“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” ― Albert Camus
Jerry Seinfeld has a great joke that goes something like, “Congratulations, you’re out. This is it. This is being out. People talk about going out … you’re just sitting in a different chair. Soon enough you’ll want to leave and go to your home chair. To then do it all again.”
I’m paraphrasing and butchering, but that joke encapsulates a problem that follows the modern man: restlessness. Restlessness is a feeling of discomfort and unease in any given situation (no matter whether you’re at work or watching a movie) and it’s got many causes: a seemingly endless array of options (for entertainment, for romantic partners, for restaurants), or a feeling that we’re wasting our lives away, an itch that we should be doing something else.
But the main driver for restlessness isn’t so existential; in reality what affects the modern man the most is distractions–specifically the constant need to check our phones, our email, or our Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Google Hangouts, or Skype accounts.
This fast pace of modern life can lead to “Neurasthenia” or Americanitis, an illness characterized by “headaches, muscle pain, weight loss, irritability, anxiety, impotence, depression, a lack of ambition, and both insomnia and lethargy.”
The good news is that this last cause is easier to manage than the others because it doesn’t take a drastic change like quitting your job and moving to India or leaving your wife for that girl you think you have a chance with. No, modern restlessness can be beat by the simple yet incredibly important act of being present. Being present means focusing all of your attention to the task at hand, be it work, a party, or that story your girl is telling you (that is kind of dragging long).
As this article from the Huffington Post put it, forget about multi-tasking and start single-tasking.
Work Hard When You Work, Play Hard When you Play
Restlessness takes over when we combine work and play, for example, by checking our social media when we should be working and, eventually, checking our email when we’re out with some friends.
Besides the obvious consequences of being distracted at work (it doesn’t look good, you’re wasting your company’s resources), when we surf the web or text we don’t fully enjoy the distraction because there’s a voice inside our heads making us feel guilty for doing something we’re not supposed to be doing–so at the end of the day our work suffers and we leave the office feeling uneasy and scatter-brained.
Then, when it’s time to have fun, it becomes hard to fully commit to a good time because we don’t feel like we deserve it and and we feel restless because we didn’t get much done during the day.
This feeling will follow you to bed, and you’ll have trouble deciding whether the day was productive or not.
Tips to Work when you Work and Play when you Play
- Turn off notifications for everything other than email on your phone.
- Log-out of social media sites on your work computer; the more obstacles to distraction, the better.
- Create a list of every distraction that crossed your mind like checking when the Bruins are playing again or Mark Ruffalo’s net worth and when you get a break or during lunch, you can go surf the web.
- Use apps that block distracting sites. I recommend Strict Workflow, Focus for Mac, and Self Control.
- Use your break! Unless you have to, stop working through lunch or using breaks to answer work-related emails. If you play when you’re supposed to, once your break is over, you’ll be more productive when it’s time to work.
- Make a list of what you wish to accomplish, both for work and play. Work list: prepare expenses report and PPT presentation for tomorrow. Play list: Organize Saturday’s party and buy tickets for the game.
Ultimately, the art of being present is all about giving your all to what you’re supposed to be doing now. If you only work when you’re supposed to work, you will be better at your job; and when you only have fun on your time off, you’ll have a better time altogether.
And is there a better feeling than going to bed knowing you finished everything you needed to get done AND that you had fun when you wanted to play? Now you can enjoy the sweet rest of the productive man. Sweet dreams.