Mental Hacks for the Modern Worker

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

Related Post Roulette

17 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Naps. Steal them where you can.Report

  2. zic says:

    Writers have a process of visualizing places, people, etc, that they can describe them; often in far greater detail then actually show up in their writing.

    I do this in difficult/boring/stressful places; I hold a place I love or am comfortable in my minds eye. Often, places out doors, a stream I like to walk along, my back yard, the dock. I close my eyes for a minute or two, and see this place, imagine the sounds I might hear there, the smells. Feel the peace or comfort, and just try to let it seep into me a bit; purge the angst. And doing this, I find one of the most important things is imagining smells.Report

  3. Interesting post, Mike.

    Touching on a couple of your points, I find being productive, both at work and at home, keeps me in a good head-space, regardless of whether or not I like my job. By being productive at home, I mean something like your “Do something for yourself” point. Taking just a little extra time to clean up or take care of some other personal business (hell, maybe even blog), makes me feel better and more motivated the next day at work.

    I also find that when I put my weeknights to better use (being productive, writing, or just doing some sort of activities), the dread of Sunday night goes away. I don’t actually feel that way about Sunday night too much anymore… unless I really waste my weekend and didn’t ‘do’ anything.

    There was one time, many jobs ago, that I was completely fed up. So one night while at work (on a really slow night), I wrote my resignation letter. It wasn’t a big rant or anything. It was a sincere “thanks, but it’s time to move on” sort of letter. It was cathartic, and I felt a lot better about my job afterwards.

    Also, once, I wrote a proposal for a new job within the company. I wound up really developing it and gave it to my boss during an annual review. Surprisingly, he took it quite seriously and didn’t just dismiss it out of hand (that’s what his boss did).

    I find your idea of travelling light interesting. I’ve found that when I haven’t felt great about my job, making it more personalized helps me. I also find keeping it clean and (relatively) tidy helps. However, what I wouldn’t want to do would be to make the place too much like my home, then I’d probably feel stuck there. It’s a balancing act.Report

  4. Patrick says:

    Get your email INBOX down to a number of items that fit, entirely, on your screen, with space for a couple of new ones to come in without you having to scroll down.

    Be ruthless. If it’s a project, get it out of your email INBOX and put it on a to-do list. If it’s a long-standing problem, ask yourself if you’re going to do it between now and Friday and if you aren’t, email the person back and tell them that you’re not getting to it this quarter and if it’s still an issue can they follow up with you some time mid-next month?

    If they need it, they’ll email you back mid-next month or they’ll get it done without you.

    If you’re like me and you interact with your *job* almost entirely by email, you will be a lot happier if you consider it the triage room and not the place where work actually gets done.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Patrick says:


      I’ve been practicing Inbox Zero for several years. I get chest pains if my emails go off the screen now.Report

    • Roger in reply to Patrick says:

      I always did this too. At the end of the day, my in box could never be longer than the screen height.

      I’ve always found email to be extremely efficient as long as I don’t take it too seriously and formal. Read it quick, knock off a quick reply. Much better than a phone call or, God forbid, a meeting. Of course personal conversations trump all.

      And I type with two fingers.Report

  5. Patrick says:

    Also, find humor in stuff.

    Like, hey, the post image? The guy’s brain looks like a monkey face.Report

  6. Damon says:

    Regarding the Commute.

    100% agree. It’s my decompression event as well. My drive takes me on mixed roads and highways. I always enjoy entering the ramp to the highway and punching the accellerator. Driving for the sheer joy of it. That gets my mind off of work.Report

  7. North says:

    Commutes: If at all possible don’t have em. I have a 3 minute commute or a ten minute walk when the weather is nice. Sweet bliss. When I had a 30 minute commute the 5 hours per week of unpaid driving rankled furiously.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to North says:

      I find the headclearing thing to be real, but even moreso during an uncomplicated public transport commute where there are enough trips that there’s no stress in missing any given bus/train (which I’ve only ever experienced in NYC). Having a 3 minute commute is an upside all its own that certainly balances this out. But there is something to balance in terms of decompression, providing that the commute isn’t too hellish (whether due to traffic, crappy public transport, or the deadly combination of both those). I find getting home with a head still full of work stress to be disorienting.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Also: where we live, basically that latter nightmare – bad public transport (bus only except a really limited amount of light rail) PLUS crappy traffic in which it gets snarled – is the prevailing reality. So of course minimal commute is certainly for the best here in Mpls-StP.Report

      • When I had a ten minute walk commute, it was lovely. Now I have a 30 minute commute by foot. It’s rather nice. Like Michael says, it really gives a chance to unwind, process stuff and get your head right before you walk in the door. And with two crazy young kids about to scream at me when I walk in, that break is heaven.Report

  8. BlaiseP says:

    I remember school that way, the dreadful hours of Sunday night, waking on Monday as if I were to be hanged. Especially in the winter, when my bones ached, waiting for the school bus. I didn’t endure winters as a child: I came back to the USA to find them entirely awful.

    Working all day was not for me. I did it, early on. Soon enough I was sick of the lack of loyalty demonstrated by my employer and went into consulting, where at least I had an objective. And the money was always better, working for myself. There are dreams and there are jobs. You can have one, never both. Even writers, the professional dreamers, must put in the hours.

