Work vs Play, and What About Care?

From Flickr user Arjan Richter
From Flickr user Arjan Richter

Living life on my own clock has proven quite an adjustment. Fiction writing happens when I make it happen, day job work happens when I make it happen, the business of life happens when I make it happen, restorative play happens when I make it happen, meaningless distraction happens when I make it happen. Basically, I’m building new habits for self-regulation, and I’ve been grappling with what that means for balancing work and play, as well as for how self-care fits into all this.

Since my previous employer ceased to exist at the end of September, I’ve been in charge of my own daily schedule. I spent October in a state of total free flow, with the end result that not much got done in terms of outward productivity. There was still a fair bit of emotional work under way as I tried to figure out what this all meant for me, my identity, and my future, but there was also plenty of time spent simply trying to distract myself from all that. November brought NaNoWriMo and a new daily structure, which was extremely helpful. It’s also when the plans for what comes next in terms of day job started to come together.

The first part of December was taken up by riding the productivity momentum built up during NaNoWriMo and then collapsing for a couple weeks. In the second half, I put together a new version of the daily schedule and tried to stick with it as best I could through the holidays. The five of you who might be checking in from time to time may have seen that it’s made for a modest improvement here, but one that was still disrupted pretty heavily by the demands of the holidays. There will likely be another version of the daily schedule guiding me through most of January, and we’ll see what a possible increase in day job demands does to my ability to sustain productivity on all fronts.

As I’ve been navigating all these attempts at self-imposed discipline and structure, I’ve been trying to add in all the things I know are rationally important. I schedule regular breaks, although I try to keep them short enough that inertia can’t sink in. I try to frontload the most cognitively intense parts of my day in the morning. I’ve been working on incorporating mindfulness, reflection, and appropriate amounts of restorative play. On the intellectual level, I figure I’m still a few iterations away from a genuinely sustainable daily schedule that encourages progress in each part of my work.

Emotionally, I’ve found myself cycling through satisfaction/confidence/enthusiasm when I feel like things are clicking along well, followed by disappointment/doubt/guilt when I fail to meet my own goals. While the thinking part of me tries to learn from each failure, considering that the goals themselves may have been unrealistic, the rest of me takes it personally as indicative of some inherent weakness in myself. I know this is not the case, I know I’m still searching for the right work level, and I know I’m still building the necessary discipline and willpower to meet my daily schedule. But I feel like I’m just letting myself down.

As always, resolving this will mean recentering myself regularly, with particular attention to the values I’m trying to live by. Going into 2015, my “anchor values” are discipline, integrity, and adaptability. Routinely coming back to all of those will, I hope, help me keep getting off the mat when I fail to live up to my own plans and expectations.

This means figuring out how much slack to cut myself when I feel burnout setting in, staying intentional in planning my days and life, and continuing to grapple with the paradox of a frequently changed core structure for my work and life. Hopefully it also means these introspective posts will get more upbeat as the year goes on!