For reference, I started this post back on May 5, fully intending to finish it up and post it on on Sunday, May 7th. Which, as I’m sure you guessed, didn’t happen. Nor did I finish it in time for the following Sunday, or the Sunday afterwards.
Now, I’m still managing most of the things that I classify as “must dos” in my life. We’re all fed, and medicated, and wearing clean clothes every day. The bills are paid & while I cannot say that my house is exactly clean, it’s at least not messier than usual. I’m flying through my to-do lists at work. By most metrics, I’m doing okay, maybe even better than okay.
But what I’ve been less successful at is finding space in my life for things that bring me joy. I’m tired, I’ll say. I can do it tomorrow. But tomorrow comes and goes and I make excuses for myself instead of making space for the things that rejuvenate me.
If it’s true that sometimes, you need to spend money to make money – and it is – then it also stands to reason that sometimes, you need to spend time to make time. Now, I’m not 100% sure this is the answer here, but it’s the next thing I want to try.
I’ve tried being completely plan-less when it comes to my leisure activities, and I’ve tried being super-structured. Neither has really done the trick for me. While I have (mostly) accepted that some days need to be more rest-focused, it’s the in-between days that frustrate me the most. When I’m not up to the things I’d most like to be doing, but I could be doing something.
I’m hoping that taking a bit of time to make myself some “low-energy” lists will help. When I feel faded, my ability to make even completely unimportant decisions doesn’t work as well as it should, and I will frequently spend hours trying to decide on a movie, book, or low-pressure game that I can play on my Steam Deck in bed. I’m hoping if I make a list of things I am interested in but don’t require me to be fully present to engage with them, I can just work my way through that list, and funnel a bit of relaxation in with my rest.
One of my least favorite things about being a responsible adult is the sheer amount of things that need doing that always seem to get in the way of the things I most want to do. Jobs, housework, family obligations, all the things we need to do to care for our bodies; it all drains our energy and fills our hours, and most of us are stuck with scraps, trying to cobble together space for the things that rejuvenate us and bring us joy. Some folks are lucky and have a lot of overlap, but the rest of us simply make do through giant swathes of our lives.
But this is a universal problem, and while I could choose to dwell on it, I honestly don’t see the point. When things feel overwhelming and unsustainable, I will usually set my mind on a life tidy, of sorts. Toss out the things that don’t serve, fill the spaces those things leave behind with other things that prove more functional, or at least more satisfying.
What I don’t have the solution for is this: what do I do when the thing that is forever getting in my way is … me? I’ve been in a bit of a slump for awhile now, and the common denominator seems to be that I am stubbornly blocking my own progress. How do I manage my inner mule, that part of me that knows that if I just do the thing I will feel good about it, but that won’t let me start?
Here’s a great example, doubly so because I actually figured the problem out and implemented a solution. I had a cross-stitch project, that I had worked on through about the halfway point, sitting on my desk, untouched for almost two full months. There was nothing I could tell myself that would get my butt into the chair and that thread into my hands. I was bored with all my own excuses for why I couldn’t possibly work on it.
Finally, at the tail end of last month, I talked myself into working on another small project; something that would stitch up fast. I wasn’t sure if, maybe, the hobby had run its course for me, and that was why I was so resistant. But after kitting up something new, I barely put it down until it was done. I still wasn’t sure if that was a fluke, so I did it again, and I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to stitch – I just didn’t want to work on that project anymore.
So, I took it off, the frame, gathered up all the parts, and put it away.
Since then, I’ve done over 7000 stitches. I’ve been sneaking off to my desk to do a little bit of stitching every time I have a spare few minutes. As it turned out, it wasn’t the hobby I was tired of, but rather, the project I’d been attempting to force myself to finish.
While I’m glad to have that problem solved, it has created a new one. My downtime activities are grossly out of balance, and I had been so sure I was finally finding a good rhythm. Now, my donkey-brain keeps telling me that this one thing, that yes, I am enjoying, is the only thing.
My donkey-brain and I are not friends, for the record.
More than 2/3 of the way through the month, and ManicTime tells me I’ve logged less than three hours all month in World of Warcraft. I’ve hardly touched my Steam Deck this month, and the only game I have had more than a passing interest in all month long has been my co-op game night pick, Sun Haven. Including my March wrap-up, this will only be my fifth blog post this month. Instead of moving forward in the direction of finding a better cadence for all things blog-related, it has instead gotten far worse than it had been for the past few months.
Later today, I am going to have a meeting with myself, and I’m not sure how it’s going to go. Perhaps the balance of things is still shifting, but I’m also not loving the feeling that I’m ignoring something that is, in fact, important to me.
