I am not a cat person. I don’t understand them, I’m allergic to them, and I think they’re creepy ’cause I can’t hear them move. I don’t think they like me, either, and that was completely fine by me – until I decided to cat sit for my boyfriend’s mother. Even though I am allergic. And the cat’s name is Trixie Stardust.
All that said, after spending some time with Trixie, I’ve learned some surprisingly useful things about productivity:
1. Cat Naps
Naps are wonderful. 20-30 minutes of napping can improve everything from mood to performance – but try telling me that when I’m exhausted and on deadline. As I yawned 2 hours from deadline and prayed for my fingers to type faster, I looked over at Trixie napping on the couch and thought “That looks like a great idea.” I curled up on the opposite side of the couch and did the exact same thing. The cat looked at me for a moment, perplexed, then went right back to sleep. I woke up 20 minutes later with a refreshed brain and felt better than I had all day – and, of course, nailed the deadline. Thanks, cat!
2. Don’t Worry About Unimportant Stuff
Cats have few responsibilities. As I fed, cleaned, and took care of the cat, I noticed that Trixie spent all her time either sleeping or grooming. That made me think that she wasn’t wasting time on things that weren’t important to her. It reminded me not to waste time on stuff that distracted me from my work (Facebook, Twitter, vacuuming after the cat). Also, I don’t have to waste time on the mundane tasks associated with freelancing — billing, email outreach, source notification — if I don’t want to. There are people who can take care of that. Just like how I took care of the cat.
3. Spend Just Enough Time on Everything
I feel like I never spend the right amount of time on anything. From spending too little time searching for gigs to spending too much time researching space technology for a story, I always feel like everything takes too long. The cat has no such qualms. Trixie does everything for just as long as she feels like doing it. Want a petting? Nudge my arm! Want me to stop? Bite me! (that was a narrow miss; I learned to stop sooner after that). Want a nap? Collapse on the couch. Basically, if this cat indicates what she wants when she wants it, then I can do the same. I can spend just enough time researching something, then close the browser window. I can set a timer to research potential leads. The only thing I can’t do is flounce my tail majestically.
4. Trust the Right People
Trixie did not take to me right away. Since I work from home, that meant she had to get used to seeing me all the time – and vacuuming after her, because I am allergic. After a few days of sulky glances, she gloomily accepted me as a sort of walking natural disaster and let me pet her. After that, well:
Turns out that what the cat was really doing was sussing me out. Watching me. Noticing that I fed her, cleaned her box, and petted just when she wanted – even though I broke out the Big Bad Vacuum. Trixie took the time to get to know me by my actions before trusting me, and that’s a great rule of thumb for building any relationship. Itching for a promising new client to respond to your pitch? Wondering if that praise from an eager client is too good to be true? Wait it out. It may seem counterintuitive – especially if you need the work – but the way a client responds to you is more indicative of a working relationship than any amount of glowing praise. Take however long you need to figure someone one out. Protect your space. You can even purr with contentment if you want.
5. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Trixie does the weirdest thing: sometimes, she sits in front of the door and just stares at it. But when I came through that door after making a grocery run, she trotted over to me and purred up a storm. Turns out the cat wasn’t crazy. She was focused on the people who would walk through that door and make her happy. Seeing the cat do that reminds me that I need to keep my own goals in sight be they professional (writing for NASA) or personal (going to the gym 3x a week). I need to stay focused on those goals. Even if it looks super weird.
6. Tell People What You Want
Cats meow in different ways to communicate their needs. I’m learning the difference between Trixie’s “Pay attention to me!” meow (her most common) and her other meows. Particularly the sad ones that make me think we’ve adopted a crying baby. The cat is communicating clearly and telling me what she wants when she wants it. I try to exercise this same skill with clients, and cat-sitting has given me both a good reminder of its importance as well as ample opportunity to practice. Especially with clients who don’t.
7. There’s always an escape route
Trixie hates the vacuum. HATES it. Spins in circles and darts to the furthest end of the apartment whenever I turn it on hates it. The thing that amazes me about her behavior — other than how funny I find it — is that she always finds a new path through the apartment. No matter how many times I shoo her off the couch or away from my desk, Trixie will find a shortcut that I never noticed was there. She’s a regular escape artist — and that reminds me that there’s always an escape route. No matter how trapped I may feel by a client or a gig, or even by being stuck in an apartment with a cat that makes me sneeze, there is always a way out. I just have to look. And, possibly, run away from the vacuum.
I still don’t consider myself a cat person. But I’ve grown to love this little furball. And I think the feeling’s mutual: I’ve woken up more than once to find her purring happily against me. Despite the fact I do things like wake her up to take a picture of her napping because I find her expression hilarious:
I know I shouldn’t love teasing the cat. But, during a break, it really is the most productive use of my time.