Shifting from Screensaver Mode to Being Awake
Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Earlier this month I finished the book Buddhism, Plain and Simple. I bought it years ago (and never read it) after an extended trip in Thailand, noticing how locals seemed more present and happier than anywhere I had previously visited. One story really from the book really stuck with me. After his enlightenment, Buddha was often asked things like “Are you a god?" "Are you a reincarnation of god?" "Are you a wizard?”. He answered no to these questions and simply said, "I am awake".
I’ll admit I snooze at the wheel once or twice a year. Not to the point of being asleep...I am still on and operating efficiently, but I’m just not fully present. I call this screensaver mode and I’ve come to accept it as an inevitable part of my creative cycle. I’m not looking to eliminate it, as it’s often the impetus for growth, change and [much-needed] resets.
As I embark on my journey to write my first book (scary!), I was not surprised to find that I’ve been idling in screensaver mode for a bit. What were my biggest clues? Procrastinating on a few basic things and not feeling completely connected to a couple areas of work. Last week I found myself making muffins and a big jar of pickled onions (to be consumed separately) in the middle of my workday. Or realizing I've been following targeted ads leading me to browse for things I genuinely don’t want or need. Noticing an increase in my distractibility is a solid indicator that my screensaver is on.
Since I’ve been here [many times] before, I knew I needed to do two things. First, I needed to identify and acknowledge the source. 9/10 times, the source is something related to a fear/concern I’m ignoring. This one was simple to uncover: what if I’m not cut out to be an author? I journaled about it for a couple of days, identifying my biggest supporters and thought about the excitement for my work and ideas they've shared recently. I also thought about the other parts of my career that felt scary and the good that came from leaning into that discomfort. This calmed my nerves and dulled my inner critic.
Once I processed what was happening, I switched to my favorite stage: problem-solving mode. I needed to snap my fingers in my face to reconnect with what I’m working towards. My approaches change depending on the source of my disconnect, but some of my recent snooze snaps include:
Resume 2 hour lunch breaks. Yes, two hours. Hear me out. I personally operate best when I have mental space. I like to allow an hour to prepare a meal and eat away from my computer (cooking is one of my favorite ways to close out stress cycles). The second hour is for reading, walking or running a quick errand. If I don’t feel like taking the full two hours, I return to my desk. I did this with consistency last year and started trimming it back because it felt indulgent. It’s not...it's often when my best ideas come to me.
Mix up my schedule - swap morning and afternoon activities. I consolidated my networking availability to 3-5PM. I am able to be present in conversations no matter the time of day, so this leaves morning time for deep work. I also picked 2 days a week to move AM workouts to the evening, as I do my best writing first thing in the morning. Lastly, I blocked my last hour of work for small/menial tasks like followups, scheduling, updating spreadsheets and plans for the next day. When I start my day with tasks I don’t enjoy, it creates a resistant tone for the day. Now I tackle them with a very near light at the end of the tunnel: disconnecting and down time.
Time blocking with specificity. I’m really good at managing my schedule. Like really good. I teach workshops on time optimization and I’m able to consistently juggle a lot of moving projects. I love time blocking as a tool, but screensaver mode usually means I’ve gotten lazy with identifying specific tasks within them. My sweet spot is 2-3 specific tasks for each time block. Which one of these feels more approachable:
1) Two hours blocked for generic book research
2) Identify new keywords & create list of podcasts and videos to review this week
Turn off phone vibration. I can hear my phone vibrating almost as easily as a sound and my screen times and pickups were recently higher than I'd like.
Everyone is vastly different - what works for me might not work for others. But after a quick reset and my above adjustments, I am feeling energized around my summer goals. I know another recalibration will be needed at some point in the future. Until then, I’m awake.