The Efficiency Trap

I read too many “lifehack” blogs. I’ve tried out too many calendar apps, todo lists, time trackers, and project managers. It’s tempting, when the next new thing comes up that solves all our productivity problems, to give it a try. Because surely this widget will save me from myself, from procrastination and unproductivity. If only I have the right tool it will be as effective as magic.

Yeah, no.

Reading about and trying out different efficiency hacks is its own procrastination. And with certain tools, they cause me a lot more trouble than they solve. I declared habit bankruptcy a while back, when my efficiency/productivity/better life kick got out of hand and I just had too much for my flighty human brain to handle in a single day. So apps like Timeful, where you’re supposed to block out hours of your day for this task or that, just give me hives. Trello, the much beloved project- and life-organizer, is excessively detailed for my grocery list, writing todo, work todo, don’t forget about this other random task needs.

I still hold out this hope that the perfect app or tool will come along, that slots seamlessly into my life and replaces all the haphazard habits I’ve made do with until now. But I’ve really gotta stop spending so much time trying to find it, and more time doing all the stuff I say I need help tracking.

Habit Bankruptcy

I tried to do it. Meditate 20 minutes a day. Write in a journal by hand every morning. Exercise. Eat 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. Write 750 words a day. Work on my book edits. Write in this blog twice a week. Read more books. Read more articles. Organize my life. Get up from my desk and stretch every hour. Practice gratitude.

Of course I had a meltdown. There’s enough hours in the day for all that, but good lord I do not have the brain capacity.

The Good Habit Overload didn’t start all at once, which is how I got in so deep. One habit crept in at a time, before the one before it had really taken hold, until I had a morning checklist that was too long to look at, let alone expect my fallible human self to always complete. So I had one or two good days, checking everything off in an orderly fashion, feeling great.

Then the next day I woke up late, or was feeling off, or my brain just would not start. And one thing didn’t get done or another.

And then at night I felt disappointed at that one lingering, undone habit, and vowed to do better the next day.

And then I didn’t.

And then it snowballed, until I was doing no habits, because what was the point of doing just one if I had ten more to go after that. The hill was too steep and the summit was too far away.

So, the other week, I declared habit bankruptcy. My little daily habit tracker at HabitRPG got wiped. I started over. Three habits: Exercise, Write Something, and Study Japanese.

This week I added: Take your medicine. Not because I need to develop that habit, but specifically because I’ve already got it down. Now there is one box I can easily check, and it makes all the other boxes easier.

I’ve got other habits I want to add. I do want to meditate, and I do want to watch my protein and veggie intake, and I do want to be more consistent about dog training and stretching after workouts and yes even posting to this blog.

But I also don’t want another habit meltdown, and if that means I let things slide, then they slide. Anyway, isn’t this what I wanted when I was a kid, imagining life as a grownup? Sometimes you just gotta have cereal for dinner to have the energy to keep the rest of it together.

The Hardest Part is Starting

My particular brand of procrastination is putting off starting a task. Once I get going, the thing gets done–the hard part is over. But if I can put off the start of something, it’s pretty much guaranteed to never happen. I need to write today, but I’ll do it later. I ought to go for a run, but I’m tired so I’ll do it in the afternoon. I should get my lunch ready for tomorrow, but I can do it in the morning. Etcetera, etcetera. You’d think after so many instances of not writing later, of not running in the afternoon, of not putting my lunch together in the morning, I’d know better. And sometimes I do! I’m certainly cognizant of it right now, as I write this post, but me awake and fed and accomplished is a very different me than when I’m groggy or hungry or in the throes of an extended period of procrastination.

So sometimes I play tricks on myself:

1. I use Pomodoro off and on to trick myself into thinking “I just have to do this for a few minutes.” Then it always ends up being more than a few minutes.

2. I motivate myself with streaks. I’ve been getting ready for work the night before for the past two nights in a row, so if I do it again tonight it’ll be three, then the next night four, then five… Don’t break the chain! HabitRPG is my general habit streak tracker, while 750words is my writing streak tracker.

3. Once I’ve started one thing, I use that as momentum to start everything else. Today I got up and went for a run. I got back and started the laundry. I got out of the shower and chopped up salad for lunch. I got all that done and started this blog post that I’d been procrastinating on. Once I overcame the hurdle of getting my ass out of bed and beginning one thing, beginning everything else got easier.

Once I’ve started that productivity, even just for a minute, the next minute is easier, and the next minute after that.

Working While Sick

20141014 the microchip

I hate getting sick. If there are “good” sick people and “bad” sick people, then I am the literal worst. I whine and I resent and I think of all the things I could be doing if only I wasn’t sneezing out every ounce of bodily fluids.

I try to take care of myself in times like that. Scalding steamy baths, vaseline all over my poor, sad red nose, curling up in a fetal position, etc. There’s also something to be said for giving myself a break from my usual daily writing goals.

But I have to write something, or it all goes to shit. Sick days will always feel like wasted days, because they were days where I didn’t feel awesome, even if the exact same amount of “lying around being useless” would have happened. If I can spew out a few ideas for my next book scene, or work through a problem in the plot, or just write something, even if it’s a lot of blather, I’ll feel better. Because the day wasn’t a total wash, and I kept my momentum up, which, like that finely tuned microchip of the human body, can go to hell with just a bit of dust (or one missed day of writing).

*This post coming to you late courtesy of my monster allergies this weekend. The microchip has been compromised.

Write Everything Down

I get a million story ideas a day. Sometimes they’re made up, inspired by some philosophical question or prompt or whatever that I run into in life. I hear about a model tweeting the personal details of a persistent “admirer” on a plane and her fans quickly IDing him, and think, hmm, crowdsourced Panopticon… Or I talk to my friend about the urban fantasy RPG he wants to work on and start thinking about the consequences of repeated death and rebirth as far as personal identity (what does gender mean if you’ve lived lives as men and women or outside the binary?). Or someone tells me a real story, like my Dad with his most recent ill-fated backpacking trip where his undertrained and unprepared companions got dehydrated and started hallucinating, or my classmate’s story of the 17-year-old clerk at her parent’s convenience store who got scammed by drug dealers and ended up owing them $10,000… and with all these things I think, I need to make that a story!

Only then I don’t. Because I just think about them. I don’t write them down.

Write. Everything. Down. Do it however it works for you. Organize it or don’t. But don’t kid yourself. You’re not going to remember. You’re not gonna mull it over then whip it out fully formed from your brain to hands to keyboard. So just get it down. Get the words in front of you, hate them, leave them, and come back to them. If it can be done, eventually you’ll pull out something good.

Short Story Wednesdays

I know, it lacks that specialness of alliteration, but I liked the idea of posting something mid-week to keep me going.

I am publicly committing to you, my imaginary friends, that in addition to my other scheduled posts, every Wednesday I will post something. Maybe it’ll be a full short story draft. Probably it won’t be. It’ll be pieces of a work in progress, or a response to a writing prompt, or something else of a fiction writing persuasion. It might be good. It might be bad. But it’ll be writing and I’ll post it.