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Unemployment Part 2 - How to Save Yourself

Mandatory warning that I’ve used this system for exactly 3 days:

And secondary mandatory warning that nearly all advice is bad.

In Part I, I proposed a short list of solutions to working independently after quitting your job. Here’s the long version with details fleshed out.

Accept that you max out at 4 hours a day, and make sure you actually hit it every day.
The major caveat here is that it is incredibly difficult to consistently work 4 hours a day. Nearly no one can pull this off, and even people with stressful full time jobs are often just faking it by spending 8 hours on Slack and in meetings.

So while 4 hours a day sounds downright leisurely, you can’t get tricked into complacency.

If 20 hours a week sounds like easy mode, the easiest way to become dramatically more productive is not to “hustle harder”, but to add weekends. This puts your total weekly hours at 28, a 40% increase over only working weekdays, but still keeps you at 30% under a normal 40 hour workweek.

Also note that you’re still “on” the remaining 140 hours a week. That time is for making sure you’re healthy and energetic enough to do 4 hours work very consistently. Most people don’t actually know how to relax, just how to “blow off steam”. If you go out to a bar after work, you don’t feel more motivated the next day, you just feel more able to handle another 8 hours in an office.

Find sources of lasting intrinsic motivation that aren’t based around feelings of inadequacy.
If you’re a smart person, you’ve spent your whole life winning competitions, getting praise from authority figures, checking boxes and gaining prestige.

Understand that there is no difference between a superiority and inferiority complex. The feeling of being great just means you value your ego, and will fear losing it even more.

I don’t have any concrete advice here, other than to take it seriously, give it time, and hope that after years of education and employment you still have any genuine interests remaining.

Measure yourself by what you’ve done, not how many hours you’ve put it
This is a bit misleading. If you’re working independently, you likely won’t have any “accomplishments” in a conventional sense for many months.

The real advice is Scott Adams’, which is to follow a system instead of a goal. If you want to learn a new language, don’t try to measure progress towards fluency, just set up a simple system (study flash cards 1 hour a day, watch 30 minutes of content, write 10 sentences in your journal using the new words you learned) and measure progress by how consistently you’re able to follow the system.

A month in, you can see how the system is going and try to establish progress on external goals, but that can’t be the first step. Day to day, progress is never going to be linear, so winning has to be about behaving the right way, not achieving the right results.

If you’re like me and love abstraction, not hyper-optimizing the system at every opportunity feels incredibly wasteful. But the truth is for most pursuits, a very simple system will get you 80% of the way there, and much much further than an optimal system poorly followed.

More deeply, goals and systems are two parts of the same coin, and you can’t fully design the system without spending time engaged in practice. You might discover after a month that you derive way more joy from conversation than from writing, and decide to shift your language learning focus, but that insight won’t happen from taking the bird’s eye view.

Enjoy your newfound freedom, but in ways that don’t directly compete with your real aims.
I banned myself from video games throughout my last job, which means that as soon as I quit, I binged everything I had been denying myself.

Some hobbies just feel all-consuming like this. If I get deeply involved in a TV show or game, I basically just have to give up on the entire week and try to get work done later.

In other cases, the activity might not be time consuming, but will still impede efforts elsewhere. The most obvious examples are drinking, sleep deprivation, and having a poor diet. You can stop taking shots at midnight, but still feel horrible at noon the next day.

The only thing I’ve found effective for quitting addictive habits is binging to the point of self-hatred. I will stay up all night playing video games, and then hate myself enough to stop for the next 3 months. This might not sound particularly healthy, but outside of alcohol, I don’t actually think it’s a serious harm.

Create psychological distance by choosing a particular time and place to work, if necessary, inform everyone you live with of your “official work hours”.
This is fairly straightforward. The only caveat is that it might be embarrassing to tell your parents or housemates that you’re “writing a blog on the internet” or “doing independent research” or “starting a startup” and can’t be interrupted.

I’m even more embarrassed to write about this publicly, but I literally solved this problem by becoming nocturnal, and doing all my writing after my housemates have gone to bed.

This isn’t meant to be generic productivity advice. I’ve read so much of those posts, and gotten basically no value from them. This won’t solve all your problems, but hopefully it will at least make you feel less alone if you’re struggling with similar issues, or give you a jumping off point to figure out your own system.