What do you want to do with your day?

  • On October 17, 2009 ·
  • By ·

This is a question posed by Merlin Mann recently in an interview with Scott Kurtz for Webcomics Weekly. As I understood it, Mr. Mann believes this is the question guidance counselors should be asking instead of the abstract, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You could answer such a question with, “An adult.” The true heart of the matter is, what do you want to spend your time doing? What’s important to you, what activity makes you happy and feel most accomplished spending your time on? Do that. When you say you wanna be a cartoonist, or a doctor, or what have you, you’re clinging to some idealized end goal. Everyone tells the kid who wants to be a doctor, “Hey, that’s great! Good luck with that.” Then he realizes how hard it is to get into med school, and how long it takes, how much work is really involved. So instead he becomes something else – possibly related to medicine and possibly something else entirely.

I was pondering this when my alarm went off at 6 this morning. 6 am on a Saturday. Why would any person set his alarm for such a time on the weekend unless he had to be somewhere? Because I need to be here. I need to get some work done on this project so I can launch it. I need to draw this thing I’m seeing in my head because it looks really cool and I’m eager to show other people what I’m seeing. The cat and I are the only ones up in the house right now, the folks I stay up late talking to are all asleep, and honestly I love being up early in the morning. I feel productive and it’s when I actually do some good work. What other reward is there for being up this early except the satisfaction of being able to work in peace? I was eager when I went to bed. I really wanted to get rested and start today off.

Is it hard to do this reliably? You bet. I’ll get up early a couple days in a row, then something will happen that’ll keep me up until one in the morning, or I’ll be wiped out and can’t get out of bed until noon. So why do it? Because I want to be here at this hour. I need to be here. Every day we gets preempted by other people, their wants, their needs, their problems. And you can make an honest effort to help them and give of your time. But sometimes you give too much of yourself. Sometimes to the point where you’re frustrated and sometimes to the point where you’re wondering what happened to your own work. I’m still trying to learn how to properly deal with other people myself. But what I can do is be proactive about my own time. That can mean telling people I need to go to bed when I know I’m up early. Or it can be persevering in the morning even if you haven’t slept much. Whatever’s most important to you is worth pursuing.

Steve Jobs once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” It’s important to do what you want to do. Too often we forget this on the small scale and it comes back to bite us on the large scale. Some of the most productive and interesting people have a regular schedule they keep to because it makes them comfortable and the ritual puts them in the mindset to work. Stephen King has compared getting ready to work a lot like getting ready for bed. He’s also said, â€Å“My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new – the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.” He writes when he’s fresh and ready to work, deals with other stuff after. I know so many people my age who wait until they’re done with everything else before ever starting their own work. And really, is that what you want to do with your day?