Is This Working? #2

4 min readJan 23, 2023


Right now, it’s 5:28pm. I just finished my work day. I turn my attention inwards — I’m not very hungry yet, and I still have energy to do something productive. I have to make dinner eventually, but otherwise my evening is open. This is where I make my mistake. I choose an easy activity like cooking, getting groceries, going thrift shopping, watching TV, or scrolling through my phone. The mistake isn’t doing these activities, but doing them when I have both the time and energy to do something special.

These moments are precious, and they pass by unnoticed unless you watch out for them. They offer you the chance to take on work that is challenging and time-consuming. They are an open road and a tank full of gas, space to gather speed and cover ground. Choosing to spend that time on something easy is like burning gas in first gear. Don’t waste your energy on tasks that can run on fumes. Leave the laundry and the dishes for later, when your brain needs to rest. This is your chance to practice a craft or work on a project, anything that requires brainpower and is meaningful to you.

Ucluelet, BC, Canada

When the opportunity comes, pounce on it. The sooner you start, the sooner you’re in the zone and the longer you’ll stay there. For creative work, it’s not just energy you need but also time. Resist the temptation to do chores just to feel productive. Letting small tasks occupy space in a big gap of time is like parking in the middle of two spaces. Better to dedicate long stretches of time to activities that need it, like making art or building something. Let chores and other small tasks squeeze into the spare minutes in your day.

According to Dr. Dement’s book The Promise of Sleep, energy tends to peak in the morning, dip in the early afternoon, and peak again in the early evening. If you listen to your body, you can figure out when your energy rises and when it falls. Once you know your pattern, you can dedicate the highs to meaningful-yet-demanding work and leave the lows for easy stuff.

Aiguille du Midi, France

Adapting to the ebb and flow of your capacity makes you not only more efficient, but happier. Your efforts bear more fruit because you know when the moment is ripe, and you learn to savor small victories when nothing bigger is within reach. Gone is the guilt of “being lazy” when your energy dips because you know it’s just a phase in a cycle, a valley in a range of peaks. You can have faith in yourself, and let rest nagging questions of willpower and attitude.

It’s 6:27pm as I finish the first draft of this piece. Aware that I had energy to think, and about an hour before I got too hungry to focus, I set myself down to write. Now I have to stop, but a good foundation has been laid, one that I’ll build upon next time I have the time and energy to do so.

If you liked this piece, you might also like Is This Working?

If you’re curious about the 2-peak energy pattern described in The Promise of Sleep, check out this video, which explains it: The 2-Process Model of Sleep.

This New Yorker article peeks at the relationship between a person’s morality and their ‘chronotype’ i.e. their energy pattern.

I came across Andy Matuschak’s piece Cultivating depth and stillness in research after I had all but finished writing this piece, but it has a lot of related and complementary ideas. E.g. see the “Morning Block” section and his reference to the William James’ quote about ‘The Energies of Men’.

Notes about style and process — I started this piece months ago, alongside others that I still have not published. I revised my draft and extended it and revised it again. As I was getting ready to publish it, I got some feedback from my girlfriend that made me want to re-structure the piece. While I worked on that, I decided to let go of an analogy central to my drafts. Inspired by ideas in Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg, I sat down and wrote a new version from scratch, without referencing my previous drafts. I trusted I had all the ideas I needed already in my head. I wrote it in order, resisting the temptation to outline the piece. I tried to finish each paragraph before starting the next one. What resulted is the final piece.




I write about software, music, books, psychology, & other topics. Software Engineer at Microsoft in Seattle.