When you stop

As with anything you do, the moment you stop doing it for several days in a row, that thing suddenly becomes so much harder to do. The closest analogy I could think of is, it’s like you are a car and trying to have your engine started. It simply splutter and screech as the key is turned. It took several tries before the engine finally start up causing black smog to spew out of the exhaust pipe. Even when you do move, the engine behave as though it was choking up and the overall movement just isn’t as smooth.

That’s what happen to me after taking a writing break. One whole week of not writing anything. Not even personal journal. It can be a little disconcerting, especially how I don’t feel like writing anything else after publishing the Resident Evil 2 (2019) review two days ago. It’s like the passion for it is gone.

And I don’t know about you but I suspect that not writing for a whole week can affect a person, especially if he or she is a writer at heart, at a subconscious level that ultimately led to the manifestation of bad feelings and discontent. In my case, it led me to feel disinterested in my work and doing things slowly.

So don’t make my mistake of completely shutting down the writing engine. Keep it running. If you need to take only a couple of days break, take it. But if the break is going to last a week or longer, then it’s best you don’t stop writing. It can be so much harder to restart you writing engine. What you could do is not publishing it. By not publishing it, you won’t feel like you need to be concern with the market. When you are finally in a better shape to publish your works, take the time to review through what you have wrote and see if you can put them up.

Taking a writing break

Ever since I changed from doing journals on my blog to essays and articles last year November, I’m surprised that I actually could published something for two months (with breaks scattered in between). I’m aware that there were definitely bad days and there were good.

But I have reached a point where I’ve stopped active journaling offline because I’ve put all my eggs in one basket unconsciously. Now when there’s just nothing that can come to mind for me to share with you all, it’s making me miserable. This struggle to write and the thought that I’ve failed has started to eat away at my soul and affect my day job in ways that people have yet to pick up on. But I can see it becoming a snowball.

So for the sake of my own sanity, I’m gonna take a short break from writing non-fiction. For how long, I don’t know. The moment you see me posting multiple non-fiction within a week, it probably meant that I’m back in some form.

Last but not least, I will still attempt to finish Murderous House. Part 3 is currently in writing mode and I hope to get it out before the Lunar Chinese New Year.

To grow, just 5 percent more

Personal growth is really just an umbrella term for improving oneself across different aspect. It could be your skillsets, knowledge, interpersonal relationship, emotional intelligence, and many more. Depending on the aspect that we want to improve on, we could go for short courses, get advice from friends and have them monitor our progress, or even learn it from videos indirectly.

Many times, we fell into the trap of attempting to grow quickly when we were at the beginning of that journey. There could be many reasons for that. The best reason I could think of is, impatient. The other reason is spite.

And I’m writing from my own perspective because those are the two reasons why I want to grow quickly despite it being irrational and not practical.

You see, it all stem from being hurt when someone points out a flaw, mistakes or something that you have or made. Then you feel like you want to shut them up for good and shove their words back down their throats. And so you went full swing into fixing the flaw or mistakes someone mentioned.

At first it would go well. You are happy to practice. But it won’t last long. The passion or the drive to change just fizzle out one day. Nothing sticks. Your old habits come back again. Mistakes happen again. And the other party wins.

Or in other words, you dropped out of the infinite game all because you don’t understand or get the real why you need to improve on certain things. You had failed to reconcile the purpose of the change with your personal ‘Why’. So, your attempt to change in such a short time is simply playing the finite game to achieve the goal of proving the other party wrong just because you don’t feel good about it.

Therefore, it’s very important to calm down, understand what was the issue and how you can reconcile with your personal Why. By that, I mean how does that change or growing in that specific direction helps you with your personal mission.

After that, you can actually make plans so that you can improve yourself at a steady pace. And to make that growth even more effective, all you need to do is apply 5% more effort, energy, attention or awareness in whatever it is you are doing.

The idea of 5% more was introduced to me two years ago by an ex-boss of mine. It was from the book by Michael Alden called 5% More: Making Small Changes to Achieve Extraordinary Results.

Back then, he was attempting to get all of us to be at the top of our game. To deliver quality work. To be more resilient when it comes to stress, etc.

