Productivity Stress

In January, I wrote about how I more clearly understood my need for recharge time after being around people.  My recharge time typically would involve just sitting around on the couch lazing around, using my phone, not really doing anything “productive”.

I say “productive” because it is productive to me as I need the recharge time to continue so I am gaining something positive from it, but from the outside it looks like I’m just wasting my time.  However, I decided to try to be more actively “productive” by working on projects or reading more often.  This was part of the reason I decided to do a challenge every month.  In addition, I decided to finally go through two books I had bought in 2011/2012 – Seven Languages in Seven Weeks and Seven Databases in Seven Weeks.

I am very motivated by lists and can tend to feel (overly and unnecessarily) like I failed if I don’t complete lists that I give time restrictions to, so I tracked these productivity projects in my planner, written on specific days, with little checkboxes that I had to check off.  I figured this would give me the motivation to do everything.

January, February, and March, I decided on challenges that required me to do something daily (daily yoga video, daily donation, daily wiki page).  It started off okay – the daily yoga video was a structured 30-day challenge so I didn’t need to make any decisions other than deciding what time of day I should fit it into.  We went on a short weekend trip, but I was still able to do the daily video while on the trip, so I got through it pretty smoothly.

February started to get a bit more stressful.  Before starting the month, I had already made a list of potential places I could donate to, and also asked for suggestions on Facebook.  I wanted to write a bit about all of them in Facebook posts, and especially for ones that I had a specific connection to, give more information about them and donate to them on relevant dates (for instance, donating to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) on Rare Disease Day).  Even though I had a pre-made list, it has hard for me to decided which donations should go on which days – sometimes I spent up to an hour trying to decide on a donation because I knew I couldn’t get through all of the ones on my list in the month, and I wanted to prioritize ones that I felt were more important to me.  I also stressed myself out because typically after work I want to just relax and sit on the couch and just browse Reddit or play some games, but I had to make sure to do my donation and post before midnight in order to do it on that exact date.

March I actually got behind on reading some of the daily wiki pages.  I read the ones featured by Wikipedia each day, and sometimes the topics were just very boring to me (you should read about Ferugliotherium and their teeth).  Since I wasn’t doing anything public about them like a daily Facebook post, I actually felt less stressed about being behind, and would just catch up on them a day or two later.  Here I discovered how much being publicly accountable for things puts stress and motivation on me – not just in situations where it’s my responsibility and people are depending on me such as at work, which I knew about before, but even where I just arbitrarily gave myself some public deadline and no one else even knew or gave a shit about it.

Having discovered this, I decided to give myself a much more relaxed April challenge – each week, restart a conversation with an old friend, and also send a postcard to a friend.  That was definitely less stressful… but remember the two books above that I also decided to finally get through?  I decided to start the Seven Languages book in February.  Each language involves a short intro, 3 days of info + homework, and a short wrap-up.  I split these into 3 days a week (intro + day 1, day 2, day 3 + wrap-up) and slotted them into days we don’t go to the gym.  I got through Seven Languages smoothly, and Seven Databases started off pretty smoothly…

But then this month (April) we went on a 5-day trip where I did not do any of the book at all.  Of course after being on a trip I needed recharge time, but we came back in the middle of the week so I had to go straight back to work the next day and didn’t get the full relaxing I needed.  Instead, did the relaxing after work and put off catching up on the Seven Databases book… and it just got put off further and further.  I got really stressed and anxious and panicky – the last few days were not pretty.  Seeing the empty checkboxes and having visual confirmation that I was very behind on things (there were other month tasks I was behind on too because of the trip) put a lot of pressure on me, and the more anxious and panicky I got the less I felt like doing any of it so I wasn’t even slowly catching up.

Slowly though I’m getting my previous tasks done… today, 15 days after we left for the trip, I am finally caught up on the Seven Databases book up to the point I had pre-planned to.  I still have other things I’m behind on though.  I’m trying to get over putting so much pressure on myself for these things – it’s not that big of a deal!  I literally just made up the dates I wanted to do them on!  It’s okay to be behind!

I’m trying to find a balance – lists definitely get me to do things (no list is just me sitting around thinking about the things I should probably do), but too much listing stresses me out a lot.  I think part of it is that I’m using a pre-made year-long planner, and I fill it out a month at a time – one of my weekly tasks (that I am going to be behind on because I was supposed to do it today but I need to go to bed soon) is, on the last weekend of the month, to fill out the monthly challenge and monthly tasks for the next month.  However, this means that if anything comes up and is unexpected, it throws up to an entire month off and gets me stressed about being behind and not checking off all the little checkboxes.

