The Cage

sun over the cyclone fence

Photo by Jimmy Chan on

I wrote this back in 2007…and though parts of it don’t really resonate with me that much anymore, I think these are still lessons I should remember. So, I’m re-posting.

I hope you take benefit from it.


Sometimes at work you just feel closed in. Bored by what you’ve got to do; restricted by the times you work; and caged in by the physical environment you’re in. We have such lovely weather in this country, such beautiful days throughout the year – but working in an office, or indeed working in general, you don’t really get to enjoy that beauty so much. Its gotta be on a short lunch break, or a short tea break or something similar – where you know there’s a time limit; you don’t have the freedom to just sit in the sun for hours, enjoy the breeze, watch the clouds.

The idea of structured work times – work from this time to that time; then have a break of x minutes; then go back and work this time to that time – would be fine if we were robots. But we’re not. We’re human. We don’t work like machines on an assembly line. We don’t crank out output in a mechanical way, keeping the same level of productivity for the whole time we work.

It took me a while to realise this – realise that this idea of highly-structured work times just does not suit me. Maybe that kind of structure is the conventional way things are done, and maybe that’s why I thought it to be the ‘correct’ way.

But I know now that its not ‘correct.’ Not for me, at least.

Procrastination aside, if I’m feeling tired or bored or dull, then sitting at a desk, trying to do work does not yield much at all. Lots of times I get sleepy; lots of times I get frustrated; and many times I get distracted – with the Internet available and no boss or supervisor checking up on you, there’s no limit to the amount of time I can end up wasting. (Ok, sometimes its not a ‘waste’ – but you’re supposed to be working; so doing your own thing doesn’t count as ‘productive’ from the employer’s perspective).

So, rather than holding onto the idea that

“I’ve gotta be responsible: this is designated work time, so I’ve gotta be at this desk working”

I realised that this, like a lot of things in life, does not always conform to a conventionally-accepted way of doing things.  You’ve got to be able to be flexible, fluid – adapt to the situation you find yourself in.

This doesn’t mean being ‘irresponsible’ by leaving your work and going to do something else totally unrelated when you have an attack of the sleepies / boredom.

It just means that at that particular moment, sitting there, trying to work, isn’t going to work. So you’ve got to do something different. Or get out of there completely and go somewhere else, so that your mind doesn’t feel suffocated, imprisoned by the working environment you spend so many hours in.

Unfortunately for me, my escape routes became rather routine – same walks, same places. And although they’re different to this office, they can – in themselves – become their own ‘prisons’, in that they’re the same places with nothing new.

Obviously, unless you can take a helicopter (or time machine, or other teleporting device 😉 ) to some completely different place, you’re going to be restricted by the general physical environment you’re in. You can’t go that far away from the place you work.

So, the trick, I think, is to adjust your mindset to one of ‘new eyes’: see things with new eyes, new perspective; and don’t let places and things become repeated to the point of routine. Funny, I was just watching an episode of “Scrubs” which touched on the same thing, and the answer there was to ‘notice the subtle differences’ in the same situations that you encounter over and over again.

If your employer allows the level of independence that you need (for me, its that I can manage my own time and work, and am not micro-managed), then you get to exercise your imagination and come up with different ways to try and break out of the cage.

And if you can manage to do that, and incorporate that as an essential part of your working life, I think you’ll be relatively well off when it comes to the demands that work makes of you both in terms of time and mental effort.

One thought on “The Cage

  1. Hmm, but it is rather funny — like when I have my exams, and I’m stuck in my room for days, sometimes I’ll end up staring at a wall and examining all the cracks, not thinking anything. Other times, these same walls are my prison instead of my entertainment. But oh well, the mind works in mysterious ways!

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