A mental model to boost happiness and productivity

“I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid and outwit that guy.” – Anthony Bourdain

These days I’m constantly under the gun. I’m working six-day weeks, and at least once a week, my first meeting starts at 7:00am and my last wraps at 8:30pm. It’s nuts. And while I don’t love living this way, it makes sense for now. It allows me to efficiently get the credentials I need for my next project while also serving as a consultant. That said, I’ll shift down to a sustainable pace as soon as I can.  

Recently, I’ve found myself leaning on one productivity trick more than any other. I ask myself, “What’s the kindest thing I can do for future Jason?” When I say future, I don’t mean the Jason of 2029, or even 2020. I mean the  20 minutes from now Jason, or tomorrow’s Jason, or maybe the two weeks from now Jason (at most).

It’s inevitable that we will deal with an endless amount of mid-level bullshit. Laundry, ironing, dishes, meaningless assignments, difficult conversations, other people’s stupidity/requests, stress from never  having quite as much money as we want, etc. It’s seductive to ignore that stuff until it becomes urgent. While it sort of works, procrastination creates a crappy quality of life. The time you spend relaxing is ruined with guilt and the awareness of unfulfilled responsibility, while the time you spend working is defined by urgency and mild self-loathing.

So these days, when I’m tempted to leave the dishes in the sink, check reddit or facebook, or put grad school off until tomorrow, I pause and ask, “How would future Jason feel about that?”

The answer is always some version of, “Ya. He doesn’t love that. If I just get the work done now, future Jason can chill.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating giving up all of your free time in favor of deadening productivity. Just the opposite. Since dealing with bullshit is inevitable, it usually makes sense to just address it now, and in doing so, you’re investing in a better near-term future.

I’m also not suggesting that you never rest. Again, it’s the opposite. I’m suggesting that you learn to be kind to the person you’ll be five minutes or five days from now. Sometimes that means joyfully sleeping in, smoking a joint and watching cartoons, or going on a camping trip with your significant other. If it’s been a minute since you’ve actually enjoyed the moment, then you’re overdue. In many cases meaningful rest and play renders you more effective in the future.

As you start to invest in your future self, you’re likely to discover an obscure truth: the hard part of unpleasant work is rarely the work itself. It’s the anticipation and resistance that suck. It’s the transition from doing nothing to being productive that tends to be the hard part.

The end result  is pretty cool. Without meaning to, you may find yourself ahead of even the most demanding schedules. This will leave you with time to sink into life without being plagued by guilt. Every now and then you may even find yourself skillfully reveling in the eye of the storm.    

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