Deep breath

The other day I sat down to work and had that restless, scattered feeling.

That feeling usually tells me that whatever I’m trying to get done in the next hour is going to be a slog. I’m a freelancer. I work at home. There’s no boss looking over my shoulder, no coworkers sitting nearby. That makes staying focused a bigger challenge.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a collection of rituals and routines to help me with this. I have an office with a door where I do nothing but work. I am in that room at the same times every day. I plot my schedule out on my calendar every week, with time blocks for whatever I’m doing each day. Todoist and Notion have replaced my memory because they are usually more reliable.

All this helps, but when my mind keeps drifting or a problem seems intractable, I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing to do is to get up and walk away. Go for a walk, move around, change the scenery, make a cup of coffee, take a few deep breaths. If I sit there and try to push through, instead, I just wear myself out running on a mental hamster wheel. I get hazier and hazier, and I don’t end up getting much done.

This ‘get up and reset’ tactic is unintuitive enough that I still have to force myself to use it. A true Work Ethic demands that we stay on task, right? It’s funny to me that my brain is half-convinced that I’m still in fourth grade, and if I don’t stay in my seat and finish the math problems the teacher will be snapping his fingers at me.

So when the layout file on my screen failed to finish itself, no matter how hard I stared at it, I decided that I would take the morning off. And just like that, I got up, walked out of my office, out of the house, and… ran some errands. It was beautiful day. Clear blue skies. No traffic at 10am.

I’ve come to love the conundrum of weather in March around here. It’s still cold — winter cold — especially in the mornings. The temperature hovers around freezing, creeps toward merely chilly by afternoon. But the sun is higher and the light is brighter. It’s no longer the dark monotone of winter. There’s a promise of something new — in the light, in the buds on the trees, the early flowers poking through the mulch here and there.

My first meeting was around noon, so I wandered home to join the call. A couple hours in the spring sunshine, thinking about all kinds of things that weren’t graphic design, was just what I needed. Playing hookie put me a little behind on one project, but I got all kinds of things done that afternoon.

In the end — as I have to remind myself often — it all comes out in the wash. There will always be more work to do, but the first dogwood blooms are so fleeting.