Working hard might be hardly working

I’ve had a mental fog of sorts for the last four years or so. It’s been on and off, but mostly on, and it’s hindered me in a way I can’t readily articulate. The most obvious manifestations have been almost epic levels of procrastination in my personal life, and a sometimes crippling inability to focus in my professional life.

That’s not to say I haven’t been able to function adequately on both sides for the last four years, given I have a great job, a great relationship with a great girl, and we have a great dog and a great cat in a great new house, and all the other conventional measures that say everything’s going just great.

What’s not been great is how hard it’s been at times, because of the fog milling around in my mind. It’s stopped me from being able to focus on single tasks for any length of time, and it’s caused me endless frustration when trying to think clearly about a great many things.

As I’ve got a better handle on what to do about lifting the fog, and I’ve made solid progress towards doing so, I’ve learned a clear lesson: working hard can still mean you’re hardly working.

While putting in time and effort is commendable, it’s nothing without having a clear goal so you know exactly what you’re putting in the time and effort for. I’ve often been so happy to just have periods where I’ve been able to work hard and apply myself, I’ve lost sight of the fact that I’m not actually working towards anything in particular. I’m doing stuff, but for stuff’s sake.

Sometimes I’ll hit a rich seam of apparent productivity, only to realise when it ends that I actually just span my wheels and didn’t push forward towards a clear goal.

I’ve now got a much keener sense of still working towards what I want to achieve, both when I’m flitting quickly between tasks and can’t seem to focus on any one thing, or when I’m forcing myself to fill procrastinatory voids with some thing, anything to avoid that feeling I’m wasting time.

Stepping back now and then has been the key. Now I almost always have an end game in mind for all of my actions. A top-down view of the game map if you will, where I can see where I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Being able to think clearly enough to have that overview, and to know to step back to make sure I realise it, has been another journey in and of itself. The end result is that when productivity happens for me now, and it happens often these days, I know that it’s to achieve something, not just some thing.

Being clear about why is often more valuable than being clear about what.