Set Expectations Low for Off-Days

At the risk of simplifying a large range of daily experiences into two simple categories...

There are two kinds of days: on days and off days.

On Days

When you're on, you feel like you have unlimited will power. You feel strong, clear-headed, and ambitious. You stare at a cookie, know that you should not eat it, and don't. You go for a run, push to break your season PR, and do. Reddit is about as much of a threat to your productivity as flying pigs.

My only advice for these days is to take advantage of them. When you feel all-powerful, it's tempting to think that your days of weakness are forever over and that you'll feel like this for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, the day will end and the next day may or may not be good.

OK, one more caution: don't stay up too late. You'll be tempted to ride the power out until late. Big mistake. Don't mess up your sleep schedule. If you're feeling wired, wind down slowly with a book or a bit of easy creative work like journalling or doodling.

Off Days

When you're off, you feel like you want to get into a snuggie and watch sitcoms all day long. That cookie you were staring at the day before is now in your mouth and god is it delicious, but how did it get there? You absolutely would go for a run, but having to put on shoes is an unreasonable prerequisite. Maybe Reddit has some good advice.

How did this happen?

Let me introduce you to a new unit of measurement: diesels. Diesels are a measure of will power. Like utiles, they are subjective and relative. While saying no to a cookie may cost me one diesel, it may cost someone else two diesels.

Actions either cost diesels or replenish your tank. Sleep is the biggest contributor to your tank. Work is the biggest cost. In general, rest and relaxation replenish the tank and making decisions drain it. As you may have figured out by now, off days occur when your tank of diesels is low.

What should I do when my tank is low?

First, recognize that you're going to have a hard time getting a lot done. Without diesels to spend, you will struggle to make any decisions. You will default to your habits, both bad and good, and follow the path of least resistance. You may be OK if your day doesn't require you being proactive, but if it does, set your expectations low.

Ride things as far as you can. If you've got good habits in place, stick to them. Do your best to do anything you can, but don't put difficult things on your plate and expect yourself to be able to accomplish them without diesels to spend. Don't waste diesels on small stuff. When you're running on empty, you simply cannot go as far.

Once you've done your good habits and you feel like you can't do anything else, just take a nap. Get out of work as early as you can and go sleep. If you can't sleep, just get into bed and read a magazine until you can.

Above all, don't feel bad and beat yourself up for being lazy. Normal people need a lot of rest to refill their tank and it gets empty when they don't balance properly. So go rest.

How can I avoid having off days?

You can't entirely. You'll have times in your life when you needed to burn your entire tank. But sometimes you might also burn the whole damn thing playing video games until 4am or agonizing over what pattern of dishes to buy from Sears.

Four simple rules can help you keep your diesel levels up:
  1. Sleep. If your body wants to sleep, let it! Go to sleep early and take naps as needed.
  2. Stay fed and hydrated. It's amazing how skipping a meal or not drinking enough water siphons off you diesels.
  3. Minimize decision making. Decisions are expensive, and agonizing over them makes them more expensive. Make decisions quickly and move on.
  4. Don't try to do too much in a day. Understand that will power, rather than time or money, may be your limiting factor. Running a deficit today means you'll pay the price tomorrow. Run a surplus today, however, and you'll be sure to be on tomorrow.
Get through it, learn your lesson, and rock it the next day!


I'm now working for a startup in San Mateo and it's my best gig yet. It's a nice feeling to be on the up-and-up.