So I bought the book and read it because I really wanted to be better then. Only managed to read till mid-way of the book before I gave up. Since then, I have moved on from the company, had to deal with multiple episodes of situational depression, and went back to a software development role. And in hindsight, fictional books are definitely more interesting.

But I digress.

Even though I managed to read half of the book, the idea behind it was simple. In whatever you do, all you need to do is apply 5% more of whatever it is you need to. Time. Energy. Attention. Focus.

Let’s put 5% into perspective.

You have already spent an hour on a task to create a report and you are about to complete it. Just the last page. However, you decided to call it a day and go home. You promise yourself that you will come back to finish that last page the next day. The next day comes and then new tasks came in that are of a higher priority. The task you promised to finish yesterday now sit undone. Later in the day, your boss tells you he or she needs that report on the desk in five minutes time. So you scramble to finalise the report. But because you are in panic mode, you forgot what was the report truly about and now you have to spend more time to understand it first before finishing that last page.

Now what if you have spend 5% more time on that report the day before. 5% more time isn’t a lot. Considering that you have already spent an hour on it and you are left the last page. 5% more translate to 3 minutes. If you had spent that 3 minutes the day before, do you think you would suffer now?

And what about 5% more energy, attention or focus? If you apply it to your tasks, do you think the end result will be better? Maybe it could be a simple adding of margin to a report. It doesn’t take a lot of effort right? But it could potentially make it easier to read or more presentable. Your client could be subconsciously impressed. Or maybe you could have picked out several spelling and grammatical mistakes in your writing by applying 5% more attention to details.

If you are consistent with the application of 5% more as part of your personal growth, you may just find yourself putting out high quality stuff without even thinking about it. All because you have trained that muscle well.

Not to brat but this application of 5% more is how I am able to write better, cleaner codes than my colleagues despite being younger than them without being intentional about it and write out test cases that fulfil the criteria without much thoughts.

Taking a silo pause as a creator

Pause. Break.

It doesn’t matter which word but they are scary words for some. And just the mention of it could potentially trigger an anxiety attack in creators who have relatively low amount of followers and viewership. After all, at the beginning, there’s no other metrics other than view and like counts that matter more to the creator. He or she probably isn’t confident enough in their ability to attract and engage people to take a look at their content. So every view or like serves to validate their thoughts and feelings that they did something right. It’s serves as a micro fuel for their next content release.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only wrong when you tie your overall well-being to being validated. The moment you think you aren’t validated, you slipped into depression. And that’s bad.

For me, I came from that and have been slowly learning to not seek validation in what I do. It’s a difficult journey. And that’s why I never like the word “pause” when it comes to content creation. I feel like I should keep churning out content.

But for the past two days, the creative well that drive my writing is really empty. Every time the level is pulled and the bucket rise up, all I see is empty. Best part is, I knew it was coming ever since I put up the article titled, Focus on playing the infinite game. The metaphorical weather hasn’t been giving me the rain necessary to fill the well.

And you know what? My blog viewership have pretty much dropped to just a couple of visitor and even then those visitors are only here for the review I wrote about the Ogon Designs’s Stockholm V2 Smart Wallet. It’s in fact my most popular piece of content by view count. As for likes, it’s pretty much zero.

And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Even then, it doesn’t mean one should be ok with not creating. It’s a pause from writing for me but not a pause on other creative work.

You see, if you view yourself as a creator, there’s really no restriction on what you can create. The only possible limitation comes from whether you’ve got the skills for it or not. Even then, it’s probably a weak excuse.

Let’s use the following example.

You could be a full-time writer but at the same time you enjoy making cupcakes. And you know what? Making cupcake is a form of creation. So you have the skill to write and make cupcake. Now, you decided to take a break from writing because you are suffering from some kind of writer’s block. However, you can continue to make cupcake. And I’m pretty sure you will learn something from the process.

In my case, I may be suffering from a writer’s block but the other creative work that I can do is building software. I have learn and developed the skills for it over the last ten years or so. That’s why I’ve decided to spend some time to setup various development studios on my computer and learn different kind of development platforms. The next step would be to figure out a pet project to do so that I can take on the challenge of developing an iOS app (never done it before) for the frontend and a .NET Core web application for the backend.

