When to Stop Working When It’s Not Working

Recently I’ve written about the wrong time of day for me to do my writing, and more generally about the importance of knowing when the best time of day is for you to do specific work. Today I want to expand on this idea to talk about how you know when it’s time to stop trying. Or, rather, how you know when it’s time to stop forcing yourself to do work you’re not doing so great at.

Here’s the thing: In the story I told you, about me at the cafe, not doing the writing I was supposed to be there for, I left out an important detail. That detail is the moment at which I realized that I needed to stop trying.

All our lives, we hear again and again about the importance of trying hard and not giving up. Truth be told, though, most of the advice we receive about the importance of trying hard is not that useful.

Because, in reality, we all need to know when to stop trying.

And I don’t mean here in some large sense of the word – when to quit a job, when to put down a project, when to admit something has truly failed. That’s a very valuable thing as well, but right now I’m just talking about the importance of knowing when to stop trying on any given day, when you’re in the middle of work or the project you’re supposed to be doing.

For me, that answer is all about flow.

In certain types of work I do, I know there will be flow. Writing, for example. Brainstorming, for sure. The act of creation in general, say (whether that means painting or knitting or video producing or home-building). All of these tasks do best when the flow is on. And most of us know very intimately when we feel like we’re flowing, and when we feel like we’re not.

So my grand proposal – to you, and to me – is to simply stop the try-hard-push-more life when the flow stops. When the flow stops, put the cork in the work and close up the shop. For that day.

And then try to pick it up again tomorrow.

(Remembering the time of day and the day of the week that best works for you and that task.)


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2 thoughts on “When to Stop Working When It’s Not Working

  1. Reminds me of the best advice I’ve ever heard when you’re banging your head against the wall…from Rick Warren:

    When the horse is dead, dismount.

    Easier said than done if you’re stubborn like me 🙂