On stress, among other things

The past few months have been stressful, and filled with some sudden (but thought out) changes. I am sure many of my troubles were “first-world” in some sense – far more people have worse to deal with, and my experience will be trivial as compared to theirs. But, there have been important lessons for me, an improved sense of understanding and dealing with shortcomings, and as with anything substantial that happens – I figured I’d push it to the blog. Small ceremony, but an important one.

I am not one of the strongest people in terms of a work ethic. That’s where the problem started, I guess. Add to it a tendency to overload myself, and you have a situation close to the stall point. Sometimes there’s so much to do, that you feel that a headway is impossible, and curl up and go to sleep. Yeah, that actually happens! Distractions don’t help – they have such a high affinity for wasting your time that before you know it – it’s 11 in the night, and you’re looking at an all-nighter to compensate. That’s when you enter a vicious sleep cycle – you’ll gain 4 highly unproductive night hours in lieu of 6 highly productive morning hours. For a short while, your brain will put up with sleep cuts, but then it’s going to decide to stop reacting to the alarm and get those 8 hours nevertheless. There, the plane just stalled — you have no work done, or extremely poor work done — and world gives you appropriate feedback too – poor grades, angry team-mates, dissatisfied professors, and a frustrated you. Well.

One thing helped me though. It helps that I read. It helps more that I read non-fiction. About habit formation. About outlying behaviour. About good self-evaluation, and not the kind that fills you with guilt and self-reproach. As individuals, we need to look at things, particularly mistakes and what’s not working, in an objective sense. Bear with my academic terminology, but the ability to draw functional relationships between your behavioural traits, and the knowledge that ranting to yourself about the past does nothing – but fixing it in the present does, is profoundly important. I say that more assertively since I have seen both sides with me. And nothing has helped me more than switching to this approach – knowing growth is incremental, and the more objectively (and not emotionally) it is done the better. Take my word for it.

Case in point? Apps. While on one hand you may be engrossed in those pings, you can use it to work-advantage. Habit formation has rewards as its paramount component – and you can gain that by looking at your own data. Have you heard of pomodoro? It stands for tomato – those tomato oven timers, you know. A college student from the past pioneered it, and I just installed an app that helps me work distraction free for 25 minutes at a time, and see at how many pomodoros I got done per day. Reward! And  couple with time tracking apps, and you can see how a day drives you to work. What events affect you. Scientists aren’t crazy about data for no reason, and as an aspirational one, I think that has served as an important lesson for me.

And yes, you should get help for organising stuff too if you’re too involved with things. Get a cloud based notes app which you can access anywhere, and a similar to-do list. Helps a lot. Note down how you’re doing in a day, organise small or big ideas, and keep looking at what’s up next. I am still struggling with that part – somehow I still haven’t ingrained in myself a tendency to start 4 days in advance instead of 1. Hofstadter’s law is very real, and overcoming that remains my next goal.

Prioritise too. Something more important beckons, so I’ll now take your leave. Carpe diem.