A reminder….getting stuff done isn’t everything in life.
I’ve been sick for over a week. Without getting too graphic, I’ve been having sinus trouble that’s been causing me to have a nasty cough. There are times during the day when I stop coughing for a few hours, and I think that I’m getting better, but it hasn’t lasted. I’ve tried everything that I can think of to try to cure my problem, or at least bring me relief. Some things help for a short time, but nothing has been permanent, obviously.
I’m a fan of herbal and home remedies, if you have’t noticed. I’d rather use something natural or chemical-free to fix my ailments, whenever possible. So, I’ve been using a plethora of products and methods. I have some herbal drops that I’ve been using to make tea, things with names like “Sinus & Lung Blaster.” I also sat the other night with my head hanging over a bowl of boiled water with eucalyptus oil under a mini-tent created by a sarong. Yes, I’ve been using the neti pot. And when all else has failed, I’ve even taken Mucinex. The thing is, unless I’m constantly drinking some beverage or other, sooner or later the stuff from my sinuses that’s ending up in my throat makes me cough. I’m well hydrated.
The other thing that stops the coughing is being asleep. I’m not having any trouble with being tired; I’m exhausted from all the coughing and running to the bathroom to return all the water and tea I’ve been drinking. The problem is balancing my desire for relief from both the coughing and the exhaustion with my previous and well documented insomnia problems.
This evening, I screwed up. I just couldn’t help it, and I couldn’t take it anymore. As soon as I got home from work, I went straight to bed. I really couldn’t help it, though. And it was delicious. I slept so good, and I wasn’t coughing. Even when I woke up, for a little while, I just laid there, and felt better than I’ve felt in over a week. Mr. Darcy, my cat, even came and laid next to me and purred for a little while I scratched behind his ears. It was cozy, and nice, and everything good.
The problem is, I only slept for three hours. And now here it is, 1 a.m. and I’m awake.
Because as an insomniac, the last thing I should ever do is take a nap after work, or nap for longer than 25 minutes ever. And I know this. And I did it anyway.
I should be going to bed every night at the same time, and getting up in the morning at the same time. I should follow the same routine every night before bed. I should never sit on my bed, or do anything on my bed, except for bed stuff. I should avoid caffeine after three in the afternoon. I should never drink alcohol. I know how helpful sleep medication can be, but habit forming, and I know the pitfalls of relying on them. I know that vanilla, chamomile, and lavender can make you drowsy. I know to turn off my electronics at least half an hour before I try to go to sleep.
I know all these rules. I live by these rules. I know the consequences of not following these rules. I also know the effects of sleep deprivation all too well. And I know there’s less of a chance that my immune system will be able to evict whatever is causing this sinus problem without proper sleep. In short, I know better.
But god damn was that nap worth it!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pee for the 500th time today, and then I’m going to try to find something really boring to read.
I don’t know that I necessarily want to get into doing a QOTD type thing, but here’s a quote I found, and it’s lovely for today.
For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of—to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk with the sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless….Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by. Her horizon seemed to her limitless.
– Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
I hope you enjoyed that. I found it to be a wonderful description of what’s possible by letting go and being present. Living in this precise moment is more expansive than one might realize, if you can manage it.
Do you ever have that thing where you have too many good ideas? Or at least, a lot of ideas that seem good, if only you could do them all. If only I did not have to go to my job, or see my friends ever, or take my cat to the vet, I would be able to write all these stories and make all these YouTube videos and post all these blogs. My studies would be going so much faster, and I could write that program that would do that thing.
Why can’t I just be unemployed and unloved? It would be perfect!
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was Mara talking right there.
Okay, not exactly Mara, but maybe you know what I mean. That’s the path away from reality and into a cyclical self-created drama that only exists in my head.
The thing is, time is finite. When I leave this world, whenever that is, there will be a lot of things that I won’t have done that I would like to. That happens to everyone.
And then I got this stupid cold, and I feel like such a slacker because I slept and read books instead of studying and writing. I need to stop that. That’s ridiculous. I’m human. And right here, right now, I’m a sick human, and that means I have to slow down and take care of myself.
