Last year I started a process of, what I called at the time, reclaiming energy.
The process involved evaluating my relationship with different initiatives I was engaged in and weighing them against my yearly goals and values. Looking back on the process I'm happy to report it worked - big time: I was able to keep my project list to a handful of things I am excited about and able to give each one the attention it deserves.
One of the major bi-products of reclaiming energy is that I suddenly had time on my hands, lots and lots of time. After I gave all my projects the love they deserve, the challenge became "how do I use the extra time in a way that coincides with my values and goals?".
At first I tried to wing it but quickly discovered that without any plan I'm actually engaging with things that are counter productive or simply doesn't make me happy 1. I also found out that there are three factors that impact my mental state the most and drag me into those counter productive behavior: Boredom, loneliness and tiredness - or BLT.
The more I research boredom the more I get a sense how much of a fuzzy, made up concept it is. In my recent reading history I witnessed a lot of great authors try to dissect boredom from different angles: Cal Newport refers to boredom as a state that leads to "passive consumption", in all of her three books Brené Brown writes about certain aspects of boredom as a route to what she refers to as "numbing" as a shortcut to habits we want to avoid or addictive behaviors.
For me, in the equation of bored-lonely-tired, boredom reflects choice. I wrote about it in short on the time merchant but if I try to package boredom into a definition, it would be "a junction where time investment decisions are made". It's almost as if boredom, in its classic definition is a result of other symptoms: loneliness, tiredness, lack of excitement, lack of interest etc.
Even with all this knowledge, the concept of being bored feels so culturally embedded that sometimes I'll be in a situation and think "oh, it's boring". The way I found is the most effective for me is to first acknowledge what I'm feeling and revert to a list of activities that excites me: Writing, coding, reading, running, analyzing data, solving problems, learning - having a quick list of "I'm happy\excited when..." is very helpful.
tiredness and loneliness
I first got exposed to HALT when reading on how AA use emotion, feelings and needs to avoid addictive behavior. HALT stands for Hunger, Angry, Lonely and Tired as situations where the person need take care of themselves as fast as possible. When documenting situations where my own investment of time was counterproductive or made me feel unhappy, loneliness and tiredness were top environmental factors.
There is a ample amount of research on how lack of sleep impact our mental performance (here's a favorite talking about sleep deprivation and mental state) and loneliness is maybe one of the more interesting products of our generation that is born into social media and low intensity connections.
When either tiredness or loneliness is present, time the follows is always improperly invested. I found out that often times, if left untreated, the easy way out of "tired" or "lonely" is a form numbing which maybe fixes the symptom for a short time but unhelpful for the long run.
I found the most success dealing with tiredness and loneliness by employing the AA method of stopping everything in its tracks, acknowledging the feeling and coming up with clear actions to address it: I'm tired - take a walk, I'm lonely - text a person. The short break in the work flow is always beneficial over whatever behavior is coming next as a result of being too tired or feeling lonely.
On to the next!
Note that "counter productive or unhappy" doesn't mean "waste of time". I believe time is never "wasted": improperly invested - maybe, used in a short-sighted way - could be. But even the thingI do that in hindsight I probably shouldn't have done (e.g playing video games over research) is never a waste but a choice. ↩