Piling up

I’m not being productive unless I’m feeling overwhelmed. Usually I don’t do much. Then I’ll have a burst of activity. Then the energy will run out, and I’ll find myself overcommitted. & then I retract from my commitments, rest, then feel ashamed of how little I do, and start the cycle over. I’ve never learned how to surf, but an analogy suggests itself:

In between active periods, I’m just afloat. A wave will cross me, I’ll swing with its motion, and return to my original starting point. Likewise a new interest will come up under me, and carry me with it for a limited period of time, and then it passes and I am back where I started. This is the normal state of things: rest, ride, retreat, repeat.

Then a wave of energy approaches (I can feel it coming across the calendar), and I start to gather myself up: I sign up for more activities, I plan to start new habits, I acquire responsibilities. The wave comes, I’m on top of it; the best part of the feeling is the power I have. I can do anything, and I can take anything. The feeling of infinite adjustment: I have room in my time for whatever new might come along, and any jar that comes along I can translate into a pleasing bump in my schedule; accidental becomes intentional.

The wave comes down eventually – it runs out of room underneath, and brings me down with it, or in it. The bouyant forward motion that sustained me before begins to push at me from all sides, with no coherent progress that I can perceive. I’m suspended in chaos by contrary motions. (And I get sand and salt in my mouth and eyes.)

When the wave is done with me, I’m deposited, exhausted, on dry land. Little waves of energy come and go but don’t move me. (They sort of tickle.)

Later, what remains with me, both in what I’ve produced and what I remember, tends to be the period of falling and unwilling abandonment to too much from too many sides. The fear and loss of control make it exhilarating, in a different, less pleasant way from the feeling of gathering power that comes on the crest of the wave, but more true, in a way I fail to express adequately.

4 Replies to “Piling up”

  1. I experience this sort of surge and drop, too, both on large and small scales. I am trying to teach myself to work with it rather than failing to change it repeatedly and getting ever more frustrated and disappointed in myself.

    On a small scale I have learned that on a weekly basis, if I have two non Office days in a row, I should anticipate that one will not be productive. Even if I want both to be, even if I fight the tendency toward slothfulness, inevitably one of those two days will be lost to sleep or vegging. I am happier and more productive overall if I accept it instead of fighting. If I allow that upon waking on the first day and feeling exhausted I will not try to push myself, but will relax and rest and do only things that aid those goals, more often than not I actually end up doing a couple of productive things (even if they are not what I feel I need to get done), and I am much more productive on the second day as a result. Conversely, if I am superproductive the first day, I find I will be in a much better position to keep myself going for the next several days if I deliberately set out to rest on the second day.

    This may not apply to you, and may not seem like a very large or interesting compromise to others, but for me it is. I have to really push myself to rest on rest days (and I have to push myself not to feel guilty about resting, too). My natural inclination is to push as hard as I can until I lose the energy to go on, and then end up spending everal days doing the bare minimum and feeling terrible about myself. This is neither healthy nor productive.

    Even though I feel I am making small progress on the whole business of balancing activity and rest for optimal productivity and well-being, I have a long way to go. Reading about the trials and tribulations of others is encouraging. It helps to remember that I am not the only one who has trouble with this. I don’t know if reading about my struggle will affect you similarly, but I figured it was at least worth a try.

  2. Yes, that does help, thanks.

    There’s a tangledness to the feeling I would have liked to capture as well, and I feel like you’ve somehow implied it without saying it. It’s like the more you thrash about and struggle in the net of commitments, the more tangled you get. So the solution becomes how best to address what small tangles you can and not to try to pull it all apart as once. (I think.)

  3. One of the things I noticed while grooming the shelves at the library is the grotesque number of time management books on offer. Each offers a different system for getting things done, and seems to promise that everyone is ready to set their egg timers and complete three minute tasks sixteen hours a day. Which deals with the tangles of energy in much the same as Alexander dealt with the Gordian knot: not at all, really.

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