I don’t know why I drive myself so hard sometimes, but I do know that it’s counterproductive. Sometimes the reason why I don’t do things is because I’m so stymied by the feeling that I need to be creating things and doing useful things at all times. I get so attached to that idea that it stops me in my tracks and I don’t do anything. It’s part of my procrastination problem. I want to do everything, and make everything, but I can’t, so I don’t even get started, and I don’t even try. And then I feel guilty, which leads me right back to the beginning, and where I’m doing nothing but staring at Facebook for hours and feeling bad at myself.
But Facebook isn’t really the thing. I mean, it’s distracting, and it’s designed to be distracting, but the distraction isn’t the problem. The problem is being too much of a damn perfectionist, and expecting too much of myself and believing somehow that I’m not doing enough or being enough. I am enough. I am doing enough. The words I write today are enough. The code I figure out is enough. The chords I learn are enough.
And just sitting here coughing and reading books is enough.
I am already who I’m supposed to be, and I don’t have to do anything more than what I do.
So, that’s my brain dump for the day. It’s a mess, and it probably doesn’t make any sense, and it’s brilliant, and perfect, and exactly right.
To say that 2014-to-date has been challenging for me so far I think is a bit of an understatement. I had an accident while playing soccer. On March 2nd, I broke my leg. It was a tibial plateau fracture. (Do yourself a favor, and don’t Google that. Just trust me.)
The thing was, at the time, I was probably in the best shape of my whole life. I was training for a half-marathon. The day before I broke my leg, I ran eleven miles. I was running three or five days, taking a dance class or two, weight training, and playing soccer every week. I even had a trainer I was working with. I was probably in better shape then that time I decided it was a good idea to do bootcamp classes three times every week for about six months. (Side note: Watch this video, because it’s ridiculous, and realize that their form isn’t very good:
The thing that I really loved most about running was that it was meditative. I would get into a good rhythm, and then it was just right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. I was present, and mindful in my body with each step, particularly at the longer distances. I was focused on breathing, and listening to my own rhythm. It was a really great way to be in touch with my body and mind. It had a tremendous effect on my self-esteem, and general well-being.
I had set out to do a half-marathon, because it just seemed like a thing that people did, especially a lot of people in the fitness and outdoors obsessed San Francisco Bay Area. But after I conquered that 11-mile run, I felt like the half-marathon was going to be easy, and perhaps too easy. I was already thinking that I might have to try a full marathon after that. I surprised myself with my ability. I wasn’t very fast, but I could go-go-go.
It only took a split second for that idea to come crashing down. A much bigger dude than me and I decided that one of us was going to get to the ball first. What actually happened was that his knee made contact with my shin about an inch below my knee-cap. I spent the evening in the emergency room, and the next six-and-a-half weeks on crutches.
While I was laid up, I thought I would get so much stuff done, and be so productive. I have nothing but time. I thought I’d write like a fiend. It was around this time that I started thinking seriously about starting the YouTube channel. I thought I would study French, play my guitar, learn to code. Really, though, I was just in a grumpy and lazy place. What I really did was watch a lot of documentaries on NetFlix. My patience was already tested, and I didn’t have any left for working on any of my projects. Truthfully, I was probably missing out on the rhythm of my running.
When I finally got off the crutches, this is what walking looked like:
Of course, then to add insult to my injury, about a month ago, I got shingles.
I’ve been in physical therapy up until Thursday, when I finally graduated, but I still have a long time to go before I’m fully recovered. I may no longer be taking those first wobbly baby steps, but I can’t run more than a tenth of a mile at a time right now. I have a very regimented rehab program that I am on, and it will be months before I’m able to run more than a mile or two at a time. The hardest part is taking it slowly. I just want to run so bad.
Things are looking up. I am feeling a lot better. I know that I will be able to run the way I did before, in time. But it has been a helluva year, and it’s taken a lot out of me. I am impressed with how I’ve bounced back, but it hasn’t been easy.
