Understanding your system.

The thing about to-do lists and prioritizing and just forcing yourself to do something is that it’s nearly impossible to do. Making yourself do hard work when your mind needs something else is like trying to push two similar polarities of a magnet together. Try as you may, you’re going to get continuous pushback until you give up.

I’ve been reading a book called The Introvert Advantage and it has
talked a lot about the different needs of the mind. It mentions how one
day an introvert may be a complete social hermit, hiding and avoiding
all social activity, while the next day they’ll be bursting at the seams
with conversation and light-heartedness. As polar opposite as these two
behaviors seem, they’re actually very much linked together.

That first day, when your mind is saying “I need to get away from
people”, you’re more than likely to spend that night in a quiet, dark
setting, just letting the world slip away. During this time, you may
feel like you never want to see another human face again. But, according
to the book, what’s happening is that your mind is recharging *in
order* to see human’s again.

When you wake up the next morning, your social bar is back to 100% and
you mind is ready for that human connection. You show up to work and
have something to say. Because you were able to go into reclusion when
you mind needed it, you were able to quickly bounce back and be an
entirely different person the next day (and chances are the day after
that you’ll be overwhelmed by all this social activity and need a
recharge session once again).

Going back to to-do lists and trying to get stuff done, if your
body/mind is telling you it just does NOT want to do something, listen
to it. Ten minutes ago the thought of writing sounded like the least
appealing thing to me. Now I’ve got a steady stream of characters being
plotted down by my energized fingers. The difference was that I didn’t
force myself into something just for the sake of doing it, but took time
to do what I wanted my mind wanted to do, which was to read a little bit
of my book. This then morphed into writing down some thoughts on paper.
Those thoughts branched off into the stream that’s going right now.

One of my biggest challenges lately has been figuring out to do with
open/free time. It’s rarer than usual these days, which means I’m afraid
of wasting it on the wrong thing. Unfortunately I fret so much about
choosing the wrong thing that I end up wasting all my time doing nothing
at all. In an effort to better take advantage, I’m hoping to set up a
new system.

When I have an open block of time, I’m going to review my body and
mind’s needs. Do I need something basic, like food or water? How much
energy do I have? Have I worked a long day and need to recoup? Have I
had a slow day and need to do something productive or creative? Do I not
have much motivation to do anything at all?

Armed with a knowledge of how my current system is feeling/operating, I
then choose an activity from my giant list of things I can do. That
activity should correspond with what I found I need.

For example, if I have no motivation but have energy, I need to do
something that motivates me. This could be reading something interesting
or watching a TED talk. Or maybe even making a list of things to do, as
that usually sparks a “Oh yeah, I forgot I wanted to do that”. Now that
I’m motivated, I take the energy I have and choose another item that
matches the ‘motivated and energized’ column.

I can also bring variety in here. If I need to exercise, but don’t want
to run, maybe going to play basketball instead would be interesting. Or
maybe go for a hike if there’s a trail close by. I reach the same goal,
but it’s through a route my mind finds more novelty in.

There are so many great things we can do with our time that it’s really
a shame to box ourselves in with “I have to do this and it has to be
this specific way and if I don’t then I’ve wasted my time and I’m a bad
person.” Twenty minutes ago I sat down to read, because my mind needed
it, despite me thinking I should be doing something more productive like
writing. And now I’ve spent the past 10 minutes writing and feel great.

When you want to reach a goal, figure out what path it’s going to take
to get there, even if it’s a few more steps than you expected. It’s so
much nicer than fighting yourself and never making progress.