I am indebted to Austin Kleon for the term “comfort work.” By this he refers to what some people call slack-day projects, but with a little more depth. He describes comfort work as, “Work you do when you don’t know what to do.” That’s how I feel when I finish the first draft of a manuscript. I’m a little lost. What now? Who now? Where did my characters go and what do I focus on without them?
I cannot start revisions immediately, because a rough draft needs to air off for a time so that when I do get back to it, I read with fresh eyes. I might not have the energy to dive into the next project, or I might not have the inspiration. That is scary–when the imaginative well feels dry, when everything I come up with feels flat.
That’s when I need comfort work, or a way to feel productive that isn’t emotionally taxing. A way to signal to the subconscious that I’ll be ready when the inspiration does come along.
A comfort project is more than just coding the general ledger or toting up payroll. Those tasks must be done regularly, and they feel more like housework. Do it or pay an escalating price. Looking for fresh cover art qualifies as comfort work. Stockpiling blog posts can feel like comfort work. Gardening at certain times of year is comfort work.
I recall the same idea from my law practice days. I’d finish with a multiple day termination of parental rights case, and the next day in the office, I’d re-organize the case file, read psych evals for upcoming cases, or return backlogged phone calls. I did not schedule client appointments, and I often did not wear courtroom attire. I was clearly at work, but without the intensity or pressure of the litigation days.
I think relationships benefit from comfort work. To me, that’s when you agree to go for a leaf-peeping hike to sorta spend time together, and sorta get some exercise, even if a trail walk isn’t anybody’s idea of high adventure. It’s when Santa and I do trot sets around the paddocks instead of in the schooling arena. We’re working, but we’re also getting in a little sightseeing and avoiding other riders.
I read a lot about how to stay productive, and where creativity comes from, but Austin–“a writer who draws”–is the first person I’ve seen put a finger on this concept of coasting forward rather than going all engines ahead. It resonates with me intuitively as a way to both progress toward desired objectives, and acknowledge that some days are better spent in a different, lower gear.
Is there comfort work in your life? Tasks you save for the lower-energy, slower-vibe days? Or do you lean more toward, “Go big or go home?” To one commenter, I’ll send a SIGNED copy of Yuletide Wishes (Pee Wee not included)!
Go big or go home
There’s a German proverb that translates roughly to “comforting are the accomplished tasks.” (Angenehm sind die erledigten Arbeiten) Even they can get out of control, however, when there are more messages than can possibly be returned, some files that must be returned to sender, you got sick and the comforting chores are now seemingly insurmountable.
My doctor once snapped at me, “Lower your standards or get help.”
When you last cat was still alive, I just sat down on our couch for him to climb into my lap for cuddling and lots of purring; I always felt recharged after his biscuits and purring a 12lb boy does that to you I felt so lucky to be his pet parent
Aww! PeeWee is adorable! ❤️❤️❤️
Laundry is my comfort chore of choice, followed by unloading & reloading the dishwasher. Both are things that tend to pile up when I’m on a marathon project. I love that they’re dump & run jobs I can leave to happen on their own while I wander off to binge YouTube & still feel virtuously productive.
Believe it or not, my favorite comfort work is loading the dishwasher and washing the dishes that don’t fit. I can stand in one place, it’s a defined task with a beginning and an end, and there isn’t a lot of thinking involved.
My comfort work has forever been baking – practical, yet it engages all the senses and lets the mind refresh and reset.
My comfort work has always been cooking and baking, especially breads. Kneading a beautiful ciabatta loaf is mindlessly satisfying…and, bonus, we get to eat and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I baked a LOT during the worst of the Covid pandemic, and unfortunately gained quite a bit of weight as a result. I’ve worked very hard over the last year to drop that weight but that has severely cut into my baking escapades! Now I try to bake when I can give the food away. All the joy with none of the calories!!! Win win.
I used to be go big or go home all the time. I finally started listening to my body and doctors a few years ago and retired from the demanding job with pay and have a less stressful life where I can usually choose when I do the jobs that require more energy and strength and when I can do the ‘comfort work’. I do save time every day to cuddle my pets. The cats would be very unhappy if Pee Wee came to the house. The puppy would be thrilled to have someone who could match his energy.
On those low energy days when I look for quick & easy things to eat (soup, eggs, a sandwich) I often go thru the pile up of catalogs & newletters then get most of them into the recycling piles. And reading my current book.
(LOL… lovin’ the inclusion of Pee Wee!)
I’m not a “go big or go home” kind of person… I’m a “slow and steady”.
I don’t save tasks, per se, but they do get “saved” when I can’t accomplish all that is in the “to do” pile.
The one thing I absolutely do on low energy days, though, is read.
I saw something recently that interested me. It isn’t quite the same, but it fits here.
The story was that a young woman was feeling awful because she didn’t have the educational chutzpah of her classmates. The instructor told her about bamboo and how it grows. Once you plant the seed (or ?bulb?, I’m not sure how bamboo is propagated), it takes 6 years for there to be any growth that is see. That’s because the plant knows it needs deep roots and preparation before it can shoot up to it’s immense height (130 feet in some species).
So, while it may not _seem_ like anything is happening on the surface, there is a lot churning underneath… lots of growth and formation and groundwork that is needed to reach its pinnacle.
I’m able to pretend reading is work as long as it is an arc, so I’ll be able to sell it when it comes out. But work or recreation, I suppose it is my go to.