In all likelihood, you are a mental laborer.
Like a manual laborer — say, a mason mortaring and laying bricks — you are tasked every day with laying mental brick upon mental brick, applying adhesive, and building something of substance.
Frankly, if I were a mental bricklayer, I’m not sure I’d hire myself to build a 2-foot wall.
My daily “job site” probably looks like 3 or 4 bricks half-heartedly tossed about, with the mental laborer almost always out on a really long snack break.
Now, ask me to build a physical wall, and I’m champing at the bit.
I find that I pour myself into physical tasks — rearranging storage cabinets in my garage, fixing door hinges in my house — with total verve. Mental tasks? Can’t find the nerve.
I look on with some amount of envy when I see others handling mental tasks with the stamina of a true workhorse.
I first noticed these types in law school. My class was so chock-full of them, I began to wonder if I was the only “stallion” who yearned to roam the plains free, unencumbered by work demands.
I saw more of this type when I worked at a law firm. That’s probably when I realized legal practice was not for me.
What’s the fun in producing mounds of corporate documents, torturing English grammar to an unspeakable degree? (Apologies to those who practice corporate law for a living. Honestly, if I had any choice in the matter, I’d rather have the capacity to grind that you do).
It is a frightful thing to be a mental dilettante in a world where mental labor is your bread-and-butter.
The solution, it seems to me, is to find that set of variables — the why, what and how of your work —
that, of course, makes it seem least like work.
I’d equate one’s daily productivity to an electrical circuit with numerous potential resistors. I try to set up my day so that I deal with the least amount of resistance possible. I apparently only have so many amps I can pump through the circuit at a time.
So what do I do? To get into the flow of my work, I hack my workflow.
For one, I “journal-as-I-work.”
This means I keep an iPad for journaling, right next to the laptop where I do my actual work. I begin my day by opening up a new journal entry on my iPad. If I don’t feel like working, I journal about that. I let the journal handle my extraneous thoughts, like a mental clearinghouse that keeps my work circuit clear of as much resistance as possible.
Finding the right tooling — as for any craftsman — is key. Find the writing/journaling app that works for you. I like the apps where the entire screen can be rid of toolbars, and where one sentence is highlighted at a time as I write. I also like writing apps with password protection, so that I don’t have to be self-conscious as I write.
I also focus on completing only 4 important things each day. In my journal, I will write something like, “I should really email Sam today.” I will then stop journaling and hopefully attack that one email on my laptop, then report back in my journal: “Done!”
Part of what I’m doing here is delegating executive function. Entrepreneurs do not really have bosses, so you, in effect, have to create your own boss by depersonalizing your executive function.
Your journal is now your boss.
You are still working for yourself, but you’re not trusting your dilettante side to be on the same playing field as your mental laborer side.
Whether it’s working off-site, working with music, working with accountability partners, or journaling-while-you-work (my own term of art), your first task as a mental laborer is to affirmatively design your workflow.
This blog post itself is a manifestation of my workflow today. I knew I wanted to capitalize on the recency and impact of my latest blog post about Kobe Bryant, so I recused myself from home early on a Saturday morning, typed on my iPad in the comfort of my favorite coffeehouse (aka my country club), and journaled as I wrote this.
Taking a step back to review my handiwork today, I think I can safely say to myself that — thanks to my workflow — my work today is less bric-a-brac and more real tangible substance.