    I cannot agree with that Charity Work line of thinking. Being a professional means getting paid for what you do. Behave like a professional. Work is honourable, no matter how humble. Others dream of a job such as you have.

    Perhaps my advice isn’t applicable to others, but here’s what works for me:

    Quit thinking of yourself as an employee. Nothing good can come of that sort of thinking. Even if you’re sweeping floors, hold your head high: you’re a responsible person. Your duties have been entrusted to you. Yes, others might be perfectly capable of fulfilling those duties but you are the person who’s been entrusted with them.

    Justify your existence. If your job seems like a constant parade of tiny, irksome tasks, keep a proper accounting of what you’re doing, no matter how insignificant it might seem. I keep a constant log of what I do, just a plain old text file. Every so often I start a new one.

    Constantly cast your thoughts upon the subject of why you’re doing anything, especially the way you’re being told to do it. Never allow yourself to question that process until you’ve mastered it. Do not be a technology zealot: it is the hallmark of the idiot in my line of work, that he wants to redo everything without a fuller understanding of the Whys. Ugly code didn’t start out ugly. When you see ugly code, know that it’s the result of some bitterly fought-over compromise. Reformat it. Comment it. Debug it. But do not replace it until you have mastered its evils and documented them. Perversely, you’ll only get the chance to fix something once you’ve become the authority on it.

    There are no Better Positions, only more appropriate positions. Want the luxury of leaving your desk and never coming back? Become a consultant. Makes every day a great day, knowing I’m getting paid at least twice as much as any employee and never having to go to those goddamn management meetings.

    I don’t want to be part of your little kaffeeklatsch. I don’t want to hear your office gossip: it’s hazardous to my career. Yours too, you’re just too reckless and stupid to realise it just now. I don’t want to go to lunch with you. I’m doing a job here and when I’m done, I’ll go on to some other firm and about this point in my career they’re all blurring together. You’re nobody special, employee. Consultants call you Tree Huggers. You can love your kids and your dog and the way the sun sets off Molokai. Just don’t love your job. It will never love you back.

    I’m now five feet from my bed, with a cat on my lap. Pretty short commute. The downside is: I’m never able to walk away from work. Which leads me to my next point: don’t allow your job to define you.Report

    • Pinky in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “Work is honourable, no matter how humble. Others dream of a job such as you have.”

      Hear, hear. Today I earned more money than I needed for food and shelter. I wasn’t asked to break any laws, I didn’t do any permanent tendon damage, and no one swore at me. I couldn’t say those things about my first jobs. Everyone should work lousy summer jobs in their youths. It inspires you for the rest of your life.Report

    • Wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

      What Blaise said. But taking that leap into consulting (or simply working for your own company) can be a huge scary step. What I did to psyche myself up for it was I spent about a month pretending I’d already won the lottery. Work was a living hell, management had hired a ton of consultants (sorry Blaise) and they’d thoroughly f’d everything up. They’d wasted millions running in 10 different directions at once and had lost track of the goals. Of course it was management’s fault but the consultants didn’t do them any favors either. There was g0ing to be a blood-letting layoff, everyone could smell it in the air. The consultants were gone but the budget was dry in engineering.

      Most depressing time of my life, bar none – until I got into the lottery game in my head. I didn’t win the mega millions jackpot (I don’t think it even existed back then). I just won the pedestrian several million annuity value lottery that basically replaced your paycheck without having to work. Having mentally “won” the jackpot I daydreamed every day about what I was going to do with my time since I didn’t need to “work for a living” anymore. People kept asking me why I was always smiling. Realize this was all just fantasy, but it truly helped me focus on what I would end up doing for the next 20 years of my life. Unfortunately I was in a virtually un-fireable position so I knew I wasn’t going to get the ax when it arrived but would be in the worse position, having to hold things together with too few staff.

      If you don’t need a paycheck, how would you (productively) spend your days? You’re too young to actually retire, you’d want to do something useful with your time so you go through all the scenarios. Ultimately for me, I figured out exactly what I’d do, exactly what it would cost and approximately how long it would take. After all, I did this in my “day job” working out budgets and time frames for engineering projects. I left on a Friday (working up a cover story with my boss because everyone was freaking out that I was quitting) and had my new company up and running on Monday. Best thing I ever did (and effectively I /did/ win the lottery when I sold out). It wasn’t all roses but it WAS mine and pretty much every four years I’d start a new company and do it all over again. It bothers me that I’ve had my current company 6 years. Someone tried to buy it the first year but it wasn’t ready and now I keep thinking I’ve lost my touch because I didn’t move it in the 4th year (something about a recession something something might have had something to do with that). I spend less time on this site than I’d like because I’ve given myself a new year’s resolution to focus more on my business.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Wardsmith says:

        I knew I wasn’t going to get the ax when it arrived but would be in the worse position, having to hold things together with too few staff.

        From personal experience, this sucks. I mean, it sucks. The guys that got laid off all got a decent severance (really quite generous) and they were all re-employed within a month, basically getting 3 months salary as a bonus for not having to work there any more.

        I got basically sole ownership of the ticket queue and no raise.Report