I will get back to where I was, though. I will run a half-marathon. And after that, maybe a full.
If you remember from last time, I went over some tips and techniques for beating a procrastination problem.
I have to say that in the weeks since I decided that I really wanted to do something about this problem, I have gotten a lot more done. I’ve been more consistent in studying my programming, and in writing. I started that YouTube channel, which I think falls under the category of writing. I feel more productive, and I think that is having a positive effect on my mood in general. I’ve also become very protective of my time.
When I set out to do research on beating procrastination, I discovered that there are a lot of tools that are available to help a person be more productive and manage their time. I want to share some with you, because some of them have changed my life. Since I am a Mac computer user, a lot of the computer apps are geared towards Apple. That being said, I don’t own an iPhone, so I’m not completely biased.
Notes and Lists and Things
The first thing I found that has really been helping me out is Evernote. They have a desktop app, a website, a tablet, and a phone app. (Yep, even for Android.) The thing that is so great about Evernote is its versatility. You can make into almost anything you need it to be. It can be your calendar, your contacts, a notebook for saving ideas, and probably a dozen other things that I haven’t even thought of yet. It even has the ability in the phone app to do voice notes, if you can’t stop to type it in. It has a structure where you create notes, which can be saved under notebooks, and those notebooks can be stacked. There’s a ton of tutorials on YouTube for the different ways that people use it. I may do one of my own.
I have mine set up in two basic ways. First there’s the to-do lists. I’ve always been against the idea of a to-do list, but somehow being able to set it up my own way in Evernote has really made it more bearable. There are four of them, Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and This Year. Every day, I write a list of the things I want to get done. For today, I had blog, laundry, and study. (Blog…check.) It even lets you format with little check boxes, so you can check things off when you’ve completed them.
Then I also make a list for what I think I want to work on tomorrow. And then that all sort of rolls up into a weekly to-do list, that looks like this:
So, if I know that I want to study twice per week, then I know I have to put it on this list for today and for tomorrow. I also like to keep in mind any events or plans I have. If I’m going on vacation, I’ll put less on the list, and not over commit.
The other section I set up in Evernote is basically just a bunch of organized notes. It’s my repository for ideas and things I want to remember. When I’m at work, I log into their website to take notes in meetings, and write to-do lists. I have one long ongoing list of notes from every meeting I have with my boss. I have a list of blogs that I want to read later, ideas for future blogs I want to write, ideas for future YouTube videos, short story ideas, novel ideas, study notes, awesome sentences I thought of or overheard that might make be a great first sentence of a story, a list of websites for things I might want to do on my next vacation, so many tiny houses, and for some reason, a single note with a url for this.
Evernote is great, because you can bend it to your will. But if your problem is willpower, then these next two apps could be helpful, Freedom and Self-Control. Freedom is an app that makes it impossible for your computer to login to the internet for a set amount of time. I hear that Michael Chabon uses it when he’s writing. This is great for me if I’m working on just writing a story, but not so great if I’m doing my online Python class, which of course requires me to be on the internet. That’s where Self-Control comes in handy. It’s very similar to Freedom, in that it limits your internet and has a timer, but it works with a blacklist. You basically add the sites that you find yourself being distracted by, like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, but you can still get to the rest of the internet. I like to break my work periods up into 45 minute chunks. I mentioned the Pomodoro Technique last time, and yes, there’s an app for that, too. Although I haven’t tried it.
There’s also another app that I haven’t tried, which I may. It’s called Habit RPG. It basically turns your daily tasks and productivity into a video game. You get points for checking things off of your to-do list, and achieving goals. I read about it in this article on Lifehacker, which was all about how to “gamify” your productivity. Gamification is huge right now.
Those are all some really great positive reinforcements, but like I’ve mentioned, I’m pretty highly motivated by negative reinforcement, mostly by way of fear of public embarrassment. This is where the website stickK comes into play. stickK is a website where you can set a goal, make a commitment to follow through with that goal, and if you don’t, there’s a consequence. There’s a lot of options on the site for what the consequence might be, and they’re optional. However, one of the more popular features of the site is that you can set as your consequence that a certain amount of money will be donated to an anti-charity of your choice, should you not meet your commitment.
