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Oct 01, 2019 21:54:53

Play October: The problem with "goals", and how to inject joy into work?

by @jasonleow | 991 words | 319🔥 | 357💌

Jason Leow

Current day streak: 319🔥
Total posts: 357💌
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TL;DR - For "Play October", I'm going to run a learning experiment to learn how to inject joy and play into my daily work.


Though this was supposed to be a monthly goal setting exercise, I'm realising that, perhaps, S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals aren't for me. 


It gets shit done for sure, but it taps into a deep wellspring of stress and anxiety within me to get that done. Yes, a healthy amount of stress is requisite for any good challenge, but over the years, I seem to have developed a habit of leaning too much to the unwholesome side of stress whenever I play the game of an enforced (S.M.A.R.T.) goal deadline. I think I'm someone who hates breaking promises, especially public ones, even to myself. I always do whatever it takes to complete the mission. I guess it's good for short, intense bursts of work with enough recovery time in between, but when it becomes continual and chronic, the stress becomes a foe rather than friend to my well-being.


And I'm no longer enjoying the journey when that happens. 


That horrifies me. This journey of learning to code, to be an indie maker, to make $1mil, is a looong game. It will take years to get there. I can't imagine not enjoying the ride at all, and just trying to hit the target month on month, year on year. If I can’t do this without chronic stress, then I shouldn’t do it at all. If I can’t do this without joy and play, then I shouldn’t even try at all. The endgame matters, but how I get there matters even more. I want to enjoy the journey, every day, every single step, even if there are difficulties and frustrations.


Let me say that again, as note to self: I want to enjoy every f**king work day.


Yet, I want to do a deliberate experiment within the timeframe of October. What if, instead of goals, it is a learning experiment? Truth is, I don't know much about how to bring joy and play into my work every day. If I knew I wouldn't have this problem in the first place. So let's set experiments to learn about injecting joy and play into my work. Instead of setting a definitive outcome or output, what if I set open-ended, exploratory questions that guide my way towards learning about it? 


But what about results then? Something I learned from the book Antifragility by Nassim Taleb: 

  • When you’re fragile, you are predictive in approach, depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible. Ironically, predictive systems cause fragility. 
  • When you’re antifragile, you want deviations, you don’t care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful.
  • Errors if carried out rationally, are a source of information about what doesn’t work, allowing you to zoom in on a solution. So every attempt in error becomes more valuable.


So, applying those lessons from the book, perhaps it's better for me to frame my approach based on antifragility, as a learning experiment to be iterated over the duration of the month, rather than a fragile approach of setting an exact desired result, proceeding from an exact planned course of action. Taking out the specific goal takes most of the stress out of the equation (for me at least), and the framing as a "learning experiment" allows me to be somewhat sure that whatever dispersion of learnings I may get will be helpful. Moreover, a "learning experiment" taps on what I enjoy and do best - curiosity and a love for learning! 


And as I experiment and learn, I can then start incorporating good habits and heuristics into my micro-habit system on how to inject joy and play into my work. I remember James Clear (author of book Atomic Habits) mentioned that once you set up the habit system (to get to a goal), having those intentional goals don't really matter anymore. If you work out every day out of habit, you'll becomes a healthy, fit person even if you remove that intention to be so. A bit like this:


  1. Set goal
  2. Set habit system 
  3. ‘Discard’ goal
  4. Enjoy system
  5. Get results anyway


A surprisingly useful question: What if you set your current plans aside for a moment and just tried the simplest option? ~ James Clear


I know, I know... Going through all these lengths to avoid setting "goals" might seem silly, but it's specific to my context and my hang-ups. And besides, it's an experiment! Who knows what I will learn at the end of "Play October"? Maybe I can learn to walk that tight rope better after this, balancing between setting goals and not chronically stressing myself out.


So, the lingering question next is: what learning experiments can I run? Some ideas to try:


Do something that bring me joy everyday

  • Work at a new place every other day?
  • Do a task that I find fun or curious about
  • Add a easter egg into my product
  • Ask "Does it spark joy?" LOL


Avoid something that doesn't bring me joy

  • Bodily check-in: Follow what my body needs that day - take it easy when tired? Work harder when motivated? Close off stimuli if constantly distracted?
  • Mood: Follow the calm, not crazy
  • Do what unpleasant task I have to do that day, but reward myself after that
  • Sandwich unpleasant tasks with joyful ones
  • Reframe it from learning perspective
  • Do it in a way that I can squeeze something enjoyable out of it


Do you have any ideas on how to inject joy and play into your work? Would love to learn!


From Jason Leow's collection:

  • 1

    @jasonleow some of the little things that I pick up, no matter how much you love something, it gets bored in a certain time, don't push it and take a break from it, come back with a totally new perspective help.
    I take a break from all the product shipping in Sep because overwhelming by all the work and prepare for the trip. If I force myself to continue, I might start really hate it. Taking a break and come back, now I can't wait to ship something.

    Knight avatar Knight | Oct 05, 2019 07:06:46
    • 1

      @knight yeah so true. Distance makes the heart fonder, they say, and same for products too! I'm taking some time now to work on something else that I'm enthusiastic about now..before coming back to it

      Jason Leow avatar Jason Leow | Oct 05, 2019 21:43:33
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