I want to be productive, but not too productive...
January 29, 2015 11:30 AM   Subscribe

So once you've slayed (or at least knocked out) the procrastination beast, how do you keep your balance and not burn yourself out?

I like, and am good at, my job. I like most of the people I work with. All in all it's pretty darn good right now. Historically I alternate periods of high burn productivity and periods of procrastination and average productivity. This worked fine for my employers as I was still a high producer overall, but it sucks for me in terms of stress and work/life balance. So I worked on some of my procrastination triggers/habits and feel like I have that licked, but now am finding myself stuck in high burn and see great potential for getting burned out. Also there are some negative things on the horizon at work which will definitely add drama and roadblocks to my work life in the next year+.

So I'd like to figure out how to mitigate the potential issues I see, keep my sanity, and hold on to as much positivity as possible. What I think might help is if I can articulate goals for myself which allow me to identify when I've done my job well, and thus can relax a bit and dismiss my internal protestant voice of guilt.

This is challenging b/c:
- I don't produce anything uniform (widget) that a metric can be applied to
- My work is more creative/problem solving/analytical, very thinking heavy, which I can't do for 8 hours a day without burning out.
- My position is unique in the org
- There is always MORE work (infinite wish lists)

I was thinking some kind of measure of hours per day of meetings and focused work (in half hour chunks), with some target percentage of focused effort, but am unsure what kind of percentage should be my goal? Or maybe this is the wrong approach.

So what are your ideas for
- Measuring personal work productivity when there's nothing measurable?
- Excelling at your job without it being your life, or maintaining strong boundaries between work and home?
- Ways to integrate positive/rejuvenating/life affirming moments into your work?
posted by pennypiper to Work & Money (6 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This doesn't address the entire question, and as a grad student and researcher I struggle with so many of these same issues, but: what's helped me maintain a strong life outside of work in the past year is to have scheduled non-work activities in my week. Not just, oh I'll try to read for fun tonight or see my friends sometime this week, but schedule those activities. Set aside 7-9 PM one evening to read or do a hobby that makes you happy, and schedule get-togethers with friends - then treat these events with the same importance as you would a work meeting.

Arts, music, or physical activities are also helpful for me and help me kind of "reset" my brain during the day. Last fall I joined a university choir and we meet twice a week, right in the middle of the day. It provides a really great period of time where I'm still working my brain but in a totally different way than I do for my work. It's also something I can't skip to do more research or coursework, so when I'm at rehearsal I'm not feeling any guilt for not working. Overall I've found that, for me, paradoxically, when I schedule more of my life out, work and personal activities, I'm better able to focus at work and better able to actually enjoy the time I spend on my own stuff and at home.
posted by augustimagination at 12:50 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have you read The Now Habit? It is primarily a book about overcoming procrastination, but the techniques it describes are pretty much exactly what you seem to want. One of the primary insights from the book that I loved, is the idea of scheduling fun things to do. Once you make the fun non-negotiable, the work has a way of fitting around it.
posted by peacheater at 1:02 PM on January 29, 2015

Response by poster: Hah! Okay, you all found my weak spot. It was the Now Habit that helped me so much with my productivity, but for whatever reason what I didn't seem to be able to put into action from the book was the scheduling of "guilt free play".

It sounds like it should be so easy...
posted by pennypiper at 2:01 PM on January 29, 2015

I have heard very good things about the book Manage Your Day to Day.
posted by momochan at 2:16 PM on January 29, 2015

Best answer: First, a disclaimer: I'm about to make some big cultural generalizations. I believe they are somewhat accurate due to my own experiences but I realize every person, every job, and every country is different. I'm tempted to roll my eyes when someone starts a rant on how things are "so much better in country xyz" but also believe that every place has its pros and cons, and some nation's have a better attitude towards work-life balance.

OK, that said, I'm going to assume you live and work in the US? I say this because I feel American society is really good at encouraging people to work hard -- and they do, either by choice or necessity. Generally, in Europe, people are equally productive but are encouraged to work smarter rather than harder or for longer hours. Taking regular breaks and vacations are also part of working life: an inherent part of being a good worker rather than a rare luxury for the few who can afford to do so.

How about starting to plan regular breaks and/or vacations away from work? I realize this depends on your PTO, family and pet responsibilities, finances, and more but I think it's ultimately money and time well-spent. It could be one or two big trips a year, if you're interested and it'd be possible, weekend getaways to nearby areas of interest or simply day trips to a museum and a restaurant (or big sporting event or festival, etc.) two hours away. Research has shown that anticipating a trip is one of the greatest boosts. Even if your happiness level often returns to normal upon returning, you can savor the memories. Or simply enjoy the brain break from a change in scenery and escape from the daily grind. (I think this would like be the greatest benefit for you based on how you described your job.)

Another option could be doing an intensive hobby that you love that's unrelated to your profession, perhaps something where you work with your hands since you're usually working with your head? (Gardening, woodworking, etc.?) On one hand, it takes up a great deal of creative energy and effort; on the other, the reward and sense of accomplishment tends to leave one feeling exhilarated and productive so your brain really is getting a break after all.

Maybe you're already doing this! Or perhaps you are looking more for specific every day strategies but those are two things that really work for me. As a schoolteacher, I'm lucky to have periods of intense work and then, uh, intense relaxing. Such work schedules are rare but I do wish every career would allow for this as it'd surely make for a happier, more relaxed workforce and world.
posted by smorgasbord at 2:36 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's taken me years to actually internalize that part of the Now Habit. If you keep on at an unsustainable pace, there's definitely a point where you realize that, nope, you can't go-go-go and stay healthy and productive. You can learn it from experience, or you can listen to the bitter exhortations of your elders.

But the guilt never actually goes away.

It's just something you have to do even though you aren't inclined, like going to the gym or eating your broccoli.
posted by BrashTech at 4:25 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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