Solitary mind: quality of energy

Solitary mind: quality of energy

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Vincent Van Gogh

This blog has been inspired by some jottings I made in my journal last year, and which I just came across while I was tidying up my laptop:

I woke up this morning at 4.13am, which is way too early. I lay in bed and thought through all the day job stuff I had to do that day – the emails to be sent, marking those assessments, following up on paperwork, preparing for a meeting. Then I thought about how much I wanted to carve out some time for my writing, and resolved to do it. Then I felt worried about how I was going to do all of this.

My journal goes on to explain that I wasn’t worried about fitting all of that stuff into the day. I had oodles of time, especially by waking at 4.13am. I was worried about energy. I worried about fulfilling my tasks and errands with accuracy, and without forgetting something or making stupid mistakes. I wondered how I would feel by the time I got to do my writing in the afternoon, usually my peak creative time. I dreaded sitting down in front of my laptop to do the thing that meant the most to me and feeling like I had a head full of cotton wool.

You might have the time, but do you have the energy?

As a society, we talk endlessly about time management. Why don’t we talk about energy management instead? It’s all very well to do as all of those self-help books advise, and set your alarm for 5am each morning and then haul your sorry arse out of bed to do your writing. Or, like so many creatives I know, to set aside a couple of hours aside after 9pm each day to work on your projects. But if your days are otherwise split between working a day job, parenting, caring, jumping through hoops for social services, running a household, or a combination of some of the above, then how are you going to feel at 5am or 10pm? Where are your energy levels going to be? What is your ability to focus going to be like? Are you going to be clear headed or foggy minded? Is your imagination going to be firing ideas at you or are you going to be distracted or numbed by the burden of workaday worries?

Even worse, what if the cumulative exhaustion of cramming creative work in and around other responsibilities sets up a pattern of you resenting that creative work? What if instead of being the thing that inspires you the most, your creative project turns into the thing that leeches the precious time you need to rest and relax?

Poisoning the well.

Right now, many of us are leading a weird new existence due to the pandemic and its associated lockdowns. People are surprised at how tired they feel, at how the constant hum of stress, uncertainty, and tedium in the backs of their brains or roiling in their guts eats up a lot of their energy – mental, emotional, and even physical. Time management is still a challenge for a lot of us, but in completely different ways to what it was before.

There are opportunities, of course. Depending on the conditions you are working with, you may have the chance to disrupt and change priorities, routines, or habits. You may be able to access more time and energy for creative work. And, if so, that’s great. But if you are finding that you are grappling with exhaustion, and therefore a resulting dip in inspiration or energy or discipline, then your opportunity is of a different sort. Put simply, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out how to protect your own love for the creative work that means the most to you.

What do you have to get rid of, or say no to? Where do you have to compromise? What other activities that are demanding that you use up your energy can you jettison? What do you have to give up on?

The old standards and expectations should no longer hold sway. Don’t let your creative work feel like just another obligation, sitting alongside others that may have little meaning for you anymore. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s – do the stuff you really must – but get rid of everything else, and reclaim your energy for the things that give meaning.

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Vincent Van Gogh

Recommended read:

Are you wondering why lockdown is making you so tired all the time? Read this article to find out why.

And…

I derive my income from a mixture of casual and freelance work. If you would like to support me during these precarious times, please consider one of the following:

If you can’t afford to support me because Covid-19 has knocked the stuffing out of your income streams, please know that you have my profound empathy. The very best of luck to you.

Surfacing Forbidden Narratives about Fatigue

Surfacing Forbidden Narratives about Fatigue

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On Friday 1 March 2019 I went to ‘Positively Managing Workplace Fatigue’, a keynote delivered by Professor Drew Dawson at a Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration’s Business Leaders Breakfast.

Professor Dawson advised that organisations should have a Fatigue Risk Management Plan, and that dealing with fatigue is a shared responsibility between indiviuals and the organisations they work for.

Of course, any workplace leader worth their salt should be trying to structure work that is not unhealthily burdensome on their employees. But Professor Dawson also stated that fatigue is inevitable due to the fact that most of us live complicated lives outside of work – we stay up at nights with sick kids or we might need to work a second job…

The trick is to create a workplace culture alongside allowing space within workplace processes for people to be honest about their energy levels and what is influencing them.

Some people, however, might find it hard to broach conversations about fatigue and how it’s affecting their work, especially if the fatigue is not due to a one-off incident, like a virus or being kept awake by the neighbour’s birthday party, but is due to more complex conditions at work in their lives. Both the fatigued worker and their manager may find this an awkward dialogue to navigate.

Professor Dawson talked about the use of structured conversations, “highly scripted interactions” that can help people work their way through these discussions.

I am very interested in the idea of equipping people with something to help them initiate conversations around potentially awkward issues, and perhaps to also reflect on and make sense of those conversations when they’re finished.

I am not sure exactly what Professor Dawson had in mind when he was talking about a “highly scripted interaction”, but whether that conversational aid was a formal checklist, a deck of cards with prompts, some kind of game, or (in my work) creative materials, the efficacy of equipping people with resources makes sense. More sense, surely, than flinging two people into a room for a potentially tricky conversation with nothing but good intentions (if they have them), gut instincts, and any ‘soft’ communication skills they may have picked up over the years (and we live in a society that is quite bad at teaching people those soft skills). Developing or adapting resources or techniques for managers and workers to use can not only lend structure and meaning to a conversation about fatigue (or other issues), but in developing or adapting resources organisations can also embed values and priorities that are pertinent to them.

Fatigue can have such a huge impact on our work, and the way we feel about our work, that any resource or strategy that can help people to talk constructively about it should be welcomed.