three balls ring

If you work as a consultant on manage a time-sensitive project, you'll eventually notice something:

It's helpful for your emotions and your work to be on the same feedback loop.

So, if you're making progress on work tasks, and that needle is moving forward, emotionally, you should feel better. If you're slipping behind, you should feel worse.

Significantly, if you're doing nothing, you should feel nothing.

As I started thinking about how I thought and felt, internally, during a work day, I noticed how out of sync with that I was.

Often I didn't feel much of anything, except a dry sense of duty.

Being numb, and then trying to not be numb, is a struggle of sorts, during work hours.

But by thinking about it, I can push things to a better place.

Plus, because a lot of my work is figuring out things which are in a 'stuck' state until I force them into shape, I can't say that thinking about work is always pleasant.

It often feels like trying to wrestle a large, amorphous lump into something manageable. Something not easy.

In terms of work, on a day to day basis, I knew I had to do it and I wanted to do it, to do a good job. But emotionally, I was pretty far from picking up a job and feeling better with each moment that I worked on it.

It sounds like a small thing. But the stakes are high. This is my livelihood, and in my life, it matters.

With time, I found that even small contributions help.

Even fine-tuning can make the difference between a complete and an incomplete project, or a satisfied or unsatisfied client.

I noticed my emotions were often on a completely different track, from work. I might not feel much of anything during the day, then I'd call a friend or watch a movie and that would be 95% of the emotion I felt that day.

If you think about the feedback loop, then, that's off it.

So getting the feedback loop to work, is its own problem. Getting on the right tracks, and staying on them, can improve a lot.

tracks w arrow

Even today, I'm still pretty far away from this emotions-matching-work ideal.

At the same time, I also made small steps towards it.

For one thing, by orienting my emotions in the direction of my work, I could, in a broad sense, start structuring my life to be more productive. If I could feel good about, say, cleaning my work area, or watching a video, and I had now narrowed progress down to something I could feel good about after taking one simple step.

That was progress.

Getting the feedback loop to kick in, even on a small scale, was also beneficial. Getting the gradient of emotions to work, however imperfectly, was beneficial.

I may not be working on the most cost-effective item, at any given moment. But if I can rough but consistent progress in the right direction, that's an improvement. It's not nothing. It's worth striving for, and achieving.

If I can write a blog post, or watch a video, that's not everything, but accomplishing that should make me feel good; and doing that over and over, will, in the long run, accomplish my goals.

Another observation I made was that I could notice when I wasn't making any work progress, and I could do something about that. I could work to catch a crisis and resolve it, in the moment.

Say I was on social media when I made the observation: I'm not actually moving closer to my work goals, at the moment.

I might not be able to solve the whold work progress problem in one go, but I could notice I wasn't being productive, and stop what I was doing, in that moment.

Then, I could focus on doing one small thing, then and there, to advance my work goals.

That ended up making a difference. I could go from being totally unproductive, to mildly productive for the day, with some attention on this issue.

I also noticed something about Netflix and books.

If I cut them out entirely, I'd be a little too bored. But if I engaged them too much, not only was I losing precious time (always valuable on my schedule), I was reacting emotionally to the wrong things.

So I learned to manage this interest of mine, more pro-actively than before.

If I had a lot of work over the space of a few days, I could moderate the movies or books I was watching, not just because they took time, but also because I wanted my emotions to be more sensitive and responsive to the deadlines ahead of mine, instead of art in my spare time.

Time, when you're counting it, is precious.

gif of clock

I could also think more about what emotional success might look like, and then take baby steps in that direction.

Instead of making it an epic struggle, I could break it down into small pieces I could take on in 10 minutes, and do that.

And when it comes to productivity, I strongly believe the perfect is the enemy of the good, and every stop forward helps.

These steps have helped me, and I hope they help any readers out there too.