I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time and my attempts to manage it. One thing is that I realize that I don’t really relax at all. I have times where I’m not working but they generally fall into three categories
- I’m procrastinating because I’m so anxious that I’m having trouble making myself work
- I’m exhausted and have resigned myself to distraction until I’m capable of working again
- I’m exhausted and I’m still trying to push myself but I’m just staring at the emacs window unthinking
No matter what, I’m hating myself for the fact that I’m not working as hard as possible. There’s no point at which I tend to stop and think “hey, I’ve done enough today so maybe I’ll do something fun”. I’ve written a little about the topic before, but that was me first identifying the problem. I’ve been doing more reflecting on it because I realized that I’ve been hitting the point of burnout again where my productivity per hour has been dropping very low. That’s why I actually have taken today as a real day off, because I’m trying to avoid it getting to the dark there’s-no-way-out place that comes with total burnout.
The way I see it, there’s two things that need to be corrected: giving myself more deliberate time off and removing some of the unconstructive forms of procrastination. I say unproductive procrastination because it’s not anything that I truly find relaxing or helpful, just an occupier of time. When I was younger video games played that role, but these days it’s generally social media or reading blogs. The problem with something like twitter or tumblr is that you can pretty much just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, consuming all the jokes, all the news, all the tremendous horror that happens daily in the world, and you can consume without ever really processing. This isn’t a rant against social media, because I think it’s an amazing and exciting phenomenon, but I’ve found that it can be a way of mindlessly feeling like I’m learning new things or entertaining myself even when I can’t remember any of what I’ve read more than an hour later. That’s what I mean by “consuming without processing”. It’s like drinking diet soda and calling it a meal. It momentarily provides fullness without providing any nutrition. If I’m going to spend time online, I want it to be in an active and engaged way, and not in a half-conscious daze. I don’t know how common this experience is, but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed in myself lately. It would be best if I never had to procrastinate out of anxiety, but when I can’t overcome my anxiety I want to spend it actually consuming something I enjoy or doing some kind of light work such as cooking or cleaning. I want to do something that leaves me actually feeling relaxed or at the very least helps my household.
I agree, modulo some reservations, with this essay on burnout I saw on the beeminder mailing list. I think being burnt out is, in part, caused by not getting to spend time on things you care about and find satisfying. I know one of the things I struggle with is having the energy to be able to work on the things that excite me. In order to get that energy back, I need time for my brain to really recharge. Recharging, for me at least, often means having quiet and disconnected time. Not necessarily alone, but if I’m with people I need to be allowed to turn off my typical “I need to wait on everyone hand and foot because their happiness is the entirety of my existence” mode. That’s not even an exaggeration, by the way. For years, one of my partners has called me a border collie because of my insatiable need to Do Something to make everyone happy. Sometimes I can let myself actually relax and not worry about the people around me and sometimes I just need to go off by myself in order to calm down. It also means that I need to cut myself off of the internet so that I’m not consuming without processing.
So what are activities that count as rest? Well here’s a list I came up with for myself.
- reading fiction
- having drinks with friends
- watching a movie I like
- board games
- letting my mind wander
- taking walks > 2-3 miles
- watching my partner play videogames (no, really)
- short bursts of cleaning (20/10 UFYH style)
- reading/writing poetry
- listening to music with headphones on
Then what are activities that are unproductive procrastination? I think my list would be something like
- infinite scrolling through social media
- playing a video game for longer than 20-30 minutes at a time (there’s a few exceptions, such as Earthbound or FF6 that I’ve played dozens of times so that it’s almost meditative)
- marathoning tv series
- putting on movies that I don’t care about just for noise
- binge reading webcomics
Well I guess something interesting that came from making that list, that I hadn’t really noticed before, is that most of my unproductive procrastination involves things that don’t have a definite end, that is activities that can just keep going and going for hours potentially. Given the particulars of my mental disability, I think the connection is that they’re all things that can be done in a state of dissociation and numbness. In hindsight, that makes sense since my unproductive procrastination is usually correlated with missing time. I guess the struggle for me, then, is to find a way to stay present enough that I don’t sink into the dissociation.
I think in the future I’m going to try and stay as cognisant as possible about the things that are normally unproductive and, when possible, set timers for myself to make sure that I don’t just sink into numbness.