Herr Bischoff

What Work Looks Like

Jim Nielsen has written a thoughtful piece on our understanding of work.


Back when I started as a freelancer, I initially copied the 9-to-5 rhythm of “working”. That, despite having viewed this forced window of work as one of the biggest annoyances that come with a job.

Over time, I could overcome this “weird” feeling of not sitting at my desk while working. It went quite a bit like the author describes:

  • Load up on context and information.
  • Start outlining the problem.
  • When stuck, try for a while. If no progress is to be made, go for a walk, do laundry, buy groceries. Do stuff away from the computer.
  • When potential solutions inevitably form in my mind, write them down wherever I am.

I find that when I arrive at potential solutions this way, I’m a lot more motivated as opposed to banging my head against the wall. It’s not just more productive, it’s better for your mental and physical health, it keeps you engaged and satisfied with your work. Oftentimes I cannot wait to return to the desk to try the ideas out.

It’s also important to know when to stop. On some days, I cannot get anything creative done. I have learned the hard way that when I force myself through, more often than not I mess something up so terribly that I need at least half a productive day following up, rectifying what I broke. It may feel like cheating yourself at first but sometimes it’s better to just stop for the day entirely.

While employed someplace, have you tried to go out for an extended walk or do something else away from your computer, outside of the building you are expected to work in? Deciding to do so without permission can get you a citation and asking for permission leads to blank stares from your co-workers and managers. For many, that’s apparently akin to asking for paid time off whenever you feel like it. The conclusion here can only be that those employers are more interested in owning your time than the quality of your results, whether they realize this or not. Which brings us to a larger point about work culture and insistence on presence at all times but that’s a huge, separate discussion.