Loving the Work but Loathing the Laptop

Cat nestled by laptop.

There’s a fresh cup of coffee, ready and steaming. My work station is full of natural light. Notes are neatly arranged for easy reference, pens and scratch paper within reach. The house is clean, yard work done, to-do list organized.

All conditions are go for my work session. And yet…

I stare out the window, the simple act of opening my laptop filling me with dread. I would rather do anything than spend time in front of this screen.

Back in those ye olden days as an English major, I swore I would never write on a computer. Oh, sure; I got the whole word processor aspect — it was certainly so much easier than hauling around my “portable” typewriter, dealing with carbon sheets, locating bottles and strips of Liquid Paper and Wite-Out, and endlessly typing revisions. But the act of composing…why, that was a mystical experience rendered tactile by the flow of words streaming from pen to pad. Create on a soulless machine?!? Never.

In no time, I was disabused of this Luddite-ly notion. For years now, I’ve written everything on a computer. Revisions are simple, collaboration a breeze, filing wonderful. What’s not to love about working on a laptop?

The laptop itself. I fucking hate my laptop.

Love the Task, Hate the Medium

Laptop and notes at table in front of lit fireplace.
Working at the home office on cold days includes a fire and a ever-present mug of hot water.

We just came off of a three-day holiday weekend during which I pointedly avoided the computer from Friday evening, when I closed my laptop and stowed it away in its drawer, until Tuesday morning.

My shoulders sank as the stream of emails loaded. My soul crumbled while I checked social media and blog stats for those three untended days.

So much of the time, I feel a slave to this machine. It’s easy to spend an hour or more on peripheral items, just getting up-to-speed so I can start work on the day’s actual projects. Taking that three-day break means catching up, but working through the weekend deprives me of a rest. (There’s something drastically wrong with the popular logic that working a little every day results in less time working.)

I know that today will be the kind of day where I set what feels like 100 tiny rewards. Work for 30 minutes, then get away — take a walk, jump rope, chop veggies for dinner, work on laundry, eat. If I am lucky, one of those short work periods will magically turn into a longer, productive session, where I’m so caught up in the writing I’m doing that I forget I’m stuck in front of this sucky screen.

How to Fix My Laptop Problem

Laptop in front of pool and the islands of St. John USVIIt’s impossible to get away from working in front of a screen. As a freelancer, I cement job details, submit work, bill for services, and work leads via email. Because in this digital era it’s not enough to write pieces, I take, edit, and file photos, create graphics, do layout, and physically upload my text to websites for publishers. There’s the endless stream of social media promotion (for myself, articles, and the various publications I work with) to be created, scheduled, and posted. I spend a huge amount of time reading at the computer: educating myself on the craft, following others to learn where the bar is set, and researching what editors want from their writers. And, of course, there’s the work I do for myself, this blog.

I love writing. I write in my mind while I’m running. I fight to turn off the stream of phrases and ideas that flood my brain during yoga. Scraps of paper with jottings lie all about the house, reminders of things I’ve discovered and can’t wait to write about. I have draft upon draft of topics saved, waiting for enough time to flesh out those bones. There’s nothing better than getting lost in creation, finding just the right way to say something, getting goosebumps reading over your work, seeing the finished product in print.

Writing doesn’t fill me with dread, make my shoulders slump, or drop like a yoke around my neck. Taking the laptop out, on the other hand, has all the charm of a cell door slamming. I’m trapped in front of this screen until my sentence is filled.

Because I can’t be a writer without sitting in front of my laptop, how do I combat this dread and loathing for such an essential tool? 

Asking a group always provides new perspectives, so I polled my friends. Here are strategies they shared.

5 Ways to Battle Computer Burnout

  • Fluff the Setting. Take the laptop outside, shift my working position, light scented candles, play music, enjoy my pets, have something yummy — in short, improve the environment. Perhaps putting my laptop in a new, more palatable setting will change associated negative feelings. That may also mean, on occasion, working around other people; it could be that part of my dread is laptop time is mostly alone time, and I like company.
  • Change Out Gadgets. Not being a particularly gadget-oriented person, I don’t usually think to vary my information delivery system. But as a friend pointed out, I can switch to a different device for educational reading, tricking my mind and reducing laptop time by using, say, an iPad or Kindle.
  • Revamp Work Structure. So many reported variations on the work/reward system, or providing that carrot. Tweaking my schedule certainly won’t hurt, and embracing breaks as a strategy will seem productive rather than distracting. Thanks to a friend’s comment, I learned about the Pomodoro Technique, which is all about “working with time, not against it.”
  • Go Old School. Why let the laptop call the shots? My practices need to reflect the way I like to do business: face-to-face, voice-to-voice. I should be scheduling meetings and phone calls to cut back on the dreaded email. And I should return to doing some creating with pen and paper. Why not? Yes, going old school might take longer, but reducing screen time is going to make me feel happier. (And it just might help with my wrist strength.)
  • Rethink the Jobs. If administrative work is poisoning my laptop interactions, I need to find ways to do less of it. Set some new guidelines for taking jobs: for example, I can work only with those who provide social promotion, or drop those publications where I’m required to be the art director, too.
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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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