Every month, when I sit down to write my goal post for the upcoming month, I think about how there are probably a lot of people out there who think I’ve completely lost my marbles. I’ll admit it felt weird at first, making a to-do list for my leisure activities & hobbies. In fact, most of the time, I don’t even have anything written down to keep me on-track in any other aspect of my life, but I’ve kept up with Nerd Girl Goals since September of 2019, so more than three years now.
Obviously, it’s a thing that I feel is working for me on some level, even though, most months I don’t come anywhere close to checking off everything on my list. In fact, I pretty regularly refer back to the bulleted list several times throughout the month. Why do I do it? What do I get out of it? Well, the answer is … complicated, as I find it serves multiple purposes for me.
Outsmarting Decision Paralysis & The Punishment Loop
Magi does a pretty good job of explaining decision paralysis in his recent blog post on the topic, but to put it very simply, decision paralysis occurs when someone has too many choices of how to spend their time, money, or energy. And we live in a world that seems almost designed to cause this condition – no matter what it is you might need, want, or think you need or want, there’s likely to be more than a handful of options.
Several years ago, I determined that my number one problem with time management wasn’t a time management problem at all – it was decision paralysis! Since leaving my last job in late 2014, I’ve had more free time than the average adult, and yet I always felt like I got less done, and that what I did manage to get done, whether it be for productivity or leisure, never really felt satisfying. Either I would flit aimlessly from one task to the next, never making much progress in anything, or I would fixate on something that if – for whatever reason – I could not do, would prevent me from doing anything else meaningful.
It was immensely frustrating fairly regularly, and often led to something I like even less than decision paralysis – the dreaded punishment loop. See, if couldn’t focus, or I couldn’t focus on what I perceived to be the right thing, then I would not allow myself to do much of anything else. Nothing productive, nothing relaxing or enjoyable. I basically put myself in a weird mental time out, where only the least satisfying of time-waster tasks were allowed. It was awful.
It took me longer than I care to admit to to realize what I was doing, and even longer still to break that pattern. I still find myself slipping once in a while, but once I recognize the pattern starting to happen, I will often refer to my monthly project list, and find something on there that feels like I can handle it. I tell myself I’ll try the new game I wanted to write about for half an hour, or that I’ll do around 50 stitches on a cross-stitch pattern I’m working on. Usually, it’s enough to break me out of that cycle, even if whatever task I initially choose doesn’t stick.
Having a quick reference of things I want to do – or at the very least, want to get done – often gets me back on track. Where I maybe couldn’t choose from all the various options available to me, I find it far easier to choose one of eight to ten line items.
The Satisfaction of Faux Productivity
So. What do I mean by faux productivity? Well, it’s a crutch I rely on when for whatever reason either my brain or my body won’t allow me to do what it considers to be real work. It’s work that doesn’t actually matter. There’s no consequences for missing a deadline, or ignoring a task, but it does allow for a spark of happy chemicals in the brain for making progress towards a goal.
As someone who struggles with both mental and physical health issues, and is still fighting the programming that tells me that my worth as a person is inherently tied to my productivity, training myself to be satisfied by checking things off on a list that don’t actually need doing has pulled me out of a rut more times than I can count. No one is going to be upset with me if I don’t play that game, write that blog post, or watch that movie I said I was going to. More importantly, I’m not going to be upset with myself. It’s all carrot, no stick; it feels good to do it, but it doesn’t feel bad when I don’t.
Having goals centered around reading books and watching television give me something that feels meaningful on days I can barely get out of bed. Working on this blog and on craft projects give me something concrete I can look at and remind myself that I am doing things, even if they’re not the things society tells me I should be focusing on. It’s okay that these aren’t the things that are valued by the world; they’re things that I find valuable, and most of the time, that’s enough for me.
Sure, I realize that this is just a form of psychological chicanery, but I’m also not about to sabotage something that works when so very many things don’t.
Keeping a Tangible Record of Progress
This is, in a lot of ways, another little mental health trick. Usually, to do lists are destined for the nearest trash can whenever they’re either all checked off or given up on. Instead, I keep mine – digitally, and on the internet, sure, but I can always go back and see what I’ve done.
Time has felt very weird for the past few years, and having a record of how (at least in part) I spent the months that all seem to blend together has kept me grounded. It gives me a small semblance of structure, something that marks the passage of time, and a reference when I get down on myself. In fact, I’ve found it valuable enough that I think if I were to stop blogging for whatever reason, I’d keep something very similar in a journal.
As a bonus, it reminds me to make space and time in my life for things that bring me joy. That it’s okay to have goals that don’t lead to more money, or a cleaner house, or whatever else it is I’m supposed to be striving for. That it is perfectly acceptable to want things just for myself sometimes.
If you are a person who sets goals for yourself around your leisure-time activities, why do you do it? Does anything I talked about here resonate with you, or do you have completely different reasons?
If you aren’t a person who sets these kinds of goals, have you ever considered it? Do you think you might get something from it?
Feel free to respond in the comments, or if you prefer, to talk about this topic in your own space.