Thinking in Blocks of Time
I’m just home from two weeks’ vacation—and gearing up to get back to work. The first thing I’ll do is stop myself from thinking in terms of immediate gratification.
I will make myself think, instead, in blocks of time.
I will not put pressure on the first day, or even the first week. Resistance would love me to do that. Resistance knows that if I try to do too much too soon, I’ll fail. Resistance would love to see that happen.
So I will remind myself that the enemy is not time. The enemy is Resistance.
The wide receiver returning from injury knows he can’t run a 4.3 forty the first day back. If he tries, he’ll pull a hamstring. I will learn from him. When I sit down to work, I will think in terms, not of Day One, but of Week One, Month One, and From Now Till New Year’s.
I will not try to use the big writing muscles yet. I’ll stick to the little ones. I’ll transcribe, I’ll research, I’ll compile. I won’t try to do real writing for another four or five days and, when I do, I won’t go all-out.
What I’m doing is “building up.”
If I were a trainer working with a two-year-old colt, I would not let him run flat-out the first day back from a lay-off. I might not let him run at all. I might spend the first day working on entering the starting gate or being led to the paddock and being saddled. I will let him stretch his legs a little, but no racing, not even for fun.
When we think in terms of blocks of time, it takes pressure off the need for immediate production. We don’t mind going slowly the first few days because we know we’ll hit our stride in a week or two.
Starting slow does something else that is not often appreciated. It sends a message. A low-pressure Day One tells the muscles, “Wake up, work is coming.” It doesn’t make the muscles panic. It just gets them in the mood. When we up the pace on Day Two, the muscles get the picture. They start to prepare.
Our imaginary colt does not dread running. He wants to gallop. The trick, for us the trainer, is not to give him his head too soon.
So we zoom out. We push the horizon back. We think in blocks of time.
Week One, we accomplish X.
Month One, we accomplish X+Y.
By New Year’s, we have nailed X, Y, and Z.
I recognize that what I do for a living—writing long-form pieces—is not analagous to what many people do. But the long-run mindset is a valuable one to master, even if you’re in the business of git-‘er-done-now.
When we think in blocks of time, we acquire patience. We make time work for us instead of against us. Dirty Harry said a man’s gotta know his limitations. We can’t lose ten pounds in ten days. But we can lose ten pounds in a year.
Time possesses powers that are underappreciated in the world of overnight polls and instant gratification.
Start slow and build. Think in terms of blocks of time.