Ali Jafarian

Balancing Physical vs Digital Work

Episode Number 014
Duration 15 min

In this solo episode I analyze the topic of physical vs digital work, plus some recent experiences and insight on how we might balance them.

BONUS Ending!

Be sure to listen to the end where I add some unscripted real-time bonus material 🙂


What is up my people? Ali here with a new solo episode. Today we're going to talk about physical versus digital work. This has been percolating in my notes for a while now, and most recently, my family and I have gotten more serious about a move to the east coast. Which has inspired us to prioritize some updates and minor innovations to our current home in Denver.

These updates and renovations require physical work. For example, we just tackled a couple of bathroom updates. We've been out in the yard more and we're pretty focused on things we can do ourselves. These recent experiences have actually taught me some really cool things that feel share-worthy. So here we go.

First, I'd like to establish a little context of physical versus digital work with some history mixed in. Our world was basically founded on physical work. From early hunter and gatherers to builders and craftsmen. Most of the buildings, things, technology we use today are the by-product of physical work.

Humans have been executing physical work for thousands of years. Then all of a sudden, end of the 20th century, the internet came along and completely disrupted everything.

Software was introduced, and now we have jobs that are entirely digital. Computers are taught earlier in primary education. Email's the primary form of communication. Most of us have some form of digital work in our lives at this point, if not entirely digital. And so as a result, the way we work has essentially evolved.

We've shifted to accommodate this evolution, which means more and more digital businesses plus jobs becoming available. And like I said, many businesses require some form of digital work. Whereas some businesses and industries have completely transformed. Examples of that. Blockbuster to Netflix, complete transformation. Taxis to Uber and Lyft and other ride sharing services, complete transformation. I think you get the point.

Now let's talk about some of the benefits on both sides, because both physical and digital work do offer benefits. On the physical side, you get cardio, natural exercise. You get a good, tired or fatigued exhaustion from doing physical work. You can have better sleep and relaxation.

You get pure satisfaction and pride. Serotonin released in your brain from the achievements, the work that you're executing. And honestly, these are all things that I've experienced lately, which I'll share a little bit about more in a second.

Then there's the digital work. What are the benefits here?

It's easy and convenient, that's for sure. You can work from anywhere. We can generally create more flexible schedules. And digital work can give you a very good mental workout. It certainly lacks on the physical side in terms of staying fit, when we're sitting computers or desktop all day. But the mental side, there's absolutely some problem solving some healthy challenges there. And again, these are all things I've personally experienced.

Ultimately, I think physical and digital work can live together harmoniously. We don't have to be on one of the other sides. Some of us do have the majority of our work is physical, especially if you're still in labor, whereas others are on the opposite side of the spectrum where we're just completely digital. You know, working on software all day, sitting in offices, et cetera.

A good example of where they can exist harmoniously is construction. So in construction, humans still need to execute a lot of physical work via labor. We're just still better at that than robots for now, at least. And then there's the digital side where using software, we can plan and design buildings more efficiently.

We can create project timelines and manage projects with more efficiency via software. So this is an example where you've got both physical and digital work living together in a really nice blend.

The key here to that point is finding a balance. Too much of one type can be challenging. I believe that at least. And I've personally found that when I take on too much digital work, which is often the case, I start to lose touch with reality.

My emotions flare up and I start to question. What am I doing? What am I even contributing to? I literally say sometimes like, what the fuck am I doing here? Pardon my French. But these are the authentic thoughts that float through my mind sometimes. And then I try to navigate that and really go deeper into the meaning. Like, what am I creating or contributing to the world with this software or all this digital communication that requires a lot of my time and energy.

My business partner and I actually have a term called funny money. This is where we joke about the transfer of funds for data, content, and other non-physical assets. We literally see thousands of dollars go from one person or business to another every day in the businesses that we run.

And in reality, it's not actual physical currency that you can feel outside of it just being a number in a database. It's literally a number in a database and software facilitates how it moves around. That is, that's why we laugh. We're like, this is funny money. It's not to say that we're not creating value or there's not value associated with funny money, but it is quite different than exchanging physical currency in person.

To that point, my work can often start to seem fake or artificial. One project or zoom call after another. And then funds are transferred behind the scenes, like I said. Another meeting, another requirement, another feature in the software. This becomes a very repetitive cycle and it can become monotonous. Some people love it. And at one point I did love it. Now I have more challenges in terms of just balancing how much digital work can I take on and still feel at peace?

However, when I offset all the digital work with some physical work, it really grounds me. Sometimes literally. Like sometimes my favorite physical work is being in the garden or mowing the lawn, for example, where I'm truly grounded to the earth.

Now, going back to a recent experience with my dad and Gabrielle. We just redid some light remodeling to our upstairs bathrooms, both of them. And this was so rewarding. My dad and I had some great bonding time where we learned from each other, did some real problem solving. And even at one point I was kind of on the brink of calling it quits and just dialing a contractor. Saying done with this, someone else can come take this over. But my dad kept me inspired. You know, he kept the curiosity alive. Like, hey I think we can figure this out.

