Geetanjali Mukherjee

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When the Work Feels Like a Struggle

The last few days, in fact, the past few weeks, have felt like a struggle. I couldn't really put my finger on it - some days I was accomplishing a good amount, some days not that much, but each bit of work felt like I was hauling a heavy bag up a steep hill. Sometimes I would get tired and put the bag down, sometimes it slipped back a bit, sometimes my feet simply refused to move.

I tried various strategies - go for a walk, have a snack, call my mom for a quick chat. Sometimes I would feel just the same when I got back to work, and some days, I felt worse. I was distracted, disillusioned with my work, and on the verge of feeling just a little depressed.

The worse the work went, the more I started to cut myself off from everyone. I couldn't meet anyone, I had to buckle down and work. I started getting snappy on the phone with my mum, hurrying her off so I could go back to work. I procrastinated in every way I could think of, when just the week before I had started to feel that I had a handle on my procrastinating habits. I employed every strategy I have written about on this blog - but since nothing worked, I came to the conclusion that I was lazy and just needed to work harder.

After a row with my mom over my impatient behaviour, and a crisis regarding one of my promotional campaigns, I decided to take a break and meditate. I realised that I was trying to do too much. The project I was working on had stumped me several times before, so in an attempt to ensure it got done, I was trying to pressure myself to complete it in a very short period of time. Additionally, I had sublimated all aspects of my life to getting work done - compromising on exercise, time with family, and activities that were fun and re-charging. I wasn't even taking the time to make nutritious meals for myself, only eating well when my father cooked me some good meals.

Actually that's how I realised what was missing - over the weekend my father took over the cooking, and we had a relaxed couple of days where I basically took a break, watched some movies with him, and just had some good conversations. Even though I did go for a meeting for an organisation I volunteer with, and managed to squeeze some work in, I chose to do both those things, and gave myself no pressure in terms of how much work I had to do. I actually got more work done in less time than I had in the past few days, and it didn't feel like work at all - since I only put in short bursts of work. The rest of the time I didn't think about my project at all.

The difference in how I felt over this weekend, and how I have been feeling the last few weeks, (and incidently also how I felt on Monday as well), made me realise that the solution to stop struggling in this instance wasn't to simply force myself to work harder and faster. Maybe I simply needed a psychological break - to allow myself to make room for all other aspects of life other than the book.

This is something I'm not really good at. I like to set what I call "high standards", and then I procrastinate so much, I raise those standards, and keep raising them, till I complete my project. I had cut back on this tendency recently, and thought that I had turned a corner, but in my haste to prevent delays in this particular project, I reverted to my old ways.

I still have a few weeks to go on this project, and I don't want to fall back into the same trap. I realised to prevent that - I have to ensure that I include time for exercise, time for catching up with family without an eye on the clock, and time for "unproductive activities" like taking time to read a good book that is not related to my work.

I would love to hear from you - what strategies do you use when your creative energies are flagging and the joy is lacking from the work?
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