Maintenance

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 7 min read

We left Friday morning around 9:30am and arrived in Newport, Rhode Island a little after 3:00pm.

We had a lobster roll almost immediately. The next day, we walked along the water passing by enormous mansions that were once the summer homes of the rich and powerful. We had lunch at a local clam shack. That evening, we drove to Hyannis, Massachusetts.

cooked shrimp on black ceramic bowl

We brought our daughter to her first beach. It was 75º and overcast that day as we sifted through the tiny pebbles of gritty sand searching for shells and smooth rocks.

After many years, I’ve finally learned how to disconnect on vacation so that I can indulge in the restorative power of self-care. I put on my out-of-office and focused on my family, good food, and getting a full night of sleep.

Alas, after 4 days away, it was time to come back to reality. The deep relaxation I find on vacation is inevitably greeted by an equally intense anxiety upon returning to a world of responsibility.

The 5 and a half hour drive back from Cape Cod took a little over 7 hours. There was some traffic, a little rain, and two stops along the way. I spent most of the drive listening to the sound of Moana from the back seat and making lists in my head of everything I needed to get done the next day.

Welcome Back

The first day back from vacation is never easy for me.

  • I feel scattered and have difficulty finding my focus.
  • I feel anxious and have trouble gathering all of the tasks that need to be completed.
  • I feel overwhelmed and find myself struggling to overcome the paralysis that grips me when the number of tasks seems insurmountable.

For me, it is not the size of a project, but the quantity of the projects that I have the most trouble with. The maintenance work exhausts me.

“I’ve been cutting the grass and watching it grow. Cutting the grass and watching it grow. Life,” he said, “is 90% maintenance.” -Taken (Mini Series, 2002)

If you’re anything like me, you struggle with maintenance tasks. If you do, then I’d like to offer you some advice on how to deal with this very real struggle.

Tip 1: Be Willing To Forget the Frog

green frog standing on grey surface

Brian Tracy wrote a book called Eat That Frog with a central idea of getting to your important tasks first before anything else. The premise is that the most successful people dispense with the menial and get right to what is important. While this isn’t “bad advice” it should not be taken as universal advice. You needn’t adhere to eating the frog first just because it works for others. There are other approaches. For instance…

Every race day, Phelps would wake up and eat the same breakfast. He would do his stretching, then a 45-minute swimming workout to get his heart rate up. After getting out of the pool he’d dry off and put on his swimming bodysuit. Then he’d put his headphones on with music from his hip-hop playlist to get in the zone before the race. This routine and timing happened the same way before every race. (Source)

Michael Phelps’ coach had him stack up small wins before he ever got into the pool. These small wins put Phelps into a rhythm. It’s a psychological trick and is a contributing factor of what helped him become one of the most decorated athletes in history.

When I am feeling scattered, and have difficulty getting myself back from vacation and into the routine, I focus on stacking small wins at the beginning of the day.

☑️ I make my bed after getting up

☑️ I brush my teeth

☑️ I water the plants

☑️ I make my coffee

☑️ I do two Mandarin lessons on Duolingo

☑️ I write one sentence in my gratitude journal

All of this might take me 15 minutes, but I’m already 6 items into my daily task list, and I can feel that momentum building, like a snowball rolling down a hill. By the time I sit down at my desk, I’m in the flow and that frog starts looking mighty tasty.

If I’d tried to eat that frog immediately after waking up (PS I’m NOT a morning person), I might still be laying in bed, thinking of all the small tasks I may not get to by trying to take down the most important thing first.

Eschew conventional wisdom if it doesn’t work for you. This includes the 5am club cult that shames you into thinking successful people only wake up early rather than work late…which is BS. Our brains work how they work, our sleep patterns are what they are, and you don’t need to be something you’re not because you read it in a book or blog.

Tip 2: Keep Your Mind In Plain Sight

As someone with well-managed ADHD, I’ve learned a great deal about how different people work. I think it’s one of the reasons why I’m effective working with clients; I don’t believe in dogma or one-size-fits-all advice.

One of the things I’ve found remarkably helpful in my quest to continually improve my productivity and focus, is to use mind-mapping. If you are unfamiliar, see this mind mapping overview.

My original approach was to do brand new mind maps anytime I needed to organize and clarify my thoughts. Recently, I’ve moved to a new approach: an ongoing mind map.

A bird’s eye view of my brain

I use a program called SimpleMind and have created a mind map with each of the primary areas of my life: personal, work, social impact, maintenance, and a few others. Each of these are then broken down into smaller components, and broken down again, etc. I keep this as an external backup of what is on my mind. This can be helpful for those times where I have something floating around in my head that I’m worried about or feel that I need to get done. It is also useful when preparing my task list and calendar for the week.

When I get back from vacation, I don’t need to start from scratch to get back into the rhythm, I just check my external brain.

Tip 3: Learn to let go

This final recommendation is going to be the hardest…if not for you, then definitely for me.

If you’re like me or the majority of “hardworking Americans” then you’ve probably internalized the idea that if you’re not being productive, then you are not valuable.

  • “You’re not valuable to society.”
  • “You’re not valuable to your family.”
  • “You simply do not have value unless you produce something.”

This toxic mindset is brought about from capitalism run amok in a world running on scarcity and fear.

We can take a day off and we can let go. Obviously not entirely, but enough to quell the crushing weight of expectations we’re surely putting on ourselves to constantly produce value rather than allowing ourselves to (even if just sometimes) simply be enough.

person lying on chair and facing on body of water

I didn’t post on this blog this past Thursday. I did not post on this blog on Monday. I’m multiple episodes behind publishing the Heroic Council as a podcast. I’m 56 flagged emails behind in my inbox, and some go back to late May. I have 4-5 phone calls to make for relatively important things, and I’ve been putting all of them on the back burner. My task list currently haunts me.

I have been beating myself up for each and every one of these transgressions against being valuable. These could be on my mind map, they could be on my calendar, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that sometimes, the only solution is to just push the due date out and not beat yourself up about it.

Maintenance

  • Your menial tasks are important. They are maintenance.
  • Your systems help you get things done. They need maintenance.
  • You are not invincible nor perfect. YOU need maintenance.

If going on vacations in recent years has taught me anything, it’s that I overlooked self care and rest for too long. I hope you don’t make the same mistake.

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