Out of Time

There’s a trick I use when I’m undertaking a project or process that’s particularly onerous or tedious, but which I know is worth doing.

I think about a moment in time when the project is completed; I imagine what it will look like. What I’ll be feeling. Where I’ll be and when it’ll happen. I try to imagine it in as close to perfect detail as possible.

Then, I tell myself I’ll come up for air at that future moment I just imagined. When I get there, to that point in time, I’ll stop and take stock. I’ll take a deep breath. I’ll reemerge into the larger world, outside that task.

Until that point, though, I focus on being in the here and now. In a space out of time, without a past or present. Rather than fixating on what’s to come or what’s led up to this moment, I focus on doing what I need to do and doing it well. Nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel.

This is a simple idea that has proven to be remarkably effective for me, especially when beginning long road trips or undertaking a dull but important project with a lot of repetition and not much initial satisfaction. If you resign yourself to the fact that this task needs to be done, needs to be completed before you can move forward, you’re more capable of making the best of it. Of settling in for the journey and enjoying it for what it is rather than agonizing over what it’s not. You take pleasure in the repetition, or the long hours staring at the road, being in your own head, not being continuously entertained and distracted.

It’s different. It’s a new perspective. And it’s a useful state of mind for when your goals, when your next steps, are reliant on first overcoming something cumbersome or relatively unexciting. All you have to do is set an end point and, until that point is reached, become a simpler, specialized mechanism. A human machine capable of a singular focus and fewer-than-usual existential requirements.

This isn’t a state of being you’d want to stay in forever; monotasking as a general rule tends to be a good idea, but this is something a little more intense than that.

But for short spurts here and there, when a more complete version of yourself might be unsatisfied with the road ahead, it can be liberating to strip yourself down to the bare essentials and fixate on getting where you’re going. Especially when the road you’re on leads someplace you’d very much like to be.