With just under a week left of March, I’ve only managed to make three posts this month, and I guess it makes sense. February was a harder – and shorter – month, and it was outrageously backloaded as far as posts were concerned, but I was still deep in distraction-mode. Now, the edges are feeling smoother, but I haven’t quite figured out how to best fit together all the pieces of my changed life.
It would seem that I’ve done the smart thing, and prioritized rest, which is important, but it’s come at the expense of joy and personal fulfillment. Just the past week or so, I’ve started to claw back a little energy for myself. So far, that’s taken shape in the form of more time spent reading, which is a vast improvement from earlier in the month, when all my low-energy time was just squandered away while I was resenting my own exhaustion.
I expect it’ll take at least another month or so before I start to feel like I’ve got a handle on what is – and is no longer – feasible.
I’m not entirely sure that this post even serves a purpose beyond saying “Yes, I am still here. Yes, this still matters.” Because I’d like to find a cadence that works, but I’m still not sure what exactly that is going to look like.
Seriously, it’s okay if you want to skip this one.
February has been particularly difficult this year. On Friday, February 3rd, my step-father had his second stroke in as many weeks and this one he didn’t come back from. It was a sudden death, but not an entirely unexpected one. Over the past several years, he’d been diagnosed with multiple health conditions that were scary enough on their own, but particularly difficult in combination.
Now, my family has never been particularly good at grieving. I always feel weird when I tell people that we don’t do funerals – I have a small family, and we all prefer to do our mourning in private. None of us are religious, or even particularly spiritual. I have no idea if there’s anything after death; many of the belief systems sound as plausible to me as any other. What I do know is that our grief is our own – that people get caught up in their loss, and I firmly believe that I don’t have to share that with anyone unless I want to.
This – by itself – is a lot.
But what makes things infinitely more complicated is that my parents have been running a small business, almost completely alone, for the last 10 or so years. Prior to that, they worked alongside my grandparents, and I have known for a long time that someday, one way or another, it would be mine to deal with as an only child. So, in place of a more traditional form of mourning, my mother and I have thrown ourselves into figuring out how to streamline, organize and simplify the business. It is a process that was vastly overdue to be tackled, but it’s always been so easy to put it off.
While I think that having A Project to focus on has been a boon to my mental health, it’s taken quite a toll on me physically. I have a tendency to downplay the severity of my disabilities, and I’ve been able to do so precisely because I’ve built my entire life around accommodating them. My new responsibilities have interfered with my oh-so-carefully constructed routines and processes to the point where I made myself sick enough that I thought I was going to end up in the hospital myself.
The last couple weeks have been a struggle to recalibrate my energy, and of learning to leave the less important tasks unfinished. We’ve ordered entirely too much take out. I’ve spent a lot of my down time in bed, because I’ve overspent my energy long before the day is over. I’ve had to re-evaluate my definition of the bare minimum.
It’s hard, staring my limitations in the face. I’ve been hiding from them for a long time now.
But I also know it will get easier. This is much like the process of learning (and leaving behind) that happened when I first got sick. I’ll work out new routines. I’ll do my best to meet my body halfway – I know it’ll give me more if I give back in the form of extra rest, even when I’d rather be doing something.
Not everything gets better with time, but most things get easier with repetition.
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.
It seems to me that I’ve read more than once that blog posts made on Sundays tend to get far less interaction than ones that are posted any other day of the week. I think that might actual be part of the reason I decided to schedule this maybe-semi-regular series for Sunday. You see, I’m not entirely sure it belongs here. I’m not entirely sure it belongs anywhere.
I’ve always said that I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, and I don’t, at least not in the strictest sense. I will admit, however, that there’s merit in the concept; there’s something about the surreal nature of the winter holiday season that leaves me craving a major life-tidy just about as soon as they’ve passed. I usually end up channeling a non-insignificant amount of energy into changing something about my behavior or environment that’s been bugging me during the first few months of a new year.
However, 2022 was a particularly difficult year for me personally, and I’m finding the dissatisfaction I’m feeling with the … well, with pretty much everything, actually … is quite strong. It’s left me feeling a more than a little scattered. As someone who best organizes her thoughts through list-making and note-taking, I think maybe this is a reasonable natural progression. Sure, it’s a bit out of my general scope, but I suspect it’ll connect up in some ways as I write my way through.
This isn’t going to be weekly, but every now and then, I will use this space to talk a little bit about something I’m working on in my life. Whether that be about struggles with health issues (both mental and physical), problems with organizational tasks, or figuring out where to cultivate more joy, whatever is on my mind I’m going to try to put down on the page – um, screen.
Outside of Blaugust, I rarely post anything on Sundays, so if you’re here solely for the general nerdery, you won’t be missing anything but some random ramblings by skipping out on these. I’m not 100% sure where I want to go with this series just yet, but I do know that the only way to find out is to begin and the beginning.