Be Better. It’s a phrase I’ve taken so close to heart I’ve considered having it tattooed on my arm. The idea is that, when slacking off or becoming unfocused, I’d have a reminder, quite literally, within arm’s reach.

I have yet to get this tattoo because tattoos are expensive.

Those who know me will know I am, at times, like a machine. Inexhaustibly working towards some goal, whatever it may be, to the exclusion of any other priorities. I have forgotten to both eat and drink because I was working on… whatever was at hand.

I’ve been holding myself to this standard which, I’m told, is not a healthy thing to do. I’ve been waving these concerns away because, hey, productivity. But – and this is a big but – I am not a machine. Accepting that, I have to not treat myself like one.

Lessons of Old

I have, since I started university studies in 2012, been using Scott Young’s Learn More, Study Less principle of daily and weekly goals. Each night, write a list of things I want to achieve the next day. Each Sunday night, also write a list of things I want to achieve the next week. Each list should be no more than five items (with some wiggle room on the weekly list). Each list should be realistically achievable. Each day, you work until your daily list is empty, then you do whatever you want. This blog post is being written after I’ve cleared out both the Sunday’s and the week’s list.

My biggest problem with the daily/weekly goals has been making them concrete and realistic. Just putting “Work” as a goal isn’t concrete – how do you know when you’re done? Putting 6-8 hours of work for a day isn’t realistic – unless you’re isolated, life can intervene and things outside of your control can make the goals unattainable.

While in the Netherlands, I did a lot of work – meta-work, really – on improving my planning and productivity. I discovered the Pomodoro Technique, which I’ve been using for managing time for well over a year now. I also learned that, while working 8 hours sounds good, in practice one can achieve as much or more by doing focused work for 4.

Lessons of Now

Okay, so all of this has been concerned with how to work. But, sometimes, the energy to work isn’t there. I’ll be the first to admit that I use healthy quantities of caffeine, but sometimes that doesn’t cut it either. The mood just isn’t there. Be Better, but how?

I’ve been scolded for most of my adult life for not sleeping enough. I usually retort that 6 hours per night is about what the body needs, and my body will accept that it will get no more. But, this isn’t right. Tacking just one or two more hours onto that will make me a far happier person when I do get up, and starting the day will be easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have periods of irregular and insufficient sleep – sometimes because I must, other times because I’m an idiot. But I’ve learned, roughly, what I can get by on and for how long. As a very illuminating tweet pointed out, sleeplessness is not a badge of honour.

Then there’s exercise. I’ve been really bad about that recently, mostly due to a cold that would not fuck off. Starting it back up made me realise what a huge effect it has on my mood for the entire day, though, so I’ll be better about it. It doesn’t have to be much – a 30 minute walk in the morning is my staple – but it matters. I hear exercise is also a good idea for the upcoming beach season.

Speaking of beach and exercise, let’s at least mention diet. The computer engineering adage GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) sort-of applies here. Eat well and you will feel well. Eat trash and you will feel like trash – and, consequently, perform like trash. Not eating trash is also good for beach season.

Plan of Attack

Going forward, this is the basic idea:

That last point is just one I’ve sort of made up. I haven’t tested it yet, but it makes sense. For one thing, it’ll help with self-discipline, since exercise is not the preferred action when energy runs out. For another, I believe it’ll really work.

That’ll be all for now. This was just going to be a short post, but then I started blithering – as per usual, really. I hope to have some exciting news next time.

Until then.