This is where it gets good, and you get to cheer me on or root against me!
Since one of my Big Life Goals is to write a novel, I need to be writing more, like a lot more. Not just on my novel, but in general. It’s a muscle that needs exercising. So, for the next six weeks, I commit to writing at least one blog post of 300 words or more per week. Linking to an article with a three sentence summary of my feelings on it won’t count. Pictures of my cat won’t count. YouTube videos won’t count.
And for any week that I don’t do it, $10 is going to be donated to the NRA in my name. Now, how’s that for some motivation?
If you want to cheer me or jeer me, click here to follow.
What about you?
Do you have any tools or apps that you use to keep yourself on task? Do you have a specific way of setting up Evernote that helps you stay productive?
Do you think I’m crazy for even risking donating to the NRA? Are you pissed that I would choose the NRA as my “anti-charity” and have a lot of things to tell me about your Second Amendment rights?
Leave your comments and questions below! Just sayin’
If you remember from last time, here were my stated big life goals:
- Learn to stop procrastinating
- Write a novel
- Learn to code
- Learn to play guitar
- Become fluent in French
And I put stop procrastinating at the top of the list, because until I concur that one, the others are going to be much more difficult to pull off.
I began doing some more research on procrastination, looking for advice, research, and tools that would help me curb the habit. It turns out, not surprisingly, that the internet has a lot to say about this. I’ve had a lot to read, and some YouTube videos to watch, and this is what I’ve found to be most relevant and helpful to me. It may not be what’s best for you. Also, if you’re reading this, and you have a technique that you want to share, there’s a comment section for that, and I hope you’ll use it. I want to help as many of you out there as possible.
But first, a little humor from The Onion about what I’m trying to do here with this whole ‘Big Life Goals’ project:
“Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed.”
It’s easy to get discouraged; I’ve spent long periods of time feeling like I don’t have the emotional energy to work on my own stuff after putting in 40+ hours a week doing someone else’s stuff for the paycheck that pays for my life, because my stuff isn’t making me a dime. Writing is something I truly love to do, and it’s not physically tasking, but it’s still exhausting. So my first piece of anti-procrastinating advice is this:
Take a nap
I didn’t read this one on the internet anywhere; I came up with it all on my own. (Which is of course, not to say that no one else said it on the internet, for the internet is vast, and I have not read all of it…yet.) If you feel like you should or want to do something, but you’re lagging and drowsy, and you just can’t get yourself motivated, do what the college kids do, and take a snooze break. It’s important, however, that you time yourself. If you sleep too long, you won’t go to bed at night, and you’ll spend the rest of the day, at work or school or wherever you spend your days, feeling all cracked out and tense, and then the cycle just repeats itself. You’ll come home in the evening, and you’ll just be too tired to sit down and write, or program, or practice French. Whatever it is that you’ve decided you’d like to do with yourself in your lifetime.
Have a snack
This goes along with the nap. If you want your brain to work, you need to give it fuel. If you give yourself a little bit of a snack, your brain will be ready to focus, and a grumbling stomach will be one less distraction. I’m typing this with an ice cream sandwich in my hand.
Turn off Facebook
Or Tumblr, or Twitter, or YouTube, or whatever your go to time suck is. I am not proud of myself, but I am fairly addicted to Facebook. I want to go on there and be the first person to post the most witty reply to everything my friends post. It’s silly. It’s not making the world a better place. And to top it off, studies show that spending time on Facebook actually makes you lonely. If you’re like me, and you almost can’t help yourself from opening the page, there are apps for that, and I’ll go over them in my next installment, where I’ll talk about all the tools that can help you procrastinate less and be more productive.
