I started writing this blog after spotting that many of my good habits had eroded. Warning signs of an unhealthy me include:
- Lost exercise routine
- Neglected hobbies
- Hurried and reactive work
- Less socialising
- Little time reflecting
- Free time spent resting
I’ll outline more on the specifics of these below. In each case they derive from failing to balance work and life effectively. Doing this is something I consider myself good at, but from time to time I let it slip.
What I’m searching for is a means to sustain these habits long term. While I’m pleased with myself for detecting the warning signs, I’m unhappy that it took me three months to do so.
Lost exercise routine
Frequent exercise is vital for staying healthy, both physically and mentally. The only aim I have here is to do something every day. What that is doesn’t matter, as long as I get my heart pumping.
My own solution was to have one or two easy exercise options I can use every day. I use two apps, Yoga Studio, and the Superhero workout. Both are entertaining and have 10-30 minute options in case you’re in a rush.
These form the basis of my routine. They are an easy means of developing a habit. On top of this I can do things I really enjoy, be it cycling, squash, or skating.
What does it mean to lose this habit? It means I was failing to find 10-30 minutes in my day.
This ties back nearly to work and my change of routine. I was finishing late and feeling compelled to work at night. This was compounded by sharing a cocktail or two in the bar after finally closing our laptops.
This is closely related to exercise. The hobby I had turned into a habit was learning to draw. A quick glance at the posting dates shows the three-month gap pretty clearly.
What is it I find important about hobbies? To me they are time to let my brain relax. I’d note that many of my interests are means of entering a flow state. Whether it be drawing, cycling, motor racing, or coding, all are activities where our brain switches gears and the perception of time shifts.
In addition, they’re in some way a definition of us as people. Failing to make time for them can be damaging and impacts negatively the social side of our lives.
Hurried and reactive work
Spotting this one can be difficult. It usually means we’re working very hard and the number of things we’re doing is huge. As such we feel busy, which means we must be doing great, right?
One mechanism for spotting is to ask ourselves, “what did I accomplish this week?”. Recently I have been unable to answer with anything meaningful. Of course, I’m diligent and work very hard. I’m helping people and projects wherever I can, working long hours, and care about our work. The problem is that when I look back at my week, it’s hard to link that busyness to accomplishments or goals.
My short term solution to this is to capture incoming tasks and lean on a system like Getting Things Done (GTD).
This is only half-a-solution. It helps us to manage a busy world and better direct our attention at areas of value. What it misses out on are significant changes in the nature of work, day-to-day behaviour, and output.
My best example of this right now is coding. I consider this a relaxing experience. It’s highly creative and requires long periods of focus in order to do well. We cannot succeed at it in 30-minute bursts. Three years into a management-type role means I rarely have time to tackle long-form problems. A handful of occasions stand out where I was able to debug problems and write code, undisturbed, for significant time. On one Friday evening I finished at 11pm and left feeling highly accomplished and calm.
Contrast this to what can happen on a Monday morning: I begin work, churn through emails, do two or three meetings, and feel worn out already. I’m looking forward already to my next escape, be it an evening, or the weekend.
This topic is huge and I plan to unpack it further in coming days and months.
This one is more obvious but the reasoning behind it is less clear. I’ll posit two reasons that contribute:
- Time: a very basic sum where work dominates making it tough to schedule time with loved ones.
- Being interesting: when we meet friends we’re stumped on basic questions like, “how have you been?”.
Much of the suffering social side of this stems directly from a loss of control over work, hobbies, and exercise. Work overwhelmed us and we don’t want to discuss it, but it’s all we really have to talk about.
Little time reflecting
Reflection comes in two forms: passive and active.
Passive reflection happens by mistake when our brains aren’t paying attention. This might be during yoga, sitting in a cafe, or during a flight.
Active is more of a scheduled thing that can easily be neglected. Examples would include a weekly review of GTD, or weekly/monthly planning sessions at work.
My experience with reflection is that I’d lost entirely the active portion. And passive reflection took a significant hit due to an over-occupied brain.
Reflection is the mechanism that allowed me to detect my current situation. It was only a random occurrence that jolted me and led to this blog.
Free time spent resting
My final observation comes from free time. It could be 10pm in the evening or it could be an entire weekend. If our usual instinct in our free time is to rest, we’re probably in a bad place.
‘Rest’ can be varied too, the bad type being the lazy option. Usually that means opting to consume, rather than create, learn, or experience.
In my case I might scroll through Instagram in place of drawing. Read through Twitter or Reddit without my head really engaged. Watch TV when my active self would leave the house. There are so many options but in all cases it is characterised by taking an easy path.
Detecting these warnings is something I’m great at. Having detected them many times in my life suggests I’m not great at avoiding them in the first place.
There have been times in the past where work and life balanced effortlessly. I plan to revisit these and figure out what defined them.