Marinating

A little while back, a dinner I made was a bust.

It was a steak taco that required marinating meat for “2 to 24 hours.” With only 2 hours of marinating, the meat barely had any flavor.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson, and marinated overnight the next time around.

You can see the punchline easily enough.

The harder question is: what parts of our work (and home) life are like marinating?

Where will doing the same activity sooner create 10 times the yield?

Things like:

  • First drafts
  • A half hour with a pen and a blank piece of paper jotting down first thoughts about a thorny problem
  • Reading together at bedtime
  • Feedback given right after something happened
  • Coaching
  • Problem-defining (versus problem-solving)

Often, we find ourselves stuck in a vain search for more time, when we don’t need more time at all.

We need time well spent, invested early, so that the seeds we plant have time to grow.

Too Hot, Too Cold, Just Right?

I, like many of you, have spent the last 18 months working mostly from home.

In that time, I’ve experienced the challenges of more childcare, more meals to prepare, more tugs on my attention. I’ve also relished ditching my commute and the less glamorous parts of business travel, and have treasured having more time with my family.

For all the pushes and pulls, it certainly feels like, on balance, I’ve got more hours in the day to deploy.

The question is, how best to deploy them?

Do we run extra hot, finding even more time to work longer and harder?

Do we discover that we can run cold: in the absence of time wasted in planes, trains, and automobiles, can we get all that we need to get done in fewer total hours, resulting in shorter workdays.

Or is there a “just right” solution in which we spread our work our in discrete chunks across the 16+ hours we are awake?

The “just right” solution can be magical, but it also carries its own risks.

Sometimes, “just right” feels amazing: a few hours here, thirty minutes there, interspersed around a walk or cooking or driving kids around or time with friends and family. You can’t ask for more than that.

However, I’ve also noticed some important pitfalls of “just right.” For me, the whole thing falls apart when my “off” switch is faulty: rather than freedom with my time, I get stuck in a no-man’s-land of “always on a little bit.”

Here are some of my own leading indicators that I’m getting stuck in the wrong kind of “just right:”

  • Picking up my phone during every blank space (and realizing that I don’t know what I’m looking for)
  • Being confused, and a little anxious, when 30 free minutes present themselves
  • Facing the endless chatter of my monkey mind (note: that’s a great little video) during my down time
  • Trying to go to sleep but instead lying there having both sides of unfinished conversations from my day

Freedom and flexibility are beautiful things, but they require us to get really good at fully flipping our “on” and “off” switches: being hyper-focused when we are “on” (that means: no distractions or fake-work behaviors); and fully turning off the switch when it is time to stop.