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)!