And sure enough, we did. We finished this very old, challenging plumbing problem that was done 20 years ago. And it felt really good to solve that with our hands, with our minds and no computers or devices involved. And after the project, like I said before, serotonin was firing. Both of us were just in extreme states of appreciation and satisfaction for what we had completed, what we created there.

I got some of the best sleep I've had in months. And we saved a bit of money, which is another bonus that we would have spent otherwise on a contractor. Which would also have required more time and energy, you know, having them come out, give quotes in negotiating where it was really nice and liberating to just get in there, get it done, figure it out, clean it up and then Wala new bathroom.

So I consider that an exponential WIN. There was just winning on multiple levels. Family time, creativity, problem solving, all that good stuff that I just mentioned.

Now I know some of you were thinking. Ali, why the hell are you mowing the lawn or replacing a bathroom faucet? You could easily outsource that for $25 an hour. Buy your time back, go do something else, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Totally understand that. And yes, I used to think exactly that way. And I would often outsource laborious tasks. There was a phase of life where this was certainly my mindset. If it's not something related to my businesses where I can, you know, maximize my time and maximize profits, I'm and outsource that.

So I have lived that life, but guess what? Mowing the lawn and getting my hands dirty every now and then actually brings me joy. And it's a whole different type of joy that I could get from sitting in a computer and seeing a nice email or realizing a project to its completion or its launch. Like it is not the same joy.

Mowing the lawn, getting my hands dirty, being in the garden. These allow me to create something. They remind me of the rewards of my labor. And at the end of the day they help me feel human. I think that's the biggest point here.

With software there is room to caution. I have a tendency to think computers can be dangerous to a certain degree. And I can tell you as someone who builds software for other humans to consume that there's some truth to this. Whether it's the big iMac you work on every week or the small mobile computer by your side all day long. Computers are not native to the true human experience.

They were designed to help us create efficiencies, like all technology. And now they've evolved into something that is a lot of power in our world. They create addiction. They create dependency. They create habits. And sometimes we choose that. So I'm not saying that, you know, computers are just evil and destructive because they are extremely valuable and they do create a lot of efficiencies.

But I think we need to be cautious of how much time we spend with computers. That's the main takeaway there.

A primary example is burnout. You've probably heard this before. It's becoming more common and prevalent a shared topic in the tech world, at least. Many people in non-physical roles like software can experience burnout.

It's it's quite easy, actually. I'm a prime example. A few years ago, I experienced my first dose of burnout followed by several others that were just months apart. And let me tell you, this is not a nice experience. For me, the summary is like, feeling like a vegetable where your mind just kind of shuts down from too much mental processes.

It doesn't know how to handle the overload of stress and anxiety. And so it attacks your nervous system and you basically become a pretty numb human for awhile. Where you're not inspired or excited to do much, you really just want to sit. And it, it was even hard for me to think in these periods, which lasts three, four days at a time.

So the key insight there is that it's easy for this to happen with digital work. You know, our minds will take on a lot. They can take on a lot more than our bodies from my experience.

On the contrary, your body will generally prevent you from physical work burnout. It's much harder to reach that limit. Your bones, your muscles will start to really speak to you and be like, yo, I've had enough. Like we better sit down or you're going to throw your back out, you know? And I just don't feel like our minds are as capable of knowing those limits. Because again, with my experiences of burnout, it just happened like that. I wasn't able to really feel it coming. It was a switch. And then boom. Completely different state.

So I hope that's helpful in some way. The closing thoughts I have around this topic are that we all have a unique mix of physical versus digital work in our lives.

It's kind of hard to be only one or the other. Like if you're a farmer, for example, you still are probably using computers to do some type of management for your business or your crops or how you work deals, et cetera. And then in technology you know, even if you're the CEO of a software company or the CTO or a, or a lead engineer, where it's your job to be on computers and to operate them, you can still find a way to take walks and do things to offset this.

So I don't want to leave you with a thought that, oh, you shouldn't be doing digital work or you shouldn't be doing physical. If you think that way, you're probably going to find yourself thinking of the opposite shortly. Whereas I think they can live harmoniously.

I'm in a season where I'm spending more time on physical work. It gives me better energy and awareness of what's true to the human experience. That's what I get out of it, which I really, really appreciate right now. And so if anything, I just think we can, we can become more intentional about figuring out the combo that works for us and then optimize that.

And so I'm going to leave you with a question and that's, what's your distribution of physical versus digital work? Until next time.

Wow, you are in for real treat. This is bonus time. This is the first time I've ever recorded. Or this is the first time I've ever added additional recording after being done with what I intended to share, because I kid you not. I walk out of my office back downstairs and my four year old daughter, Sepia is sitting on the couch with a wrench and a screwdriver, trying to get a container open. I can only presume that she heard a bit of this and I was inspired to go do some physical work. Or at least that's the story I'm going to tell myself.

So I thought that was just a beautiful way to add a little bit of bonus material here and share with you.

Ali Jafarian

Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.

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