Time For Work

The wonderful meandering of a ten hour work session

published on 10.31.23 🎃

Batching work

For the work you ought to be doing, you need at least 2 hours of blocked time for work. You can probably do little tasks on and off throughout an interrupted context-switching day, but the important (and most enjoyable) work requires uninterrupted time. For more on this: Maker vs Manager Schedule. Recently, I've been heading to a favorite spot and working for 4, 5 sometimes even 10 hours at a time.

My Approach Lately

Lately I've been dedicating a full day each week for Printernet. Usually Saturday. I go to one of my favorite working spots prepared for a "work day". Crucially, I don't set a requirement for myself of how long I need to work or what needs to get done that day. Instead I am aiming to make space for flow states. If you make space for focus and new ideas, they often come. This is what matters about blocking time for the work you ought to be doing. You are kind of signalling to your subconcious that you take the work seriously. Tessa knows this because I annoyingly refer to Printernet and my writing as work and my job as my job.

"It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on."

I was hugely inspired by this Paul G piece, it completely reoriented how I view my own work. Or rather, it articulated how I felt about my own work in words which made it easier to grok. The punchline of the insight it provided me was later summarized by Paul G himself in his essay, "How to do great work":

"Don't let "work" mean something other people tell you to do."

Now, a detour to discuss working spots vs vibe spots. For batching real work, you need a balance of working spot + vibe spot. A vibe spot is a coffee shop, brewery or bar, restaraunt or other location where you feel like yourself. The crowd and style of the place make you feel at home. However, not all vibe spots are good for working. A good working spot needs several things:

But also remember not all working spots have a vibe. I want my spot to be casual enough to not feel like a cubicle. Working on the stuff you love while surrounded by an assortment of others, some casually hanging and others working too, is what I am after.

Ok, back from the detour.

I find a good working spot that is also a good vibe and get ready to ease into the work. I bring reading (my latest Printernet issue and my Kindle usually) for when I want to take a break. I've also started bringing my (fully charged) AirPods and my backup headphones in case they die. When I am ready to work, I put my headphones on as a kind of mental cue that the time for work has come. I usually start with a list of things I want to get done. Sometimes the list already exists and I am assessing where to start, sometimes I create the list right then and there. To get into the session, I like to start with something simple that isn't intimidating. This could be reading some documentation for something you will be working with or fixing some CSS stuff. Lately I've found myself suddenly an hour into the work moments after opening Replit and pulling up my code.

Bring on the meandering flow state

When you work on something you genuinely love for 4 to 10 hours of uninterrupted time, many wonderful things occur. First, you get a lot done which is great. You also go in and out of flow states in a really satisfying way. It's fun to get a critical new feature working and then take a victory lap by heading to the counter to order a second coffee. Another thing that happens is when I am taking a break, by surfing Twitter or sitting outside for fresh air, all kinds of connections occur. When work is front of mind like that, ideas come flying to you hoping you'll choose them. I also enjoy the aspect of having a dedicated "third place" for the "real work" that is distinct from my office at home where I work for my job. This is another subconcious signal that I am here for the work I love. I also find when I am working in these batched sessions, my writing gets clearer. I often get a new piece of writing out of a working session dedicated to coding.

I was recently asked what flow feels like to me. I gave this description

It really is a feeling akin to racing. But in these long working sessions it feels like a marathon or similar to how I feel running a 5k. It feels both tranquil and focused. I really value these large chunks of uninterrupted work time. I hope to be able to do this kind of thing five days a week sometime soon.

Finally, I've found that you should know when to call it quits. Just like running, you don't want to go too far once you've exhausted your energy for the day. It's been very apparent when my brain wants to stop for the day. When this happens, it's better to head home than stick around for 1 - 2 hours of unproductive aimless work.

Collected reading on this topic