It’s funny how we get stuff to write about at the most unexpected of moments.
Take for example, my recent re-watching of the movie, John Wick.
During the first half of the movie, we see the John’s nemesis—Viggo, explain to his son who John Wick is.
“John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will… something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil.”
There it is right there.
No, silly! Not that part about the pencil.
I’m talking about focus, commitment, and sheer will.
In a light bulb moment, I learned that when stuck or dealing with procrastination, it’s these three things that help me power through everything. Let me share a story.
For the last couple of weeks I haven’t been able to work during daytime. It’s summer vacation for my kid (we enrolled him in a daycare) and since we don’t have anyone to look out for him, it meant daddy duties for me all day. The typical 4-5 hours of solid writing time was suddenly taken over by what would look like a one-man daycare operation.
All writing tasks and deadlines had to be dealt with during evenings. Not keen on working at night, I worked slower than usual. I was also dog-tired at the end of the day after hours of playing with the little rascal. It was brutal. I can’t write anything valuable. I was not in my element.
Two weeks into his vacation, I started getting anxious about my work. I was also mad at myself for failing to come up with a better solution for my current dilemma. I started getting irritable and annoyed most of the time.
And the sad part about it is that when guilt comes to play, it’s all sorts of messed up feelings about work and family.
“There’s got to be a better way”, I thought. But no matter how hard I rack my brains, I can’t seem to come up with a worthwhile solution.
One afternoon, I was listening to a podcast while washing the dishes. My son was busy gunning down my cactus plant with his water gun.
“No matter who you are, all of us have the same exact number of hours to work with everyday”, said the interviewee.
Now while I heard that phrase tons of times before, this was the first time the actual meaning struck me.
If you think about it, what he was saying was that each person is given 24 hours each day and it’s up to us how we spend it. Want to earn extra? Get a side hustle. Need additional time to work on it? Cut back on your Netflix-marathons. Get off Facebook and other social media.
The bottom line is, we should not let our current situation get a grip of our lives and take control of our days. We have 24 hours, we get to choose how to spend each precious hour.
As if on cue, I remember the story of the single-mom who topped the nursing board exam while working full-time in a call center. That young woman was a beast—in a good way. If that’s not focus, commitment, and sheer will, I don’t know what is.
She chose to take command. She had 24 hours. She made the most out of it amidst the tough situation and came out on top. She didn’t let her circumstances get in the way of reaching her goals. She just kept on grinding. And the results were nothing short of amazing.
In his book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, author Mark Manson pointed out that happiness comes from solving problems.
The first time I read it I was like, “Damn, that’s interesting”. It was the first time I read someone take problems as an opportunity for being happy. Think about it. During exams, we felt good after solving a particularly difficult problem, right? I know I did. Especially if it’s a Math exam. Math is alien to me. I just don’t get it. That’s why whenever I correctly answer one, it’s like winning a game show or something.
I thought about my dilemma again. This time, I tried to think about it from problem-solving angle instead of merely being a complainer.
I thought, “I have 24 hours. From 8-5, it’s daddy duties. I can work at evenings but I’m tired and burned out. What time should I write?”
And like solving an Algebra problem, I had to look for the unknown X. I had to lay out the variables and try every possible formula to solve for X. In my case, it looked something like this:
X = Best time of day to write given my current situation
24 hours = Total hours in a day
8 hours = Daddy duties/errands/house chores
3 hours = Night time work hours (9PM-12AM)
7 hours = Sleep (12AM – 7AM)
I figured since I didn’t like writing tired at night, why not sleep early then wake up in the wee hours of the morning to write? I felt I can make the adjustment because I like waking up early.
I gave it a shot. When I had to wake up to go to the bathroom at 2:30AM, I forced myself to start writing.
Upon rising, I went straight to the kitchen and started brewing coffee. While waiting, I did a few stretches and a 17-second plank. Hey, I tried. I wanted to do a full minute but my dad-bod won’t go any further.
I washed my face but didn’t dry it. Instead, I turned on the fan and let its breeze cool my face to wake me up.
All these ruckus happened in less than 10 minutes. Now awake, I sipped coffee while waiting for the laptop to boot.
I pulled out my phone and launched a Pomodoro app. To those unaware, this simple tool works wonders for keeping your productivity in check. Pomodoro literally means sauce from tomatoes, which is the basis of the design of the popular kitchen timer (see image) which in turn served as the inspiration for the app. The idea is to work in 25-minutes stretches, uninterrupted, with short 5-minute breaks in between.
Upon completion of the first 25-minute block, the coffee started to kick in. I stood up, made a peanut butter sandwich and ate it while standing beside the fridge.
“This ain’t that bad”, I thought. I went back to my laptop and started the next Pomodoro. I’ll do this until I’m able to complete 4 Pomodoros. I checked the clock. It’s 12 minutes past 5 AM.
My eyes begin to get tired at this point so I closed the lid on my laptop and got back to bed. Twice, I was actually successful in getting back to sleep and woke up after an hour. This morning, I just closed my eyes and listened to podcasts.
I’m on day 5 now of this early-morning writing routine and I absolutely love it.
Do I sleep less now? Not really. I still sleep for 6-7 hours a day. I just needed to move the hours I get to bed and wake up.
I wish I thought about this sooner, but I guess I was too preoccupied with complaining about being stuck at my situation instead of looking for answers.
Which brings me back to John Wick.
No matter what the task is, John gets it done. Heck, even with only a pencil in hand, if he wants to kill someone, that person is good as dead.
Focus, commitment and sheer will make short of any insurmountable undertaking.
Update (Aug. 2018): Almost 3 months since this post was published, I went through a few more schedule changes. Right now I’m able to work a solid 4-5 hours in the morning (4x a week), and evenings are free too (9-12) but only if needed (though I rarely do so as I prefer to sleep early). The past few weeks I’ve mostly been writing from coffee shops and digging the change in scenery.
What did I learn about this little experiment?
Two things: First, being stuck is only a temporary condition. More often than not, there’s a way around it and we only need to try harder to look for a solution. As Ryan Holiday puts it in his best selling book, The Obstacle is the Way,
“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
Second, staying focused and committed to any endeavor not only allows you to push through problems, it also allows you to grow.
I forgot to mention that last Monday, my kid started going to daycare again. For a couple of days, I was able to get back to my previous writing routine. And you know what? Not only was I able to catch up on my deadlines, I’m actually able to take in a new client, thanks to my newly-added routine. Cool, huh? I now have some extra hours for more moolah and write for my website.
What seemed impossible a few weeks back was suddenly manageable. And all it required was a little change in mindset.