This way, my coding skills can continue to improve, which in turn allows me to make more money. And what does having more money means for me? It allows me to create art because I won’t find myself starving, stressed out by how am I going to pay the bills and still can take my family out for meals.

So that’s why it’s important for one to be multi-skilled. It’s even better if you have totally different kind of creative skills. That way you can take a pause, switch between different kind of creative work and don’t feel like you hadn’t achieve anything. Furthermore, you become a more diverse person and that is fuel for your overall creativity.

Importance of a tidy and spacious workspace

Workspaces. It’s something that most of us don’t spend a lot of effort thinking about. After all, how many truly enjoy the very idea of work? If given the chance, we would rather kick back, relax and lie down on some beach chairs and watch the sunset. And even for those who do love work, they too don’t think much about their workspaces. They are there to work and be productive. Thinking about their workspaces is an unnecessary waste of their energy and doesn’t contribute to anything at all.

And that’s where I believe they are wrong.

Our workspaces are no different from the rooms or building we spend our time in.

Let’s take a well-designed office building located somewhere in downtown for example. Imagine for a moment how do you feel when you see it for the first time in your life? Then you stepped in and chances are the first thing you see will be the lobby. Now imagine it to feature a soothing lighting, has a clean overall look (probably minimalistic), and has some kind of music playing from the overhead speakers. How would you feel?

So if you agree that you feel great about seeing a nicely designed building with good looking yet soothing interiors, then I suspect you have the intelligence to understand why it’s important to think about your workspaces. Especially since most of us would spend hours after hours working on it.

The human brain is irrational. At its core, the limbic system and reptilian complex drives most of its actions. Ever notice why you feel disgusted after seeing certain things or simply don’t like something but can’t provide a reasonable explanation? That’s because before the neomammalian complex realised what’s going on, the rest of the brain has already made up its mind about that one thing you have seen, heard or experienced. The decision made then was the result of subjecting the input data collected by your senses through a series of filters that created your personalities, your tastes, likes and dislikes, etc.

Just as how nicely designed objects make you feel, a tidy and spacious workspace can ultimately contribute to this subconscious decision about whether you enjoy working there or not.

For me, I love a good stable wooden desk. Although glass table look cool and modern, it gives me this feeling that it’s not as stable. If it’s normal glass, it could just crack and shatter when there’s a major impact, causing potential injury. And could explode in my face any time if it’s tempered glass.

Other than a good stable desk, the desk has to be at least 1.20 meters wide for me to put my computer on it. Any smaller than 1.20 meters, it actually feel claustrophobic. Just imagine a desktop computer with monitor, keyboard and mouse sitting on such a small desk and you have to spend hours working at it. Doesn’t it feel like you are being squeezed? And you can’t seem to put anything else important on the desk? In my case, I could never focus because of this subconscious pressure. That’s one reason why I switched to using a laptop as a desktop replacement at home. It’s smaller and can give me more desk space.

Last but not least, the state of the desk matters. If the desk is messy, it can actually give you this feeling or impression of being lost and unsure what you want to do next. It can also lead to issue finding where you have placed a certain document you need for certain task. And mess can actually cause undue amount of stress even if you don’t realise it. Mess is actually no different from chaos. Chaos is detrimental to the mind since it’s unfamiliar and lack a certain kind of stability or security.

If there’s anything to understand about the mind is that it craves familiarity and stability. That’s why it, ultimately us as human, is so resistant to change.

That’s why decluttering is a big thing in minimalism and that minimalism has help people live a more meaningful and content life. The decluttering process is all about clearing out the mess and being very intentional about the role of each object you do keep on your desk and how they fit in your life, be it professional or personal.

Once your workspace is tidy, believe it or not, the mind actually will finds itself going into a neutral, possibly calm, state. Before you know it, you are off into the zone, doing highly productive work instead of procrastinating and feeling stress even when the work is so simple.

So if you find yourself feeling stress, can’t seem to do anything productive when you are at your workspace for no reason or just hate being there, maybe it’s time to evaluate how does it make you feel. If it’s not a good feeling, then maybe you need to ask yourself what you could do to improve it. If you need to clear out the desk and leave only your work computer on it, do it.

P.S. It’s probably why these past few days, I’m still evaluating, designing and thinking about my desk setup at home. I needed it to be even better, more conducive for me to do my writings.