The day has just started and I already feel tired. As I sip my morning coffee and the haze begins to dissipate, I think of the day ahead. The things I have to do. Work, study, chores, and responsibilities. The list goes on.
To organize my day I write a checklist of the things I need to do. It felt good to cross out each task as the day went on. But after a while I came to a dreadful realization: not only do I struggle to finish everything, but my checklist becomes longer and longer.
When will this end? I can’t possibly do all of these things!
I had this habit of trying to finish my work as soon as possible. Going to sleep knowing that I ticked all the items in my list is the only way I can finally let go of work and move on with life. I tried to get ahead of work so I can relax, but found that this isn’t possible. Even if I finished everything I was set out to do for the day, new things eventually come up. Someone needs help. An issue popped up that needed urgent attention. There was a change in plans. In the end, the list remains unfinished.
When I think about tomorrow or the following week, with all of the things that I need to do, it becomes easy to feel overwhelmed. Even though these events are in the future, I can’t help but allow myself to suffer in the present.
It is a useless endeavor. I cannot live in the next day nor re-live the past. All I have is the present moment. All that is given me is the present day.
We are perhaps the only creatures on Earth who worry about the future. Sure, some animals, like ants, gather food before the rainy season. But they gather food in the day and rest when night comes. They don’t care what happens a month from now; what is important is that they woke up and gathered food. They forage, gather, and fulfill their lives doing this every single day.
That’s what I need to remind myself every time. Your work will never end, but there is a limit on what you can do each day. No matter how hard it seems today, and how terrifying it is to do the same things over and over again, the day still ends when I go to sleep. I should not allow myself to be overwhelmed by tasks of days ahead.
So I should just focus on the current day. Aim to finish my tasks to the best of my ability, but accept that not everything will be done. When I do this, I always find myself out of the tunnel eventually. All tasks are finite: this too will be over.
The work and trials that consume my thoughts then become part of the past. I find that I can survive this if I can just work on it one day at a time.
Your limitation is your advantage
In combat, the same principle applies. When facing multiple opponents at once, it becomes an intensely difficult situation. No matter how much you trained or how good you are in your craft, you are at a disadvantage. You have limited range of motion, limited line of sight, and a fixed set of limbs. The only way you can survive this situation is to set up the environment so that you fight your opponents one at a time.
And so you utilize your environment to achieve victory. Luring your opponents into a narrow walkway prohibits them from attacking you on multiple fronts. They are forced to face you individually where your skills are more effective.
The same goes with our day. Since we only have this day to work on the things we need to do, we value our time more. We focus on the current task. We avoid distractions as much as we can. I find it ironic that on days where I have nothing much to do, like a weekend or a holiday, my productivity plummets. But when my time is constrained, that’s when I have most of my productive days.
Don’t take life too seriously!
Most of the pain and suffering we face is self-inflicted. When something bad happens to us, we amplify its effects by anger, self-pity, and self-loathing.
Don’t be a hero.
It is ok to miss a deadline. Your company, and even society, can and will function well even without you.
When you are tired, take a rest. Work again once rested.
When sleepy, take a nap. Get out of bed when your body wakes you.
When you are hungry, grab a bite.
You don’t have to overcomplicate things. It doesn’t have to upset you.
Memento mori. No one gets out of here alive.
Photo by NEOM on Unsplash