I’m still using this planner because I went and bought a customized one with my name on it so I feel like I need to use it entirely to get my full worth out of it.  But on the side I am also using a separate blank notebook to do some bullet journal trackers – after this planner is done with (omg it feels like so far away, 8 more months…) I’m going to switch fully over to the blank notebook and do more of the bullet journal system for daily planning.  From the ways I’ve seen people do it, I’ve tried to think of a system that would work for me, and I think I will have a yearly summary page, where I can put dates and tasks that come up and have a deadline in future months.  This will just be a general aggregate page.  Then when a month is coming up, I will create a monthly summary page, where I migrate the dates/tasks for that month from the yearly summary, and can also add more dates/tasks as they come up in the month.  Then I will have a weekly spread as a week comes up, where I migrate dates/tasks from the monthly summary, and actually put down per day of the week the tasks I will do on those days, with checkboxes.  If things don’t get done in a week, I’ll migrate them to the next week and mark them as “resolved” – that way even if it’s not done I don’t feel like it’s unaccounted for and I need to keep going back and stressing about it.  Hopefully this way I’ll only have one weekly spread I need to look at at a time, and I don’t pre-schedule things too far ahead and stress myself out.

This was very long.  I’ll be honest, I just wrote this because one of my monthly tasks that I’m behind on is to write a blog post once a month, and it’s coming up very close to the end of April.  Luckily this also made me a bit less stressed out though, especially writing out how I’m planning on using a bullet journal to solve the stress I’m putting on myself.  Also I am definitely now more convinced that I really need that time just sitting around on the couch, and am going to try to stop stressing that I’m “wasting time” when I use that relaxation time.

Anyway, that’s the end of my brain dump.

What Makes Me Happy?

I decided to do a Year in Pixels for 2018 (basically a daily mood tracker), and just finished up January:

It’s a bit hard to figure out the dates, because I had deliberately not put months/days to keep it cleaner.  I may add them later though; it’s getting annoying to count them out to double check the date.

I also did one for Jack:

There was a weekend that we were in Tahoe (the large green chunk in my tracker), and when I asked Jack for his mood to fill his in, it seemed a bit like he was just saying he was happy because he felt like he had to since he spent the weekend on a trip with me (something that he denies).  It made me think about the days I was marking as happy, and I realized that I didn’t necessarily actually feel happy.  I was doing things that I wanted to do, on a trip having fun, and it felt like I should feel happy, so I had marked those as happy.  But I realized I didn’t really feel that much happier than a normal day – to be honest, all of those happy days were probably really neutral days.

So in reality, my month was pretty much just chugging along and being pretty meh the whole time.

After we got back from Tahoe, I tried to think of things that actually made me feel happy, and this is what I had come up with at the time:

  • Cat snuggles
  • Skiing amongst trees
  • Going to Penguins games
  • Sleeping in
  • Snuggles

Cat snuggles, sleeping in, and snuggles are pretty passive and more about just relaxing – I think it would probably be more appropriate to say that I am content in those cases, rather than happy.

Skiing amongst trees was something I only remembered because we had just gone skiing; it made me think of one time years ago in Idaho when I was skiing somewhere further away from the more popular runs, and for some reason I was by myself.  This was many many years ago, probably middle school, and the Lord of the Rings movies were very new.  It was just me skiing in an area where the path was narrower and there were more dense trees around, and in my head I just heard Lord of the Rings music.  I had a sense of wonderment, and felt very calm and connected, just surrounded by nature.

Going to Penguins games is something I can definitely say makes me very happy.  It’s really exciting to be at the game watching everything happen.  It’s a lot of fun to be around everyone else cheering or booing along with you, with no obligation to actually talk to any of them.  Even though I have to be around large crowds of people, the excitement and happiness outweighs the feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted, and the lack of actual interaction with strangers is relieving to me.

I figure I should probably try to do more things that make me happy, after this very blah January retrospective, so I asked Jack what makes him happy and what he thinks makes me happy.

For Jack, he is happy playing games, especially with friends.  He is also happy when he drinks and plays games with friends, or drinks and talks about thought-provoking topics with friends.  Personally, hanging out with friends is fun for me, but I think it’s overall more neutral than happy because being around people, paying attention to so many conversations and reactions and anticipating if people need something (especially when we’re hosting) or watching out for when people are done with things so I can clean and get them out of the way (when hosting) makes me exhausted, and I need recovery time afterward to just stay in and not do anything.

The only new thing we could come up with that makes me happy was eating good food.  However this is not very practical to do often, as all the instances of good food where I was very happy were expensive fancy places.

In writing this and reading back through it, I think I’ve found the disconnect between when I have fun and when I’m happy.  Having fun for me is something that is very in-the-moment, but there are consequences to the fun, especially since being around people drains me.  So I can have a lot of fun but not end up being overall happy, because I’m exhausted and I need recharge time.  The cases where I’m happy are situations where I have fun but don’t get as drained, or where I get recharged (as it seems like being surrounded by nature may do, or just lazing around at home doing nothing).

So perhaps I should not be measuring purely just how happy I am?  It would be a very boring life if I was happy but not also having a lot of fun.  Maybe I should start splitting my tracker to track both mood and level of fun, and keep mood more honest to how I’m feeling overall, but also track when I had moments of fun.

I don’t really have a specific plan to make February more happy, but being aware of fun vs happiness will hopefully help me find ways to increase happiness.

So I guess the answer to what makes me happy is that I don’t know, but I’ll make sure to have fun finding out! (Wow that was so cheesy)