Imagine you are preparing for an early semi-retirement — forced, necessary. Perhaps for health reasons. It’s not the end of your life, or even strictly the end of your career, but it’s probably your last chance to get anything big done. You have a couple months to cram in as much as you can. How do you handle it?
This is what I just did to myself.
When my wife told me that she was going to go to India for nine weeks, I thought, nine weeks?! Nooo, too long! I will be lonely and pathetic by the end! But then: Yesss! I am going to get so much work done …
Both predictions were correct. For years I have had a workaholic’s fantasy of a period of pure, intense productivity. To really buckle down, you have to be an anti-social bachelor. I finally got my shot at this, and I put in 14 hours per day of work for all of December and January.
I took only three days off. I saw almost no one. I rarely left my home office. I barely spoke. I learned to like black coffee.
Sort of the end of my career
For extra flavour, I also knew this would be the last workaholic push of my life. If I don’t stop working like a madman There Will Be Consequences. Although my wife is an inveterate traveller, it’s not a coincidence she left for nine weeks — she was a little bored. Time for a change.
So I didn’t just work unusually hard, I tried to “finish my career” — tie up all the major loose ends, anyway — before a proper holiday, and then permanent semi-retirement. Part-time work for the rest of my life, that is. (When I’m 65, the timesheet of my life will be about the same as anyone who punched the clock 9 to 5 for a few decades — it’s just that I’ve already put in the majority of my hours.)
So I worked as hard as I possibly could for nine weeks. What do I have to show for it? What have I learned? Time for a post-mortem.
- I wasn’t really much more productive than usual. I already had mad getting-things-done skillz. A few extra hours per week for a couple months is really not that big a deal. It was like giving amphetamines to a chipmunk: “I don’t feel anything. What’s next?”
- Nine days without a wife is a party, but nine weeks is like an illness. I think I slept well once or twice. Ergo, it was not really a “good opportunity” to work. By the end, I was often sleep-deprived to the point where tying my shoes was harder than a sudoku.
- Never try to “finish your career.” What an ego-shredding goal! Having backed myself into that impossible corner, I quickly discovered that there was no chance that I would get done even 5% of what I’d hoped. Three weeks in, I started pulling the plug on major projects that had been on life support for years. To-do list carnage!
- In the bigger picture, all the project abandonment taught me that I seem to be chronically delusional about what I can accomplish in one lifetime. Which is probably an essential skill for entrepreneurs. Most of those illusions were finally exposed in this period, but I kept a few for old time’s sake.
- I’m not quite as fond of extreme social isolation as I liked to think. Am I an introvert? Oh yes. Am I hermit material? No! This quiet writer still likes to go for beers with his brainy buddies and talk about the Star Wars reboot or how exoplanet discoveries are changing the Drake equation.
And now I’m on holiday, which apparently involves blogging. Obviously I couldn’t pull off true sloth if my life depended on it.
Next up: Was it really a “sabbatical”?