The Need for Cyclicality In Life

4:10 am, 5:20 am, 10:00 am, 1:30 pm, 5:00 pm, 6:30 pm, 9:00 pm…

In the past few months, I became very acquainted with these time marks. They morphed into the “goals” of an unhealthy scheduling practice where meeting these slots was more important than actually doing the tasks that took place inbetween them. If I was running “late”, I kept feeling pressured that I wouldn’t have enough time to do the current activity. I had associated each of the time slots above to correspond with a transition from one task to another, but left out flexibility in the process.

I basically took the schedule of one of my most structured days, and extrapolated that to apply to every day

First let me explain what each time slot represented:

4:10: Wake up and get ready and warmed up for a morning run

5:20: Be out the building door

10:00: Start working on personal projects if no classes

1:30: Make Lunch

5:00: Wrap up afternoon project work and go skate

6:30: Start making dinner

9:00: Be in bed to get 7 hrs of sleep.

I have a natural inclination to try and standardize events and information in my life to make sense of things. I tend to work on the same tasks every day until they’re done to avoid needing to create a new schedule everyday, and learn new information by turning them into snippets that are true for the majority of all cases.

Sometimes this approach to life works, and other times it doesn’t. Once I had established a habit of following this schedule (which didn’t take long), it felt like my mind was following a phantom clock that demanded I be ready to go at the next time slot. The pressure of feeling like I had to follow this clock I arbitrarily created built up over months and finally culminated in me having to really sit down and admit that it wasn’t working.

Additionally, instead of letting my schedule expand to fit the time a task required, it was usually the other way around. I felt like I needed to keep working to fill a specific time slot, or else I wouldn’t be able to do “a good job” or “make progress”. This was why I kept stressing if one activity was running later than it was supposed to be — progress became associated with ‘time spent’ and not ‘work done’.

I not only extrapolated the schedule of my most structured days, but also when I had the rare focus and energy to work seven or eight hours straight on my personal projects. For instance, over the summer and during my quarantine week upon returning to school this winter, I was able to put in around 3–4 hours of work each day on a website I was building. I subsequently then just kept thinking about coding when trying to schedule it, as something that would take 3 hours of my day. So, if I had classes that ended at 4 pm, and knew I had to make dinner at 6:30 (factoring in cooking + eating + cleanup + 1.5 hrs digestion before bed), it would feel like I wasn’t doing as good of a job if I worked on my site then.

The 6:30 and 9:00 times were the most stressful to try and meet. Sometimes I’d want to skate longer or have a longer workout before making dinner, and that would inevitably lead to dinner, bedtime, and waking up being pushed back. Upon closer inspection, there’s absolutely no reason I have to adhere to this schedule every day, it’s really only meant for the days where I have a class 30 minutes after I finish up a run. Maybe at first, I felt like more of a badass for waking up at 4 vs 4:30, but that’s faded over time since that time range became normal for me.

Because this whole practice was unsustainable, it forced me to be okay with each day being different, and to create my schedule with an accurate view of my reality.

To start, I needed to have a different metric to measure how I was making progress. Working on something every day for X amount of hours, isn’t going to cut it anymore. My approach going forward would be to first assess how much time I can dedicate to an activity, and then decide what’s a small enough goal that I know I can definitly accomplish within that time frame. This definitely takes out a lot of the anxiety, since I know for sure I’ll get something done. Before, if I didn’t work on something for X hours, it was like the equivalent of not doing it at all.

Second, I’m going to actually prioritize tasks. Prioritizing in the past meant doing the stuff that was most important daily, and not leaving much time for deviation or anything else. Anything besides school, coding, or running, would only get attention if I got through those three first. I’m not going to rank anything I could do as “more important”, or “less important” and base what I should do on that judgement. After all, I have no way of judging from the onset. (I talk about it here)

Instead, I’m going to assess by:

  • Is there an external deadline dictating that I finish this work? (Mostly school)
  • Have I been making pretty good, real, progress on a project? (Coding, electrical circuits, skate tricks)
  • Am I feeling mentally fatigued about tackling this task today? (Everything)

If a task doesn’t have a real deadline, and I’ve been making pretty steady progress recently, I’m going to allow to take a break for a day or two and dedicate that time instead to other interests that tend to get sidelined on busy days like: writing, reading, socializing, or skating. This will also help me get out of the mindset that continuity from day to day is a necessary part of progress.

I’ve been trying to force progress as something constant for a while. In reality, it should be something more cyclical — with peaks that involve great focus and troughs where the brain resets. My mind subconsciously knows to ebb and flow activities when need be. If I don’t feel like doing something this week, it’s not because I’m lazy, and I shouldn’t force myself to go do it. I’m going to work on accepting that this as part of the process to having a potentially amazing next week, where I accomplish the same as I would’ve in two mediocre and unhappy weeks.

AC power did, after all, win over DC power, and I think my life would be much better off following that precedent by accepting that life is a cyclical ride and not a controlled path which punches its way through walls.

Ebb and flow like the waves (📷: Moi 📍: Pacifica)



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