Dry November: Day 28

November 28, 2018

Let me explain.

This morning I attended a session on starting a business, kindly provided by St. Luke’s Community Centre. These sessions—ranging from market research, to branding, to contract law—are invariably interesting, and occasionally even useful, though I’ve done little enough to get a business started so far. Most sessions are interactive, but today was exhausting, because the purpose was to perfect pitches of various lengths. It began with a waffling minute-and-a-half which we had to whittle down, over four hours, to a no-nonsense elevator pitch. This meant repeating the pitch over and over to new people, whilst appearing sufficiently enthusiastic and perky to be persuasive throughout.

With the best business plan in the world this would require great energy, but I am far from clear about what I’m doing, so I had to come up with something more or less fictional. I went with the simplest of the jobs I‘m considering and said I wanted to be a freelance writer and sub-editor. This seemed a strange thing to do after financial tech, to my partners, as indeed it is. But I stuck to my guns and pretended this was my one true narrative, though in reality I haven’t the foggiest what I’ll end up doing. So I mostly tried to improve my partners’ pitches, which they seemed to appreciate.

The exercise was not without benefits; thinking about who you are, what you’re doing, and what action you want the other person to take is effective even if you’re not pitching a business. In interviews, for example, or even in small-talk, this is something I could stand to improve. “I’m funemployed” or “Nothing, at the moment” both lead to winding discussions of my many bizarre little projects. I enjoy instilling this uncertainty, and sometimes jealousy, in my employed conversational counter-parties. But if I want to convince anyone to actually employ me, to accept my applications, or merely to take me seriously, I need to streamline my narrative. So I left tired but inspired to do better at this task.

From this vast expenditure of energy I walked to the Onfido offices in Liverpool Street, to attend another event, to which my friend had invited me. This involved five hours of (of all things) ”ultraworking”. This is apparently a thing, and I may have heard of it either through the Complice Goal-Crafting Intensive I did in February, or possibly at the Effective Altruism Careers Week I did in August. It’s been a weird year.

My friend was three minutes late and therefore, I later learned, not allowed to attend. So there I sat, ensconced in hours of inordinately intense work. It was massively useful. I applied to stay on Ingmar Bergman’s remote island estate, set up a profile for some tutoring jobs, and requested to write for the upcoming Tortoise Media publication. No idea whether anything will come of any of that, but all three were things I’d been putting off for ages: I finished them and had them sent by the time the session was over, which is a testament to the method’s efficiency.

So what is ultraworking? It would be unfair to say that it’s “just” five pomodoros in a row, because it has reflection structured into it that keeps up the momentum. Since I did it in a room full of strangers, there was also the accountability element of not wanting to appear as if I were slacking off. But I was more or less in a flow state the whole time. Whether this magic will persist over time remains to be seen, but in an afternoon I may have become a devotee.

But back to my initial admission: after ten hours of real work, I wanted a beer. Maybe it was the familiar mix of intense social interactions, the perpetual pitches of the first event and the deep work of the second, but something Pavlovian in me told me to go to a pub. Reader, I abstained. But it was interesting to observe the desire welling up in me like it had done so many times before. It made me look forward to Friday, when I’ll have a drink at midnight.

And tomorrow, after my MRI, I may try this ultraworking business again.

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.