I love how quiet and peaceful Sundays are. It could be because the construction site nearby is off on Sundays, but I think there’s more to it. There’s this unique state of ultra-calm and curious mind that I enter on Sundays that I just can’t access on other days.
Why? Because on other days, I have commitments to others but, most importantly, to myself. The awareness of these commitments makes me somewhat anxious and prevents me from entering this ultra-calm state during the week.
This anxiety is hard to escape even with a trained mind, for it grows from age-old evolutionary roots. In a tribe, if you promised someone to do something and you didn’t, your reputation would go down. Soon people would avoid dealing with you, leading to a diminished status, exile, and, ultimately, death.
If we descended from those who follow through on their promises, we must have developed some mechanism to nudge us — gently or not — if we stray off course. That is why it is so hard for me, I think, to feel fully free and relaxed if I have a meeting scheduled later that day, even if that meeting is hours ahead. The same principle applies to tasks: I often find myself unable to fully relax if I know I still have something I must do in the evening.
Is there anything we can do to avoid being pushed around by this no longer relevant mechanism?
I’ve figured out two things. First, I recognize its presence and work around this mechanism to avoid setting it off. For example, I try putting all my meetings in one or two days a week so that I don’t have this nagging feeling that “something is still up later today” on all ~six days that I work. Paul Graham recommends the same thing in his famous essay ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule’ albeit for a different reason: to avoid context switching. This first tactic can be summed up as: “If you don’t want to eat candy, don’t go into a candy shop.”
Second, as you may have already guessed from the title of this post, is to occasionally work on Sundays. Many friends who run startups report doing their best work on Sundays. For me, working on Sundays yields even better results than grouping my meetings. The reason, I think, is psychological. On Sundays, I feel that I’ve already accomplished everything I planned for the week, that the week is ‘done,’ and that feeling frees up my mind to pursue new ideas and topics instead of obsessing over how to best accomplish my plan for the week.
I often wonder whether it’s possible to train my mind to such an extent that I’d no longer need these tactics and could just do what I wish when I wish it. Perhaps it is, but I have yet to meet someone who accomplished this state without spending months on silent retreats. I may eventually get there, but so far, these ‘crutches’ do wonders for me. I hope you will find them useful too for doing your best work.