Recalibrating the Daily Grind (Like College but With Higher Stakes)

By Don Hall

While Himmel is reacquainting himself with the 9 to 5 drudgery, I'm on the flip side, embracing the new and uncharted.

For a decade, I woke up, worked out at 5:30 a.m., hopped in the shower, got dressed and spent 70–85 hours a week in a cubicle or a bank auditorium or at various venues citywide doing the job for The (public radio) Man. TEN. YEARS. That's 2,160 days (minus a few holidays and the very infrequent sick day.) Routines calcify and this cementing of standard procedure can begin the slow process of stagnation. Despite my all-over-the-place gig, the day-to-day rituals of the basic day job put me into a rut.

Two months and some change ago, I left the cubicle and the regular day-job routine and plunged head-first into the wide open space of working for myself. 

On some levels, it's heavenly. In spirit, I can get up whenever I want, I can fuck off as much as I want, I can take naps and work naked if I want. There is no one to question how long I took a lunch or report to if I feel I need a mental health respite. I can spend ten hours straight arguing about bullshit that I have no control over in any way on social media and, aside from my wife slowly plotting to "accidentally" destroy all of my computing devices, no consequence to this fuckery.

On more pragmatic levels, it's slightly terrifying. In practice, I still have to do things on task that generate income and no one I know is going to pay me to masturbate and eat bricks of cheese while watching Better Call Saul for eight hours at a stretch. The dawning realization is that there have to be rules that I commit to following just like when chained to a public radio cubicle inches from the little twat I trained and who finally found the backhanded courage to impale me in the spine with Sharpies.

This time, however, the rules are mine to create. And there are no Sharpies.

First rule: Go to the gym every morning. Maybe not at 5:30 but damn close. That part of my routine is both good for me and keeps the inner fat guy from taking over the ship. Trust me. That guy really wants to take charge, and a couple hours working out keeps him cowering in the corner of my tortured, cheese craving soul.

Second rule: Wear pants and shoes. As much as I want to work on the magazine, the events and hustle for business with my soft parts lounging out, I figured out pretty early that unless I'm showered and fully dressed, I don't get jackshit done. Also, naked ass sticks to the office chair in the warmer weather and that's just uncomfortable.

Third rule: One task at a time for a specific amount of time. With as many aspects to what I'm planning if I simply went with whatever was in front of me, I'd only dip my productivity toe in each of 30 things and not get headway on any one of them. Once I start working on, say, a promo piece for a show, I stay on that task for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour until I can see genuine progress. Then on to the next.

Fourth rule: To do lists are everything. I personally hate lists (including this one which has my eyes twitching as I write it). That revealed, the life aquatic requires some sort of accountability and nominal reward for getting things done. I tried Apple Reminders but I think I've landed on Wunderlist as my go to list maker. The dopamine rush that comes from clicking items as complete isn't like skydiving or late night underground boxing clubs but it'll do in a pinch.

Fifth rule: It's perfectly fine to take a cat nap as long as it doesn't become an all day thing. I used to sneak away at WBEZ and grab a cat nap in selected storage rooms in the afternoon but they weren't terribly restful because I was always a little bit on edge that someone was going to walk in on me. Not the case at home.

As I go along this path I'm sure I'll create more rules for myself and change the ones I've made as well. I'm also going to find myself sitting in movie theaters in the middle of the afternoon with a bucket of popcorn and a box of Raisinettes sometimes, too. The recalibration of routine is a challenge but not a particularly difficult one. Digging a ditch or justifying Trump's incompetence are way harder.

In the end, if I find myself selling off body parts to pay the electric bill, there's always getting a job cleaning up roadkill on the turnpike, right?