Sustaining and Activating Living
“Life isn't a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” – Stephen King
Maybe you find your work a true-calling and enjoy working with your team. Or look at it as strictly a 9-to-5 affair and live for the weekend. There are also shades in-between these reflections on what we do for most of our week days. Nonetheless our work is the main vehicle to earn money. We work to sustain our lifestyle.
Most of us don’t continue to work after we’ve clocked out. We want to unwind, whether it’s with hobbies we enjoy doing, people we enjoy being with or ways of tuning-out of this world to explore another one.
As I think through and hear others talk about work, the more important having some detachment from your work—at least at some critical times—it seems. It’s true whether you’re just surviving on minimum wage or you’re an entrepreneur who feels they can never shut down for the sake of their company. I call this detachment, activating. Your act of working, which I call sustaining, is how you provide yourself with the resources to have this kind of detachment.
Sustaining is time reserved to work on supporting your lifestyle. Whether you look at work as purely a vehicle for earning money, self-actualization or both, this time should be used to move with absolute focus on tasks that hopefully only you are uniquely capable of working on (if not then delegate what doesn't require your unique perspective). This means reducing distractions—meetings, water cooler talk, social media—unless they greatly contribute to your work.
Assuming some work schedule flexibility exists: decide on which days will be spent sustaining, reserve the hours you will work and lay out the tasks you need to complete to move the ball forward on bigger goals. These should be tasks small enough that they can be completed within a day (if they're not, break them down or simply the problem). Organize these tasks into buckets to make the question “Do these tasks contribute to the important buckets in my life that I need to fill?” easy to answer. But do not use a system more complicated than that unless required by the people you work with.
For example, if you strongly believe that you could make better use of your time that's currently spent in recurring status meetings, speak up and consider not going to them so you can focus on completing more important tasks. Do this not only to help you feel satisfied with your work at the end of the day, but to remove that nagging feeling while you're activating that you hadn’t worked hard enough earlier.
Activating is about rest, recuperation and being free enough that you can explore your environment without being tethered by work. Having these days to yourself without external obligations makes it much easier to have self-awareness about your place in the world and think critically about the systems and artifacts you use everyday and probably take for granted.
If you’re an avid reader this is is a good time to fit some longer sessions in. But if you’re reading books related to your career, productivity or finance, they should be read on the days you're sustaining. Those kinds of books will keep your mind within the context of having to accomplish something. We don’t want those kinds of activities while activating.
If possible, do not touch any devices or software that you use for sustaining. The idea of separating our work and leisure should be looked at with a critical eye, down to the level of activities and tools we use and clearly separating those as well. This is becoming harder to do in situations such as being given a work laptop you have free rein over and do not have the money to purchase your own for personal laptop. But I highly recommend doing so if it can be afforded.
In an alternate timeline we may be enjoying ourselves as much as many of us do now but without having to do work as we know it today. For better or worse that’s not the case for us and most of us have to trade our time for money.
I’m not advocating being indifferent to your work just so you can live for your time off. But the least we can do is think critically about how we're doing this trade so we can limit the downside and better the upside.