After waking up, Harold has to make a decision. Will he get out of bed? Or will he snooze his alarm and go back to sleep. But if he does snooze his alarm, how long will he snooze for? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? He feels bad about it but inevitably stays in bed 30 minutes, which wasn't even one of the choices.
After finally getting out of bed, Harold has to make a decision. Will he shave today? Or will he just kind of pretend like the 11 o'clock shadow is in this year and roll with it? Harold stares at the mirror but feels lazy and kind of frustrated but ends up running out of time and doesn't shave.
After leaving the house, Harold has to make a decision. Where will he work today? That coffee shop down the road is pretty cool, but he also is paying for a coworking space down the street. But sometimes the coworking space is crowded and so after standing at the crossroads with a coffee shop on one corner and a coworking space on the other, he decides to go to the coffee shop, though he feels kind of frustrated about wasting the money for his coworking space.
After entering the coffee shop, Harold has to make a decision. What will he order today? Will he indulge in a super ultra frappee-chino sugar bomb drink TM for upwards of $8, or just get the simple coffee for $2.15? He's been trying to reduce his sugar intake, but that sugar bomb drink is so good. After staring at the menu just a little too long, he impulsively decides to buy a chocolate croissant and a simple coffee and feels mediumly frustrated.
After sitting down to his work (and by this point it's like 9:45am), Harold has to make a decision. What will he work on first? He knows he's got three different client projects, one of which needs to be completed by Thursday, another Monday, and another Tuesday. There's another longer term project that hasn't gotten much love lately but isn't due nearly as soon as the others. Harold gets frustrated and ends up answering emails until noon.
After exhausting his 3 hour coffee shop time limit, Harold has to make a decision. What's for lunch? He could cook something, but that would require effort and also going back home. Oh but he doesn't have any food in the house so eating out it is. There are at least 10 choices within eyesight, all of varying price, convenience, taste, and health. Harold stares into space for a good five minutes doing a complex cost-benefit analysis in his head. Finally he determines that he'll just get a burger.
After finally getting some work done in the afternoon, Harold has to make a decision. What's for dinner? He could cook something, but that would require effort and also going back home. Oh but he doesn't have any food in the house so eating out it is. There are at least 10 choices within eyesight, all of varying price, convenience, taste, and health. Harold stares into space for a good five minutes doing a complex cost-benefit analysis in his head. Wait, didn't we just do this a few hours ago?
After finding food of some kind, Harold has to make a decision. What should he do with his evening? It could be fun to go out to a show, or hang out with some friends, or exercise, or work on his giant 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle, or clean the house, or do his taxes that are becoming more due by the day, or whatever else. He ends up watching Youtube from not being able to make any more decisions.
After a long day, Harold has to make a decision. Is he going to go to bed now, or stay up reading dank memes on his phone?
Harold has been making mentally draining but ultimately meaningless and furthermore uninteresting decisions all day. Incidentally he's also gotten almost no work done.
As a freelancer of some 6 years now, I've thoroughly experienced how easy it can be to slip into this trap of having no structure at all. All work is remote, all work has a deadline somewhat farther in the future. The days of structure being handed down from on high like in college or full time employment are over. And since entropy is a law of the universe, it's highly possible for things to descend into chaos without care being taken.
There's a concept in psychology called "ego depletion" - that self-control is a finite resource and is used up every time we exert willpower to make a decision. Discipline could be thought of as a muscle - it can be trained made stronger, but it still gets tired after being used continuously.
This idea was both freeing and concerning to me. Freeing because I don't have to feel bad about having a completely human response to chaos. Being worn out isn't a character flaw, but just the result of making so many choices. But concerning, because this is no way to live! Roughly Harold's experience above has been me on far too many occasions.
The lamest part about Harold's day above is that the decisions are not even interesting decisions. I remember one of my favorite college professors telling the class that having habits and routines are there to allow you to spend that finite deplete-able willpower on creative efforts and excellence in your work.
I've been a "digital nomad" for the past couple of years on and off, traveling the world and working at the same time. Though I've had a great time doing it and that lifestyle is exciting and adventurous, it also adds a ton more choices to my day. "Where will I work today?" isn't necessarily something that needs to be decided by most people, but for me it was an important logistical choice. "Where will I sleep in a week?" further complicates life. My efforts to enhance my business lately have been blunted to some degree by spending my willpower in other places.
And this isn't to say "putting energy into travel is bad" and "putting energy into business is good." It's more to say, if you aren't mindful of where your willpower is going, it may go into uninteresting things. Since my business is currently more of a priority to me than traveling, I'm not spending my willpower points in a way that makes sense.
I'm currently in the process of moving to Chicago to try and curb some of this chaos. I'm excited about the prospect of having a permanent office again, and a kitchen I can cook in. I've started doing Yoga a few times a week which has actually been really useful because it forces me to schedule exercise and pay for it which ensures I go.
I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!
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