Constraints and limitations are often necessary to succeed. The problem becomes the solution again and again over here, a constant theme since the genesis of Tiny Farm Duluth, and in my life.
Just four or five years ago we had a single 2011-vintage laptop computer, which still gets daily use over here. Now, and I can’t seem to work out the math, we find ourselves with 2 laptops, a desktop, iPad, and four freakin’ cell phones. Incredibly, this isn’t quite enough, because both kids have been home doing distance learning all year. Thus, if I want to get any writing done, it has to be before kid #1 gets going on the fancy new desktop we hauled in here for this purpose.
Funny thing is, I’ve been more productive with these constraints than at any time in the six years that have elapsed since I published my first book. Amazingly, I’ve got 50,000 words saved in the gizmo right now, divvied up about 90/10 across two ebooks I hope to release simultaneously later this year. I’ve been reliably experiencing “flow state” every morning, and look forward to it when waking up well before dawn. Flow state is a condition of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment of the activity, hyper-engagement with the present, and so much more. Time slows down. Past and future aren’t of concern. Right now we’re engaged in this task with all neurons working in symphony together.
A podcast on Spotify called Flow has been ushering me into every day. It engages the pomodoro method, which calls for 30 minutes of focused work with brief five minute interludes of recovery. The 30-minute flow sessions are filled with various tracks of synth/electronic/focus music, and there’s no need to set a timer because the host just starts talking when it’s time to pour another cup of coffee. I don’t even know what category this weird music falls in, and prefer to remain ignorant while enjoying the secret sauce. Previously, I would’ve said, “Mozart is music. That ain’t music!” Well, I don’t know why, but this stuff works even better than Amadeus or Johann’s fine contributions to humanity. My brain is now trained to immediately slip into flow the moment the music flows through the noise-cancelling headphones. It’s literally changing my life. I’m so grateful, because this second book has been a real trial. I’ve finally gotten over the hump, while making meaningful progress every day.
We’re falling into a rhythm that bloody works. Today I was up at 4 am to soak several thousand grams of pea seed in advance of planting, made the coffee, and slipped into flow state for the next several hours. I banged out another 2,000 words today, which feels fantastic! I’m finally moving forward by simply doing the work, and not just thinking about it. The latter leads to perfectionist thinking that only impedes liftoff. Instead, I’m cranking out real quantity, which eventually leads to quality.
Anyhow, by 9 am my son needed to use the computer for school. I absolutely love the fact that he and the rest of the gang get to see me in this seat doing the work every single day. The only exception will be Thursday’s big harvest. Every other week I’m now doing a smaller Monday harvest to try and keep up with heavy demand for microgreens, this is the busy season after all, but I still managed to sneak in one 30-minute flow session before harvest last week, because I’m totally dialed in to the habit. It’s the best part of my day. What a miracle!
The other major constraint is my daughter’s nordic ski team practice, requiring a 20-minute drive each way five days a week at 2:30 pm. This hard deadline on the day has been fantastic for both of us, and was totally unexpected. Emma gets all her school work done by this time, when previously she’d work all day and even on weekends. I’m also getting nearly everything done by then, which forces me to use my time wisely. Time management has never come naturally, but this simple limitation brings out the best in me. Today I wrote the 2,000 words, completed some basic household chores, planted the pea and radish shoots, packaged up some art for shipment, and even carved out 20 minutes to make headway in a thousand page book about Harry Truman I’m slowly plowing through. Then, while Emma was at practice, I slipped away for some time to glide atop the snow myself.
I am digging these limitations. A blank canvas facing a whole universe of possibilities, and all the time in the world, has never produced results in me. I need constraints. Perhaps this is because I went too long with taskmasters telling me what to do (up till layoff in my late 30s). Things are really clicking these days as I finally fall into a rhythm. Modifying the pomodoro method a bit, I’m also fortunate to have several small farm chores that I can do between productive sessions, which is exactly what I want in life. Grow food. Write books. Move the body. This is the sort of rhythm I’ve been striving for all these years, and just wanted to share the good news. It’s not about being busy. Focused. That’s the sweet spot. Cheers, y’all!