Leonardos could replace nuclear reactors as sources of energy for the world, except for our annoying habit of needing long periods of time off.
Some people mistake the Leonardo Trait for Attention Deficit Disorder. Some Leonardos do have ADD, or bipolar disorder, or other brain disorders. But the Leonardo Trait is not those things. There are some good books on those topics. I’m just not qualified to explain them as well as they deserve to be explained.
Leonardos put tremendous energy into everything we do. If you ask a Leonardo to wash your car, you’d better not want to drive it for the next two hours. But when it comes back the floor mats will be laundered, the glass polished, and the tires newly blacked.
Leonardos don’t feel like something is worth doing unless it’s worth overdoing.
At this point I want to make a point that I’m not sure I made clearly in previous editions of this book.
Why Leonardos Expend So Much Energy
What I’m not sure I’ve expressed properly before is why we, as Leonardos, put so much energy into every single thing we do.
You may have heard that when the mountain climber Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he said, “Because it’s there.”
The thing is that Leonardos have to expend a lot of energy. It’s there, and if we don’t expend it, we can’t do anything else. The energy won’t go away unless we burn it off.
So, the Leonardo puts everything she has into everything she does.
If you look at a typical Leonardo, if there is such a thing, you may see a work pattern of 12-hour days for three weeks, and then a week of hibernation.
I know I just said that we have enormous amounts of energy. We do. But when the energy’s gone, it’s gone until we build it back up.
This is how Leonardos function, and most of us can’t operate any other way.
When the energy is flowing, we flow with it. When it goes, we need extended periods of downtime to get it back.
It may seem unhealthy, and in some people it may be unhealthy, but in most Leonardos, it’s just the way we work.
Many Leonardos are branded as workaholics. Sometimes that label fits; it fit me for years. But for a lot of us, the reality isn’t that simple.
Yes, I have serious workaholic tendencies. I sometimes make myself sick, literally, by working too hard for too long. I do that less now than I once did, but I still do it.
The Two Speeds of Leonardos
As a Leonardo, one reason I do this is that I’m afraid to stop once I get going. I have two speeds – fast and stop. If I stop in the middle of a project, I might not come back to it. And there are days when getting a night’s sleep feels like “stopping.”
Sometimes I do drift into workaholism, and I know that many other Leonardos do, as well. There are some techniques that can help you, Leonardo or not, control your work more effectively. This is what I do that has worked for me.
First, I try to be aware of how much I’m working. I don’t keep a timesheet, unless I’m working for someone else, but I try to notice the time occasionally. Is it lunch time? Have I eaten today? Should I stop and have a bite?
Next, I try to slow down gradually when I feel I’m getting too revved up, rather than trying to force myself to “stop” when I don’t want to.
Sometimes I get in bed, can’t sleep for thinking about a project, and know I won’t get to sleep unless I get up and work on it. At those times, I give myself half an hour, sometimes an hour if it’s not too late, to do whatever I’ve just thought of. Then I go to bed, and I don’t let myself get back up to work on it again that night.
I’ve found one technique really helpful, when I remember it and use it. I just try to keep in mind that if it’s important today, it will be important again. No, maybe I won’t come back to it tomorrow. But I’ve never completely abandoned a project that I regretted abandoning. If it’s important enough, I’ll always come back.
Types of Energy
One thing to keep in mind when we talk about energy, and especially workaholism, is types of energy. Many people consider all energy the same. In reality, when discussing creative work, three types of productive energy come into play. Knowing what they are and how they work is key to using each effectively, whether you’re a Leonardo or not.
New Project Energy
New project energy is particularly hard to put a lid on. This is the excitement you feel when you’re working on a new idea and things are just clicking into place. New projects keep us awake because the possibilities are so stimulating. There is a thrill to putting new pieces in place, like putting the borders on a jigsaw puzzle.
This neophyte energy is hard to control, and sometimes it’s best to clear the decks and let this enthusiasm run as much as possible. However, sometimes you must limit the time and effort you spend on new projects. Keep a notebook handy for brainstorming and noting those flashes of inspiration that contribute to the project. Schedule time to work on your project, even if you can only spare a few minutes at a time. One of the annoying things about new project enthusiasm is that it often interferes with other work. Corralling it and keeping track of your thoughts can keep your days running more smoothly.
The other troublesome energy comes in the form of end-time energy. If you’ve ever stayed up all night finishing a project, just because you couldn’t stop thinking about it, you know exactly what this wrapping-up surge feels like.
Sometimes, it’s best to let this energy roll. If you’re within three or four hours of wrapping up your project, and you can afford to lose some sleep or hole up in your office through dinnertime (and your family doesn’t mind), it might be best to go ahead.
A mentor of mine is a fan of a “big push” that brings something to a conclusion. Her logic is that you not only get it off your plate and move on, but that you can also put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into one final push. The big push theory works on the idea that if you spread out the work, you also water down the energy.
So, if you’re able to do that one big push and finish up your project, go ahead and do it. If you have to break up the work into two or more sessions, try to leave yourself some notes or sketches or general directions to help you continue with the same energy you started.
These are the two types of energy that normally interrupt our sleep and our lives. The energy that carries us through the middle of a problem is steadier and more stable. Middle energy is plodding, whereas beginning and ending energy are galloping. The energy in the middle of a project can still be powerful and fun, but I’ve never heard anyone ask, “How do I control my enthusiasm for writing page 247 out of 500?”
Speedometer Image Courtesy of MorgueFile. Image created by Angie Dixon.