Michael He

March 2, 2022

Make Time Or Go Insane

Work is like a blackhole. It will suck every minute of your waking hour, if you let it. It will occupy your headspace ad infinitum, if you let it.

Our mind doesn't work like a water faucet, so thoughts and emotions and more emotions burst out the spigot-less mind and drive us nuts.

Translate that to day-to-day life (especially since COVID), the boundaries between things have blurred like crazy. In turn, we go insane. Burnout, unreasonably tired syndrome, the sense that time has escaped us, they creep in our daily life and often take us down for a ride in the slump. And once you are in the slump, getting back up is that much harder.

This is why having a hard reset everyday is so important.

What works for me won't necessarily work for you, but sharing my experience may give you some ideas and principles to tinker with.

I scheduled my commitments this semester to be manageable and engaging, so I can minimize the moments I feel fed up with work and life. Lower commitment equals lower likelihood to be overworked. This premise is important to remember, as not everyone can reduce commitments (though we ought to try regardless). While some people have ample free time and still feel burnt out, that is out of this essay's scope.

However, it's the next step that makes a real difference. I set a hard boundary everyday between 4-6 PM. I can do anything but school work. I can read. I can go for a walk. I can talk to friends. I can sit there and do nothing. Heck, I can even nap (though that's not helpful for falling asleep later at night).

The obvious effect is a moment of breather, but the non-obvious and more important effect is telling my subconscious self that "X doesn't matter, not during these sacred hours". My mind is faster than my body, so this cutoff is a way to metaphorically pull on my mind's leash. Woah woah, slow down, not today buddy!

Clarity is hard to come by naturally, but training it as a skill is reasonable. We can actually push our own buttons. That comes with a lot of self-tinkering. For example, I force myself to go on walks to readjust my moods. Depending on the situation, I play certain music or embrace silence. My friend Beomgyu treats playlists like his friend and he can't be more correct.

In addition to this set routine, I have a few minimal tasks to complete everyday at all cost. They are not for school or for work, but solely for my own enjoyment and well-being. The first is to be positive to someone. The second is to take a few notes on flomo with no restriction on length or content. The last is to read anything that is not news or gossip. 

No matter how I do these minimal tasks, my mind gets a subconscious reset. It receives the message "I am doing something for my long-term growth; maybe no result is visible for months or even years, but decades later I will be harvesting the seeds I sow right now." Being a positive person, being open minded via writing, and reading are valuable.

Hence, this seemingly short list of must-dos actually sustains my momentum in the best possible way. They are already very difficult to execute every day. The days when you don't want to do these "easy" tasks exemplify the true colors of human nature.

There is another not-so-obvious effect of this hard boundary. By removing a few hours from my time available for work and commitments, I essentially give myself no backup option to procrastinate and remain indecisive forever. My rate of doing productive work invariably goes up, since the number of hours goes down and the total output has to stay the same. 

This works empirically and reveals another insight: extra hours for work have minimal positive impact. I believe there is a limited amount of time I can truly do things that I am expected to finish. I can better align my hours and enjoy the extra free time.

We need to diversify our life, so we don't go completely insane or heartbroken over that thing(s) we care about (but perhaps a bit too much). 

You need to make time before you go insane. The time is ticking.