, maybe you are the sort of person who, once rested, is ready and eager to hit the ground running. If so, more power to you. But for me, it’s just not possible.) I reserve my most energy-demanding work for the days in between Monday and Friday.

If you dread Mondays (or whatever day your work week begins), not because you dislike your job (hopefully you are doing something you love!), but because you feel you should be immediately “on,” I hereby grant you permission to ease into your Monday morning guilt-free.

Because you are an organic being that needs transitions.

Sing it with me. And Zero Mostel.

This is how I hear the word in my head.

[ cue the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack ]

All together now – with confidence and gusto! feeling the support of full orchestration and a back-up chorus.

Transitiooooons! Transitions! (da da – da DUM) Transitions!
TRANSITIOOOOONS! Transitions! (da da – da DUM) Transitions!

Yes, I know, that’s going to be playing in your head all day now. But it’ll be stuck in a good way.

Consider it a gentle and friendly reminder to allow yourself necessary exits and entrances between activities.

• • • • •

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6 responses

  1. You are brilliant. Like always.

    And working Zero Mostel into this mix of super smarts? Amazing.

    You are reshaping the way I think about time and flow. And that rocks.

    Thank you.
    .-= Fabeku´s last blog ..When A Bang Becomes A Fizzle Fo’shizzle =-.

  2. I so hear you! I simply cannot sit down and concentrate and be *on* for eight hours in a row. At. All. And frankly, I don’t think most people can, either! I like how you said, “It’s not on on on on on. It’s on off on off on off on off on off.”

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  4. This right here just resonated so much: “It’s really hard to make myself create when I need some connection. Or connect when I am craving creation. I’ve found it’s better to let myself have what I need when I need it than to force myself to be “on” and “productive” because some schedule says I should.”

    Right now I’m actually craving movement. Followed closely by connection. Been sitting all day at computer… makes my butt and neck grumpy.

    Thank you, Cairene.

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