First off, apologies for the late one today, I’d tell you that my regular writing got in the way, but the truth is that I meant to go for an hour nap in the afternoon and my body decided I needed more than three. So it goes.
It probably comes as no surprise that, in my line of work as a freelance journalist, I listen to my fair share of podcasts. As a former sports aficionado, a lot of time has been spent listening to the likes of The Ringer and ESPN over the years. However, more recently, when I need a break from content about productivity—when it is part of your ongoing writing there does come a point of diminishing returns—I switch over to content creators who work in industries that I know next to nothing about.
Today, that area of zero knowledge was filled by a podcast called Barn Talk, led by a pair of Iowa pig and crop farmers. I very much pick and choose the episodes that I listen to—largely because I’m not interested in their thoughts about the current American political climate—but I do find their discussions of the farming industry enlightening. I live in Saskatchewan, where farming is not just a significant portion of the economy, but is also core to our rural areas and their sense of identity. Around here, most are farming crops like canola, but there are some—including YouTuber SaskDutchKid—who are in the dairy or meat industry.
Anyway, today I was listening to a previous Barn Talk episode where they were discussing with another farmer how very few agricultural business owners, at least in their first few years of business, understand their true cost to operate. They were talking about trucking, the inputs and outputs of a business where a lot of your money is tied up in products that don’t mean anything to your balance sheet until they go to market weeks, months, or even years down the line. If we took my business as an example, my cost to operate would include my daily cost of things I can consider business expenses (a portion of household costs like utilities that I can attribute to the portion of the house that is my office, incidentals like equipment costs, as well as any bills that come from work-based subscriptions to tools like ConvertKit, which houses this daily newsletter) and would also include the income that I make each time I write an article and am paid for my work. And yes, having a better handle on my cost to operate beyond “Hey, I am making a living!” did jump up my priority list after today.
What does that have to do with cripping productivity? Well, it got me thinking about how we talk about spoon theory, Christine Miserandino’s wonderful way of equating one’s energy levels to spoons. I realized that I very rarely take the time to portion out, or even think about, how many spoons any particular task takes me on a given day. Now, the whole point of the spoon analogy is that it is variable from minute to minute and hour to hour (let alone day to day), but I find it interesting that we often talk about spoons as either having some or having none.
I usually use what I’d call task-based spoon portioning. I know, after years of trial and error, that I generally have enough for three key tasks per day as long as I’m not expected to leave the house. When I know that I’m stretching my luck, I have taught myself to actively say, “Okay, we’re pushing through with this task now,” Or, “Okay John, we’re turning off the pain valve now, but we will have to pay for it later.” Picking three things allows me to set my parameters for what a “good” day looks like, but acknowledging that I will pay for it later reigns in my tendency to sacrifice my productivity now for my health later. For some, that average capacity might be one task. And, on some days, getting out of bed—or, if I can’t get out of bed, doing something to make myself feel as part of the world while in bed—is as close as I can get to feeling productive. If you are also living in a place where it was -27C today then I’m here to tell you that doing one thing today that served you was better than nothing. The point is, I believe it is helpful to know what your baseline is so that you can assess what makes up a good, bad, or a neutral day. What puts you in the best position to succeed is a combination of many factors, but a fully abstract concept of spoons can only take us so far if we are not counting them.
So, today’s question: How do you think about, or calculate, your spoon budget and what are your cripped operating costs?
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.