Is This Necessary?

What the unraveling of a daily schedule taught me about time and productivity.

There's a peculiar thing about time: the more of it you have, the less you seem to know what to do with it. This paradox hit me square in the face when I quit my job.

It was exactly what I’d wanted, something I’d worked towards for years. But as I sat there at my desk, now with undivided attention towards growing my business, Living Cozy — a media brand I’d built up alongside my 9-5 — something didn’t feel right. 

A thick fog of uncertainty nestled around me, a contrast to the routine of my old job. It was a peculiar kind of vertigo, where the solid ground of routine gave way to the free fall of endless hours.

At first, I couldn't pinpoint the unsettled feeling. It was exactly what I’d craved, but my days were eerily quiet without the usual Zoom meetings in my Google calendar. The freedom felt empty rather than exhilarating. 

I glanced at my to-do list, full of ideas I'd jotted down over the years — ways the company could grow, channels to test, new content types to create — and felt paralyzed about where to start. 

In the early days of Living Cozy, working around my day job meant I had to embrace constraints. I had an hour here and there wedged between my responsibilities at work and ensuring I spent a few hours away from my laptop screen during the week to, you know, enjoy life. And many weekends were spent writing guides to different types of furniture, wondering if it’d all be worth it. Yet, every minute felt like a precious nugget of opportunity that I had to seize.

But I found my way. Gradually, routines took shape. I’d usually sneak in an hour or two before starting work, often aiming to upload a newly finished article to the site and publish it each day ahead of starting my day job. The thrill of beating the clock was a daily shot of adrenaline. I still remember the rush of accomplishment I’d feel hitting publish on an article at 7:56am, just before I had to join an 8am Zoom call.

Each piece I hit “publish” on brought me incrementally closer to being able to go full-time, and over time I learned that success doesn’t come from big moments. It’s often just a bunch of simple tasks repeated frequently and done well. 

As Steph Smith says, “Great is just good, but repeatable.” This carried me through until the winter of 2022, when I took the leap and quit my job.

Now, I had all the time in the world, but it didn’t feel like I was getting any further forward. Sprinting on a treadmill. That’s what it felt like. Same effort, same scenery. No progress. 

The landscape of endless freedom became a dense fog, veiling the path forward.

It's counterintuitive — we assume more time equals more progress. But lack of structure removes urgency. With no deadlines or pressure, our motivation muscles weaken. We’re wired to respond to immediate incentives. Yet with endless time — and my initial dream of being full-time on my own business achieved, there was no clear incentive driving me forward except distant dreams or endless business “growth”.

Without visible milestones, our brains perceive time as standing still. Progress depends on pacing and markers to partition time. Much like a story needs chapters, our actions need milestones to form a coherent narrative.

A moment of clarity came to me while reading Ryan Holiday's "Stillness is the Key," in which Holiday recalls in Meditations, Marcus Aurelius says: “Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” This mantra became my beacon, encouraging a pivot from the treadmill to a path of genuine progress.

I stopped trying to do everything and thinking about what I could do and refocused on what worked. The things that had delivered growth and results when Living Cozy was a side project. And I began to feel comfortable with not filling every hour, giving myself space to disconnect and reflect and what I wanted to do and how I wanted to use my time.

The lesson emerged from the mist of relentless doing: Knowing what not to think about, what to ignore, and what not to do is often your most important job. 

It wasn’t about filling every hour with tasks, but about deciding which tasks deserved those hours. I needed to become the composer of my own time, orchestrating the hours to play the melody of meaningful progress.

Life often urges us to chase 'more'—more tasks, more growth, setting us on a treadmill with no change in scenery. Amidst this chase, a simple question can serve as our compass— "Is this necessary?" It’s a pause amidst the chaos, a moment of reflection that separates mindless busyness from meaningful endeavor.

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