Breaking Down the Worm

A group of ants dissecting a worm on my driveway.

I’m working on a few projects at the moment. Every day without fail I’ll peer into the future and imagine what it’s going to be like at the end.

This causes two feelings. Anxiety and excitement. I get anxious over how much work there is to be done and I get excited about what life will be like when I manage to finish the projects.

Being excited is fun. Being anxious is not.

I’m not working on these projects alone. I have an incredible support network around me. Even if they don’t know who they are.

I had three partners helping me directly but there are also countless other people helping unknowingly.

I read a lot. Every morning I read for at least an hour. This ranges from business articles, to startup stories to non-fiction books. The creators of these writings are helping me as well.

I find I work the best in bursts. Bursts of intensity, followed by rest. That’s how I’ve been most of my life.

When I consider exercising, I’d much rather do short bursts of high intensity over long periods of low-medium intensity.

I find it very hard to switch off and slow down after working on something. I can go 3–4 hours and get some incredible work done before I start to shake and realise that it’s time to eat.

I read in Cal Newports book Deep Work, that the human mind is only capable of 3–4 hours of deep work per day. Anything after that is shallow work. What is deep work? my takeaway from the book is that deep work can be defined as the work you complete when you are in a state of flow. For example, working on an algorithm challenge for multiple hours without distraction. What is shallow work? Processing a large batch of emails, ticking of to-do list items, etc.

So most mornings I’ll have completed 3–4 hours of what I would call deep work and after this time, I have great trouble switching off. I feel as if I need to consistently be doing something in order to feel fulfilled at the end of the day.

Now instead of pushing myself through multiple bouts of deep work per day (not possible according to Newport) I often find myself trying to relax and reflect instead. I’ll often come to a point where I feel as I if I should be ticking more things off my to-do list and I’ll just have a nap instead. This makes me feel much better.

Rather than sitting at my computer all day, I’ll get up and walk around outside. With no purpose at all, apart from just simple walking and being outside. Just being.

I watched a group of ants this morning tearing apart an earth worm. There must have been thousands of ants. Impossible to count them all.

After a few minutes of observing I realised that I need to design my life more like that group of ants.

No one ant could possibly take down the entire worm on their own. Instead, thousands of them collaborate together to take down something much bigger then themselves.

My project is like the worm. Much bigger than an individual ant but nothing for thousands of ants working together.

Unlike the ants, there isn’t thousands of me. That’s okay though. I’ve got time on my side. I’m 23 years old, I’ve got at least 25,000 days left on this planet.

I can treat each of those days like an individual ant. There’s no way I could complete the things I want to get done in one day, just like no individual ant could possibly take the entire carcass of the worm back to the ant hill.

This is where I can break down the bigger picture. Rather than looking ahead to the end goal and feeling anxious, I can concentrate on one single task every day.

By doing this for long enough, I’ll eventually create my own version of the ants and the worm. Working towards the project completing 1 task per day, ends the year with 365 individual tasks done.

Completing small goals every day is also a much greater source of motivation than being lost trying to do everything at once.

Rather than focusing on the fact that I don’t enjoy low-medium intensity tasks, I’m going to triple down on high intensity tasks. Just like the ants I’ll complete my role for that day. My one individual task.

Eventually each individual task will add up. I’ll have conquered the worm.