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  • Jan Flynn

I’ve Hired a Life Coach

My dog does a great job

Optimized productivity, dog-style: Image created at https://firefly.adobe.com/

When I had a regular, full-time job, I used up a lot of energy trying to maximize every minute of my day to fulfill all my obligations and still have time for my creative pursuits.

I was very busy and very tired.

Nowadays, I don’t punch anyone else’s clock. That’s a nice development and it took me a very long time to get here. It’s one of the upsides of living long enough.

But I don’t consider myself retired.

I still work. The difference is that I work on my schedule, on projects entirely of my choosing.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yet oddly enough, with my time more or less my own, I notice my creative output hasn’t changed significantly. Yes, I’ve added a weekly podcast to my To-do list, but I get about the same amount of writing done as I did when I had to fit it in before, after, and between my job-job hours.

You know what else hasn’t changed? I’m still very busy. And very tired.

What’s changed is that we have a new dog

After over a year of mourning the loss of our beloved Molly — and after months of lurking on dog rescue sites like someone with an approach-avoidance obsession with online dating — we have added Nora, who was briefly a resident of the Humane Society, to our household.

Nora is a forty-five-pound chocolate-brown Lab mixed with who knows what else. We’ve had her for about five weeks now. She’s already established as a family member. Even our cat is on board.

Still, four-year-old Nora has an energy level significantly higher than what we’d become accustomed to with fifteen-year-old Molly. It’s been an adjustment for everyone.

But it’s not Nora’s fault that I’m busy or tired; that’s entirely on me. The truth is that she’s got a much better grip on getting the most out of a day than I do.

Nora goes to bed every night satisfied with her achievements for the day. She never lies awake ruminating about what she should have done or what she has to do the next day. She never hauls herself out of bed with dark circles under her eyes. She doesn’t need a small tank of coffee to kick-start her brain.

My daily routine is not serving me as well

My alarm goes off at 6:30 AM because everyone I read about who is a prolific writer claims to be an early riser who leaps out of bed and starts whacking away at their keyboard while the stars are still out.

Depending on how badly I’ve slept and how accessible my phone’s snooze button is, I get up sometime later — anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and a half.

Early or late, I arise with stellar intentions. Generally, I begin fairly well. I let the dog out, commune with the cat, dress in workout attire, and start the coffee.

Once the dog is back inside, both animals are fed, and I have my first mug in hand, my goal is to spend the early hours of the day writing. That’s supposed to take place upstairs, in my office, so that’s where I head.

But the fireplace is downstairs, where the dog and cat are now both curled up and snoozing, and so is the kitchen and the coffee pot, and it’s so much cozier, so just this once I take my laptop downstairs. I can be just as creative on the sofa by the fire as I can in my office chair, right?

Except, just this once has become more often than not. Especially now with the mornings growing dark and cold. The problem is, when I’m upstairs planted in my office chair, my brain thinks I’m at work. If I’m sitting on the sofa by the fireplace, my brain deduces that it’s time to chill.

I wonder if studies have been conducted on the brain/butt connection.

Anyway, writing. Comfy on the sofa, I open my laptop. I see that there’s a glut of emails in my inbox, and if I weed through them first, I’ll be more able to focus.

My writing time is sacred. It’s crucial to sweep aside all distractions.

I get started on the emails and am immediately distracted. I don’t merely go down a rabbit hole: I end up wandering through a warren of rabbit holes, tunneling through social media and Substacks and Medium articles and breaking news stories until I’ve lost the will to find my way back to the surface.

Once down there in the labyrinth, I can convince myself that it’s a good use of my time to do a little online shopping for something I won’t need for another six months. After all, why not get started early on the indecision?

And so it goes. Before I know it, it’s 10:00 AM, Nora needs her morning exercise, and I haven’t worked out yet either. I promise myself to get down to serious writing when we get back from the dog park and I’ve put in some time with my dumbells and yoga mat.

But then there are errands and phone calls, and life happens. Before I know it, it’s 2 PM and my To-do list remains un-to-done. I spend the next few hours in a frenzied attempt to make up for lost time before Nora needs her evening walk and it’s time to do something about dinner.

It’s surprising how often I succeed, or at least get close. But even then, I’m left with a sense of exasperation rather than accomplishment. I could have done so much more, or done whatever I did better, if I hadn’t squandered all that time on Wordle.

The dog has a better way

In the time she’s been with us, Nora’s time management template has been arranged in segments devoted to accommodating her needs while accomplishing her objectives. It has yet to fail her.

If I were to follow her schedule while substituting my writing for her creative projects — such as deconstructing her squeak toys, licking the floor, and testing the cat’s tolerance — my day would look like this:

1. Early morning: Stretch. Rejoice in a new day. Eat. Go outside. Poop. Come inside. Eat. Tease cat (write) until seized by the desire to take a nap.

2. Take a nap.

3. Mid-morning: go outside and play with friends.

4. Late morning: Lick floor (write). When tired, take another nap.

Repeat steps 1–4 as time allows.

5. Late afternoon. Go outside again and find more friends to play with. Play.

6. Eat.

7. Gut Lambchop toy (write).

8. Go outside. Poop.

9. Sleep.

10. Rejoice. Repeat daily.

Notice what’s missing in Nora’s agenda

Her plan includes plenty of physical activity, socialization, and productive work time balanced by rest — and rejoicing, noticeably absent in most human productivity hacks.

What it doesn’t include is any time spent in pursuits that are unsatisfying by design: doomscrolling; flailing in the quicksand of social media; or the futile attempt to achieve an imaginary goal like Email In-Box Zero.

Because she continually refreshes herself, Nora’s attention and focus are fully available for her various projects. Whatever she does, she does 100%.

Nor is she attached to results. She’s not concerned with getting the whole floor licked by a certain time or date. What matters is the process.

Then, when it’s time to stop, she lets it go. None of her energy is wasted in judging the amount or quality of her work product. She moves on, unburdened by worry.

Compare that to what’s missing in my day

Nora builds in actual, restorative rest. She naps. I fool myself into thinking I’m taking a break by ̶f̶a̶r̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶r̶o̶u̶n̶d̶ exploring online, when in reality much of the doomscrolling I end up indulging in only saps my energy.

She finds friends to play with. If there are none available, she plays anyway. Play is important. Play is life. I need to play.

Closely related to play is rejoicing, which Nora also builds into her daily regimen. She celebrates little moments (getting out of bed, rediscovering a toy) and big ones (one of her humans returning from an absence of two days or ten seconds) with unbounded enthusiasm.

She doesn’t wait for everything in life to line up and be okay so she can be happy.

So I’m going to let Nora be my role model

I’ll spend the crucial morning hours in my office chair because brain/butt connection. I know Nora will support me in this, because she’ll curl up under my desk, right on top of my feet (the cat contributes by walking on my keyboard).

Otherwise, more play, more naps, more fun, more focus, and to hell with the rest: that’s the new me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But I draw the line at pooping outdoors.

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