I am generally on a perpetual quest to merge my own brain health with work productivity into personal development. As part of that, I’ve been more conscious lately of the idea of being overdrawn. This is not a literal financial concept, although the financial metaphor works very well for visualizing the the idea of being overdrawn on time before even starting one’s day. Time deficit is the concept of having too many outstanding commitments and tasks to be able to start any more current or important work. I read about this recently in the RescueTime Blog and honestly, it scared the daylights out of me. I am prone to procrastinating and what I like to call “kicking the can”: putting off a task that I know is a priority until the next day. I know intellectually that to not accomplish something on the day it is “due” is problematic, as it may impact others. However, I had not consciously registered this as a larger pattern of overdraw that would snowball from day to day and, eventually, burn me out.
As I reflect further on idea of cascading task lists, of work piling up, of a time deficit, I realize how much the resulting sense of overwhelm is adding even more stress to burn me out. I have a lot of stuff going on in my head at any given time, related to my separate roles as wife, mother, family member, beloved friend, Scout leader, corporate boss lady, etc. To move seamlessly between these roles means that I cannot carry baggage throughout my day, nor can I overdraw my reserves of time and energy. When tasks and projects are not prioritized, I must allocate time from a different part of my life to make up the difference. This not only takes up the time, but also the energy that should go into the activities that would help me recover from burnout. Time deficit is a leading cause of not only burnout, but also takes away from my ability to complete and recover from the stress cycle.
So this led me to look back at what is actually causing time deficits. Where am I losing so much time and mental energy that I’m unable to actually complete priority projects when they should be done? How is it that I am clearly mapping out priorities at the start of the day, color-coding my day, and then not actually following the instructions I have laid out for myself? This is why I installed RescueTime in the first place, to monitor and analyze my actual use of my working hours. The subsequent analysis tells me that it is my old bugbear of task switching (which has turned my brain into a junk drawer) but also a level of general distraction that is heavily contributing to the task switching, as I am constantly checking my email or Google Hangouts and then acting on non-work next steps (“Oh, I’ll just check this sale email quickly….maybe I’ll look at future travel…should I be changing compromised passwords?”)
All of this kind of wraps up together in one imperative: how do I regain focus and clarity of thought in a way that enables me to complete each day’s priorities and stop the time deficit? If not completing tasks is one of the greatest sources of stress and burnout, then becoming productive would actually be the best form of self care I could take on. It’s said that self-care is critical to productivity, but in this case, I need to be productive to maintain the time and energy for self care, in addition to prioritizing self care habits. I am there revisiting how I choose to spend my time and energy (aside from just trying to get through the day).
To help give me data to analyze, as well as structure and consequences, I employed a few new tools:
- RescueTime is an app that runs across my phone, tablet and desktop to track and integrate where my time is going. It also allows me to block the world out when I’m focusing, which, honestly, sometimes I need enforced.
- Habitica is a habit tracking app with extra gamification added for extra cute nerdiness. Mine is set up to prioritize self-care habits:
- 3. Beeminder is a behavioral modification program with financial consequences: if you do not hit your goals, it dings you $5 and goes up from there. It also integrates with other programs like Habitica and Rescuetime as well as my beloved FitBit.
Using the Beeminder integrations, I set up two goals to address the time deficit and my general sense of burnout. I will spend less than one hour per day on workdays on “distracting” sites and apps as tracked in RescueTime, and I will accomplish at least 5 habits and to-dos per day via Habitica, or I will be financially consequenced. This is a small nudge, and a small consequence at $5, but it is still a behavioral modification that makes the consequence immediate instead of long term.
I also used Beeminder to ensure I work daily towards my fitness goals. My Fitbit is tied to MyFitnessPal and combined, they give an analysis of calories and calorie deficits. I have therefore set up Beeminder for three physical fitness related goals:
- Physically active time per day, defined as time I am up and moving. This often includes the more active NEAT as well as intentional walks and other logged fitness with elevated heartrate. I set this as 45 minutes per day to ensure I set aside time to go outside for a walk and hit this goal.
- Overall calorie burn, which requires me to do Peloton classes
- Calorie deficit. This looks at what I consume via the MyFitnessPal integration and then calculates the deficit. Hint: wine derails a calorie deficit very quickly so this also keeps me from going too far down the COVID drinking path.
With all of this set up, it will hopefully give me guardrails to ensure I prioritize self care and do not cave into the hundreds of tiny distractions per day that are causing so much burnout. Reducing distractions, focusing on the things that matter, prioritizing self-care habits, all of these are things I’m hopeful will help set me up and put me in a better mental state for the rest of COVID.