Question from a reader -
I have fallen in love with your blog and will be visiting regularly! Thanks for the incredible content. I just finished your blog titled “the evolution of my time/life/habit tracking” and it is awesome!
I consider myself one hell of a problem solver and I am very driven at times but I often find myself being held back by a number of things including financial stress, fear, and alcohol. None of the things I just listed have such a tight grip that I am losing my mind or anything but they do have enough of an impact on my life that I am well aware of how much they are holding me back from my potential. I probably spend 3 to 5 days a week on top of the world, kicking ass tacking names and getting shit done and 3 to 5 days a week being unproductive, stressed out and procrastinating.
I am well aware of the changes that I need to make and I am making them slowly but surely. Don’t get me wrong I am making progress, lots of it, but I am also impatient and that impatience makes it harder for me to accept the fact that getting to where I want to be is going to take a little longer than I would like.
Thanks for the email and the kind words. Please pardon my delayed reply - insane email volume plus lots of work and travel at the same time is a rough combination, and I wanted to write a really thorough reply to this.
Okay, so, your questions/situation.
First, no one - no one - is maxed out all the time. That's part of being human. Unfortunately. You'll have down days after high days. Actually, a person can build a pretty amazing life if they're good like 2 days out of the week, so anything above that and you're really rolling. (Seriously, 8 days a month of lots of production into important tasks is enough to build a great life, once you start getting to 15 days out of the month and more, you wind up accomplishing massively ridiculously a lot)
For me, the biggest thing has been coming to terms with when I'm in "down mode" and just trying to get what I can out of myself on those days. Lately, I've been building up lists of super low level tasks and burning through those on the down days. Stuff like noticing the skin on my hands is quite dry, and making a note to research why next time I have a down day and want something mindless to do. Researching tourist attractions that might be interesting to see. Shopping for gear I need or gifts for people, which tends to be pretty low stress and low pressure.
I used to try to power through when I have a bad day, and sometimes I still do that. It's tricky, it's a judgment call... if you're able to fight and flail around for 4-7 hours, but 2 hours worth of real work out of it, that might be a good deal for you. Or it might not. Sometimes it's better to just say, "Okay, I don't got it today," shrug, and do what you can.
The big thing I'd recommend is looking to make "collapses" shorter and less frequent... a lot of people with high ideals sometimes hit a snag, but then downward spiral into immediate collapse. I used to do that. It's kind of an all or nothing kind of thinking, which high achiever type-A people really risk having happen to them. Like, you're trying to quit or cut back your liquor or whatever, but then you have 3 drinks, so you say screw it and you down 3 bottles of vodka, and puke, and get really sick, and... whatever. The key is to be able to say, "Okay, I've missed my goal and drank too much (or eaten 4 pieces of chocolate cake, or procrastinated all day, or whatever)... but everything still matters. Let's try to get what I can out of myself for the rest of the day, sleep ASAP, and make tomorrow a good day."
Oh - sleep ASAP. That's another one I've found. During really bad days, I try to sleep as early as possible. Or even try to nap. Sometimes a good meal + rehydrating + laying down for an hour or two means you wake up feeling like it's a different day, even if it's the same day. So, that's a good one.
Also, have you ever made a list of your complete grooming? I know that sounds kind of silly, but that's another one I'll sometimes do if I'm in a bad patch. I'll try to literally do everything grooming-related: shower, shave, cut fingernails, cut toenails, do laundry... if any cuts/abrasions/whatever then go buy shea butter/lotion/neosporin/whatever, carefully floss and carefully brush teeth (as opposed to fast brushing/flossing, which is normally what I do, etc). Clean boots/shoes, clean computer bag, clean luggage. Wash sheets, pillowcases, fold everything.
It's really low level stuff, doesn't require willpower, but being and feeling clean is great when you're down. And it's easy to do. And it's all stuff you need to do sooner or later, so do your laundry and cut your nails even if you normally wouldn't need to for a few more days.
All of those help.
Let go of stressing yourself too much when you have down days - it happens, that's life. Just own it and get what you can out of yourself those days. The biggest, most important part is to not completely collapse. The second most important is get what you can out of yourself. It might not be much, but a little bit helps keep momentum going.
Thanks for the email, hope some of this is useful, and apologies for the delayed reply. Regards,
It's funny but the only thing I want to comment on from this post is the 'dry skin' part.
Notice the type of soaps you're using and how often you use them. Liquid soaps and shower gels cause dry skin much more than normal bar soap, I haven't researched why but I've noticed the pattern. So I suggest you try washing your hands with bar soap for a few weeks. Another thing - not all daily showers need to be with a shower gel / soap all over the place. Clean, warm water usually does the work - or if you'd like your feet / armpits / etc. feeling more fresh, just clean these with soap - but not the whole body every day. It's killing your skin's natural ways to deal with dirt and germs.
Also, if you have a problem with dry hands, the easiest, fastest and cheapest solution is glycerin. It's sold in most pharmacies, sometimes in the sore throat relief section - and it's dead cheap. Apply 1-2 drops before bed every night, and see what it does for less than a week. Combine it with changing from liquid to bar soap and you'll notice a massive difference.
Just my 2 cents in the basics / maintenance section :-)
Good post, very practical. And I like that you continue to repeat things like: do the low level stuff on your down days. It reminds me of a professor I had in a college math course. He constantly repeated this one idea: study the basics.
Study the basics. Study the basics. Study the basics.
I always kind of knew this was important. But hearing it every day led me to reflected on it from time to time. It's so low-level that people just tend not to think about it. Likewise, when we get caught up in kickass work, it's easy to forget that we'll have down days. Worse, on those down days, it's easy to dismiss doing low level stuff and spiraling off track. So I hop that you do keep referring to this idea. I find that it does help. And I think constantly being reminded of it will strengthen the association to almost automatic.
Do low level tasks on your off days. Do low level tasks on your off days. Do low level tasks on your off days.
I love building. I love expansion. I love making new things, doing new things.
But that's only one side of the coin. Expansion is fantastic, but you need to consolidate your gains.
Most of the time, you can consolidate a little bit each day. Clean things up, put things away.
But when's the last time you devoted an entire day to consolidation?
I try to do it at least 3 times a month. It's fantastic.
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Total Focus; Total Enjoyment by Tynan, as told to Sebastian Marshall
When I turned 30 and I had a minor freak out… I thought, "I'll be 40 in not long, and then 50… there's things I want to do in my life, and they're not happening at this pace."
Before that, I had a general idea of things I wanted to do and have in my life, but I went about in an unstructured way. It was good in a lot of ways. It made be a broad process, but not much depth.