The happiest days are not when you do nothing but reach the right amount of work.

The happiest days are not when you do nothing but reach the right amount of work.
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I have a strange mindset of inertia in my head. I don't know precisely why it is there, but it comes from my youth: I think intuitively that my default state is to lie all day doing nothing and just be. I believe that only then can I be truly happy, and if I have to do something, I want to complete it quickly so I can fall back to my initial resting state as a goal.

Excitingly, this mindset leads to all the energy for productivity in me. After all, I am urged to return to doing nothing at some point, which drives me to complete my tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible.

I find that compelling because I would assume someone with such a mindset would have to be rather sluggish. But that's not the case. I am the opposite, as evidenced by this blog, and my laziness fuels my productivity.

But to be honest, I feel a solid inner resentment whenever something needs to be done, especially if it's short-term distractions. And there's always something to do. I can hardly remember a moment when everything was just done. There is always some opportunity to be leveraged, a problem to solve, or a thing to be improved.

With this mindset, I sometimes feel like Sisyphus or like being in a battle against constant entropy.

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Doing nothing is not a solution.

My mindset is completely off. On days when I can't do anything because I'm sick and thus enforced to my beloved default state of doing nothing, I quickly feel bored and end up unhappy because, in the end, I don't feel the pleasure that I imagined I should have.

I always walk out on days like that, feeling like I wasted a day of my life. What is the value of just being? Lying on the couch and maybe watching a Netflix movie and being entertained. There is no value, at least none that I can see.

So it turns out the carrot I'm chasing under my nose is a fata morgana.

I run and do to complete my tasks to reach my desired default state of inertia again, to allow myself to be truly happy again, but it does not keep what it promised in the end.

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Happiness comes when the right amount of work is done.

So I thought about myself and observed which days I felt maximum joy in everyday life. It's certainly not on stressful days where there's too much to do. It's not when I do nothing at all.

For me, maximizing my pleasure is when I hit the following sweet spot in the quantity and quality of work:

  • I can work through the tasks I set for myself the day before. There are no urgent ad-hoc tasks that distract me from them.
  • I can be within my established routines that reliably put me in a flow state. For me, that means, for example, that after my morning exercise, I eat my frog and do "The One Thing" of the day, the one most essential task of the day, followed by a long walk listening to podcasts.
  • I set myself a realistic, achievable set of executable tasks that I don't have to spend a lot of time mulling over. If it's unclear what exactly needs to be done, then the job is to think about it in a time box of 30 minutes and clarify it. The timebox is then the task that can be checked off.

I have found that the 1:3:7 rule can guide a good measure of tasks:

  • 1x "The One Thing", a genuinely essential task to be done this day
  • 3x medium-sized tasks that can be tackled in 30-60mins each
  • 7x small tasks and chores

I have learned to avoid having an overflow of tasks every day that just gets pushed to the next day. Due to the Zeigarnik effect, our psychological desire to finish things will reduce our joy on such days.

Business time
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What's your mindset? What drives you? Do you also feel the thought of falling back into a default state of doing nothing, as I do? Feel free to write it in the comments!