Sunday, July 21, 2013

Structural dissonance

Until now, my daily life (and general life path, too, I suppose) has been very structured.  You might even call it regimented.  Sure, it was partially by default.  When I was in school, classes started and ended at the same time every day.  When I was on the trading floor, the markets opened and closed at the same time every day.  But ever the creature of habit, I sought out routine as well.  Even when I entered the start up world and schedules became a lot more flexible, I still woke up at the same time every day. I still had a schedule for going to the gym. I still wrote a to do list every night before I went to bed. I even picked up the same breakfast every morning (god I miss New York bodega breakfast egg wraps...)

Then, I moved to Hong Kong and completely threw away anything that had any semblance of a pre-established guideline.  When I embarked on this adventure, my inner rebel took over and I thought... "Routines?  Please.  I don't need no stinkin' routines." (film reference, anyone?)  My day started and ended when I wanted.  I had meetings whenever I decided to schedule them.  There weren't any restaurants around that had my regular food choices, I could eat anything that sounded good.  I could do my work from wherever I pleased. I could go to the gym whenever it fit into my schedule, even if that was 2pm.  Hell, I could wear my pajamas all day if I felt like it and nobody could say or do a thing about it.

At first, I was in heaven.  I felt totally liberated, empowered, and independent.  I had broken free of all of the "defaults" that had dictated my days for so long.  It seemed I was cheating the game of life, and it made me feel giddy.  Like a kid who had effectively managed to stay home sick from school, though feeling completely fine.  But soon, the honeymoon period ended and the fog of indecision slowly settled in. I began to obsess over when and where to do things.  What would be the optimal schedule for that particular day?  Which coffee shop did I really feel like working at today?  When would it be most efficient to drop by the gym?  No, I can't respond to this e-mail right now... I'm not prepared to write the response it deserves.  I can do it later.  I have to wait until I'm in the perfect 'honest and personal e-mail writing mood.'  There was plenty of time open in the week, surely it would strike me when the time was right.

Well, you probably see where this is going.  Those honest, personal e-mails never got answered.  I wasn't writing as much.  I often skipped the gym, or waited until just before a meeting to go, forcing myself to cut my exercise short.  No matter what I did, I could only think about the opportunity cost.  What if doing this at another time or in another place would have been better?

Worst of all, I was chronically late.  For some reason, I felt as if this elusive bolt of productivity only struck when I had but few precious minutes left before I needed to rush out the door.  I had no choice but to take advantage. I had to get this or that done before I could be on my way, otherwise I'd miss the opportunity to check it off the list.   I don't know if people really minded me being consistently 7 minutes late for meetings, but it sure bugged the hell out of me.  I felt like a really fucking annoying person.  A weakling who was constantly paralyzed by overanalysis, indecision, and regret.  Gross.

I finally had to look myself in the mirror and admit it.  Yes, I need structure in my life.  I crave routine.  I had been terrified of admitting this to myself, not because I didn't think I had the self discipline to create my own framework for daily living.  But more because I was afraid of relying on said framework. I thought I was weak for needing to outsource my decision making to a predetermined set of defaults.  But this time, it's different.  Because I'm choosing structure.  I'm not choosing it over freedom, I am choosing it for freedom.  So that I can stop obsessing over the little things and liberate my brain to think about the productive, creative things that really matter.  I don't need to wait for the "optimal time" to do something, I can make it the optimal time by just doing it now.

It's only been a few weeks of this newfound acceptance of needing some sense of regularity.  But I'm feeling a lot better about things.  It feels like a weight has been lifted.  There's less paralysis by analysis and a lot more of just getting shit done.  When setting my new daily schedule, I need to walk a very fine line between holding myself responsible but not being too rigid.  Much easier said than done, of course.  I'll let you know how it goes.