A lesson that 2018 Peter hadn’t learned yet

September 6, 2020

This week I’m writing to you from Wednesday evening.

I find myself staring at my computer screen, wanting to start an important project—but it isn’t happening. I simply can’t do it.

I haven’t even worked particularly hard today. In the morning, I reacquainted myself with a framework for making my marketing at once more valuable and more effective. I spent an hour-and-a-half reading long-form articles and taking notes.

At noon, I met my personal trainer at the gym. Our training session left me feeling satisfied and, oddly, with more physical energy.

During lunch, I got a call from my tax specialist. The call resolved an issue that I had been wrestling with for months and that had taken up a lot of time and energy, which I would have rather spent helping you.

After lunch, I recorded a new video and put it up on YouTube. It was a bit of a rant and I needed to get it off my chest.

Late in the afternoon, my girlfriend came home; we caught up on each other’s day—she just started a new job—and we enjoyed a nice dinner together. After dinner, we hung out some more, and then I completed some small tasks like replying to students and checking out a new app someone recommended. (Turns out the app sucks.)

Now it’s mid-evening and I find myself sitting in front of my computer, wanting to get started on an important project, but not being able to.

You see, my lunchtime call with my tax specialist not only resolved the issue that had been bugging me; it also opened the floodgates. The tax issue had been holding up a big project: I want to move all my courses to one course platform. (This would make my life a lot easier and also make it easier for my students, who would find all of their courses from me in one place.) But I first needed to know which taxes to charge and to make sure the platform supports charging those taxes.

With my issue resolved, it now makes sense to start this big project. And I want to get going right away! I only need to figure out where to start.

Except I can’t.

Right now, my brain isn’t up for it. I simply do not have the capacity to take this big project, to break it down into pieces, and to identify where to start.

2016, 2017, or 2018 Peter would not have accepted this. He would have kept trying to plan the course migration project—now that the light is green—even if he wouldn’t actually make any progress. Thinking about the project would, to that Peter, have counted as “being productive”.

He wouldn’t have admitted it, but Peter-from-a-few-years-ago believed, deep down, that if only you throw yourself at a task or project for long enough, you’ll make progress—no matter how tired you feel.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that that’s a terrible strategy. It leads to burnout. Today, I know that when my brain is too tired to plan, I should stop trying to work, I should relax, and get to bed on time.

So right now, I have no idea how to start my big course-migration project. It feels overwhelming. But I know that with a good night’s sleep, I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be easy to make a plan.

I can’t wait for tomorrow morning.

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