Break it Up
This came up in the comments of the last post, and it’s the most frequent advice you’ll see anywhere when you start researching procrastination. It’s highly unlikely that you can write a novel, learn an entire coding language, or master an instrument in a single sitting, as I said before. So the thing to do is to break your goals into a series of smaller goals. Study one chapter in a Python book. Have one conversation in French with your cat. (Je parle francais a mon chat.) Write 300 words of your novel. Even this blog post is a good example of this. I was originally going to write one single post about all this Life Goals and Procrastination stuff, but it proved to be just too much for me to take on all at once, so I kept not doing it. Once I decided to break it up, it became a lot easier. Writing a whole novel is such a huge project that it seems almost impossible to even conceive. Writing 300 words? I can do that while standing on my head.
Write a List
I have always been, deep in my soul, anti-to-do-list. To-do lists, I’ve always thought, took the spontaneity and fun out of life. And who ever actually pays any attention to them once they’ve written them? You put all this stuff on the list, and then you do everything that’s not on it. What I’ve started doing is keeping four to-do lists. One for today, one for tomorrow, one for the week, and one for the year. I decide what’s possible to get done today, and anything and everything I want to do today is on it. If I think of something throughout the day that needs doing, I’ll add it to the list, or if I can’t do it today, I’ll put it on tomorrow’s. That way there’s no stress about forgetting it, and it’s not distracting me. I also try to predict what I’ll have time to do tomorrow. I keep my eye on my calendar, so that if I know I have social engagements or what have you, I put less stuff on my list for that day. The week list has everything I hope to get done by the end of the week. If I want to write three times this week, I’ll put it on the list three times. Then when I’m making out my today and tomorrow lists, I try to make sure I keep track of how many of each of those I do. The year list is things that I may not be able to do this week, but I want to keep track of down the line.
Here’s a cool YouTube video about lists:
Have a Notebook
Whether it’s online, or in an app, or physically a pen and paper old-school notebook, you should have a place to put down your random ideas, questions, and thoughts. You want to deposit them somewhere so that you know you can come back to them later, and that you won’t forget. If you are in the middle of learning a new song on guitar, and suddenly the question “how do armadillos breed?” pops into your head, what you don’t want to do is open up Google right then and there, because the next thing you know, you’ll be down the rabbit hole, clicking from link to link, and deeper and deeper into the internet.
I see a lot of suggestions out there about charts or calendars. Mark off or add a gold star each day that you do some work toward your goal or project. If you see the stars adding up for days in a row, it’ll motivate you to keep doing it. You won’t want to break the chain, and end the good vibes of self-esteem you’re getting for accomplishing it. For some people, promising themselves gifts when they reach certain benchmarks could also be motivational. “Once I’ve finished the first half of my novel, I’ll buy myself a shiny new soap dish!”
I believe I’ve said before that the fear of public embarrassment is highly motivating for me. I would finally sit down to write my paper on the day it was due, because I couldn’t face what the teacher might say if I didn’t turn it in, let alone what anyone else would say when they saw my poor grades. I learned musical parts right before shows, because I didn’t want to get up in front of an audience and make a huge mistake. So some sort of negative consequence could be helpful to keep you on track. It’s probably best to combine this with a positive reinforcement.
Prioritize Goofing Off
It’s not really feasible to be a 24/7 productivity machine. Or even if it is, it doesn’t sound like much fun. I know that I do a much better job of getting things done, if I know that there will be a chance to do something less taxing later. So, on my daily to-do list, I may have “study Python for 45 minutes” but I also have, “watch Monty Python”. There’s also techniques, like the Pomodoro Technique where you break up tasks into 25 minute chunks with 5 minute breaks in-between to goof off.
This, of course, is not the end of this series, but it’s a good place to stop for today, while I go accomplish something else on my to-do list. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I think I’ll go over some of the tools I’ve been using to help curb my procrastination. And here’s some links for more reading:
Links to More Ideas About Beating Procrastination (Not Comprehensive)
And, seriously, if you have any suggestions about procrastination beating tips and tricks, post below. I love comments!
I just got a new one, and I am feeling a desire to catalog them. For the entire world. On the internet. I’ll just go ahed and tag this one “stalker bait”.
What? I can’t always be deep.