Oversleeping, deadlines and what really matters
The world feels calm this morning.
I find my hand already reaching for my phone by the time my mind catches up and wonders what time it is.
My alarm didn't go off. That's why everything feels nice and calm, why I feel more rested than usual. I slept more and woke up naturally rather than to the sound of a screaming phone.
I've got fifteen minutes or so to get my shit together and get out of the house. Of course this would happen today of all days. The one time I wake up late is the one time I have to be on time for a meeting.
There's no clinging to comfort today, no 'just one more minute.' I throw myself out of the bed. Every second counts.
No time for a shower, instead I give myself a quick wash in the sink. Face and armpits. Face so that I feel fresh, armpits so that I feel clean.
Then it's straight into the back room where all my clothes are. Zero thought goes into what I'm going to wear. This would be day five for that pair of jeans but they don't smell so they're fine. The first t-shirt I see is a Slayer one that might not be 100% office appropriate but it's there, it's clean and I've got a bus to catch.
Next I head for the kitchen. I throw my lunch in my bag. Sorry Mona, no time to chat. Keys. Phone. Wallet. Earphones. They are the most important things. No matter what else I forget in the rush I'll be fine if I have those four things. (I include earphones in that list because I would not survive the bus journey without them so they are absolutely essential.)
Shoes on and out the door. I leave two minutes later than I usually do, which should be fine, but I pick up the pace anyway.
As the bus stop comes into view I can see all the usual faces. I'm not too late - they wouldn't be there if I was. A sigh of relief follows this realization.
The bus arrived less than a minute later.
Success. But also stress.
I had gotten up and ready for work in half the time it usually takes. That bit of time pressure had instantly changed my behavior, so I reckon it's worth having a think about.
What does it all mean?
What I had that morning was a deadline. I have a deadline every morning, but on that particular morning it was a severely time pressured one. I was trying to do everything that I usually do in the morning, but I had to cram it into half the time.
What that tight deadline did was create an intense focus. A sudden clarity washed over me as I became more discerning about what really mattered. What needed to be done versus what could be skipped entirely.
When push came to shove all I really needed to care about was the clothes on my back, my phone, earphones, keys and wallet. That's it. Everything else was non essential.
This is what constraints do. They force us to focus on what's important and that focus usually yields significant productivity.
However, it's a double edged sword. The productivity and clarity gained by tight deadlines is also completely unsustainable. If I got up and did that every morning I'd be stressed out of my mind. It would be a horrible way to live.
A tight deadline from time to time will teach us what is really important; but if every deadline is a tight one then you end up tired, stressed and probably miserable.
Having said all that, working on something that is not time bound carries with it entirely different problems.
It's a nice thought, 'Hey go work on this thing, take as long as you need.' But in reality you've not been done any favors.
Total freedom tends to lead to a complete lack of focus. You will find your self meandering around, doing bits and pieces, half finishing tasks that don't hold your attention. You can come back to it later, there's something shiny over there that's more interesting right now.
When you've got some goal, whatever it may be, give yourself a time constraint; you'll be glad you did. From time to time, maybe if you need to get over a hump, set a tight deadline and focus on what is really important.