In the most recent season of Homeland, the main character Carrie Mathison decides purposefully to stop taking medication that she uses to treat bi-polar disorder. She’s an ex-CIA agent and there’s an international terrorist catastrophe brewing. The only way she can muster the intense focus she needs to solve the case and prevent the disaster is by intentionally riding a wave of mania through all-nighters and paranoid clarity.
I’m sure the portrayal was considered offensive or even dangerous to psychologists and plenty of people who struggle with manic disorders.
Although, at a less extreme level, there’s plenty of truth to this approach. We all ride waves of enthusiasm and motivation from time-to-time. These waves often end days or weeks later in burnout or depression. After enough cycles, we might decide to avoid the mania to prevent the depression. We start taking metaphorical meds by looking for balance and routines that even out our productivity with fewer highs and lows.
But what if certain kinds of work can only be accomplished through the Carrie Mathison approach? Not by literally going off your meds, but by tossing aside your productivity routines and task lists in favor of diving deep into an obsessed state.
As I look back at my own projects, many of the biggest most important chunks of work only happened because I pushed everything else aside and let myself obsess for days or weeks.
The CEO of a consulting firm I worked for famously ended nearly every meeting and call by saying “business is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Maybe business is really a series of marathons, with sprints in-between. Maybe those productivity systems and daily routines you so carefully craft need to be ditched when it’s time for heroics.