Step 3: Working Like a Dog

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been looking back over my “boom and bust” cycle of working, exposing it’s flaws and discussing areas of improvement. This cycle covers six steps, and we have already covered the first two – Decide to Start A New Project, and Plan the Scope Too Wide. This week, we will be looking at the next step – Work Myself Too Hard.

hard-work“Hard Work Never Hurt Anyone!”

Most people have heard the saying “Hard Work Never Hurt Anyone” but, unfortunately, this saying is not true. There are many people who are overworking themselves, resulting in an increase of stress, and the resulting health conditions that result from this. I am not going to go into the details about how stress works, and the damage it can cause. It is just enough to acknowledge that people can, and often do, overwork themselves, with devastating effects – both mentally and physically.

It is very hard to define what overworking actually is, simply because we all have our own individual circumstances, in terms of physical, mental, employment, and social health. As such, everyone has a different individual tolerance to workload, that fluctuates throughout their lives, sometimes on a daily basis.

OverworkingIn trying to figure out whether or not you are overworking, you also need to consider what is and isn’t work, so you can factor in all of the issues you face in your life. The biggest mistake is the thought that work only consists of what you get paid for! There are many people who don’t work, yet still lead very full lives that can lead to overworking.

For example, childcare and home-making are often ignored, despite being very demanding tasks that most people need to juggle with their career. Likewise, people rarely understand the demands of keeping debilitating health conditions under control, while volunteers are often dismissed despite fulfilling vital roles in the community.

Another common mistake is to ignore or dismiss leisure activities as work. It may seem like such activities are optional for people, they are vitally important for maintaining and individual’s health an almost every arena of modern life – physical, mental, employment, and social. A balance of all of these is needed, because neglecting any can result in many deleterious effects that hamper the day to day living of that person.

crash-comic-word-wording-speech-bubble-pop-art-style-burst-background-47728501Boom and Bust

Once these factors have been considered, you can get a clearer idea of just how much work you do each day. From this, you can see whether or not you are overworking, and where you might be doing so. Unfortunately, an individual’s work tolerance is subjective, and often only discerned when that threshold is past. Even then, most of the effects of overworking are only felt in the period afterwards, once you have overworked, and hamper further working, causing the problem to become worse.

The result of this is often a “crash” of some kind, as an individual ends up stopping because they can no longer work under such circumstances, and the body simply puts on the breaks. The form that this “crash” takes often comes from the area that is being neglected, and can be mental or physical (or both), and often be beyond the control of the individual as our own survival instincts kick in and tell us to stop.

This is very much the process at the heart of the “Boom and Bust” cycle – an individual starts full of vigour, ends up overworking, and then goes bust, spending time out to recover, before starting the cycle all over again.

Understanding this cycle is key to breaking this cycle, and that lies as the crux of this series. If we can spot the signs that lead up to overworking, or failing that, notice that we are overworking sooner, we can put the breaks on in more controlled manner, preventing the bust from happening.

Risk-takingBut I Am Healthy?!

Most people will often consider themselves to be healthy. We are often overconfident about our abilities, since this is a trait that leads to the evolution of our species. We tend to try things on the whole, with a “give it a go” attitude, simply because the rewards often outweigh the risks. In fact, we often exaggerate the rewards, while remaining somewhat ignorant of the risks.

This is largely because those who succeed go to live on and reproduce, while those who fail just dwindle and fade away. In such a highly competitive species as ourselves, even deciding not to take a risk, simply because of fear, can be as disastrous as failing. As such, we are inclined to eventually overcome our fears and push for the limits, just so that we can succeed.

AdrenalineRushThis is all part of our natural flight or fight response, which is the result of adrenaline, and is key to our short term survival. However, both fleeing and fighting are simple instinctive responses, and can be disastrous if they are not tempered, and often overridden, by understanding and reasoning.

More importantly, the fight or flight response is a false dichotomy, enforced by our instincts, when often many other solutions can present themselves if we get a chance to consider the problem away from the pressure that such situations often create.

problem-solutionWhat is the Solution?

No doubt, most people will be asking what the solution to this issue of overworking, stress, and instinct is – and the truth is that there isn’t a simple solution here. Every individual and circumstance is unique, and what works for some people might not work for others.

However, there are some general solutions depending upon what traits you tend to emphasise, so that you can regain some semblance of balance. For example, if you are prone to follow your instincts, and take emotional responses, a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) might help you bring some rationality to your reactions. Alternatively, for overly thoughtful people, especially neurotics, therapy to focus through the thoughts and concentrate on solutions, often based on finding and understanding your innate instincts might work.

Ultimately though, there are no quick solutions, because of the individuality of each scenario. Most therapy is based on decoding and understanding the situations, while helping the patient think and reflect about themselves and the world around them, from a semi-objective viewpoint.

therapy-480x280Isn’t Therapy a Bit Much?

In most cases, therapy is often required in extreme cases, when people finally go “bust” at the end of the cycle. However, many with undergo a sort of self-therapy during such times, allowing them to recover and return to their previous selves.

Unfortunately, many people often neglect such therapeutic practices once they have recovered, and this is usually why the “boom and bust” cycle repeats itself. Sometimes people end up making the same mistakes, but more likely, they will end up making similar mistakes – mistakes that have the same cause and effect, yet in another area of their life.

The most common cause for this is that once someone has “crashed” by neglecting or overworking in one or more areas of their life, they will shift their focus, and often end up overworking or neglecting another area of their life, and thus “crash” once again.

gladiator-maximus-vs-tigris-of-gaul-04Life Arenas

This is by no far an exhaustive list of the areas in an individuals life, since many people create and change their goals, priorities, and focuses depending upon their personalities and circumstances. This flexibility is key to maintaining a healthy and stable identity.

Despite this flexibility, many such areas will fall into one or more of the following broad categories:

  • human-body-9TRbGzdTePhysical: Our bodies are important to us, and as such, have a deep and often unrealised impact upon our health and wellbeing. These can include physcial health issues, such as recovering or preventing injury and illness, through to our own self-image and body perception. Many people want to “get fit”, “improve muscle mass”, or “lose weight” – even if they don’t have any health issues.
  • images (5)Mental: Psychological issues have a deep impact on our identities. In fact, creating and maintaining our own self-identity is a fundamental part of psychology – it represents the epitome of our own consciousness, self-awareness, and intellect. This is what makes us human. The term psychological can often be seen as derogatory, however, giving the implication that such issues are “made up” or “in our heads”, when things are a lot more complicated than that. This mental arena also includes how we perceive and react to each other, what we think about things, and the sum of our life experiences.
  • 2805598Employment: Employment is a key part of who we are. We often define ourselves by what we do, and as such this often relates to our sense of self worth and value as part of society. Being appreciated for what we do, regardless of whether we are actually being paid to do it, is important. Job satisfaction falls into this category, and is becoming increasingly more important in the understanding of Human Resource departments in all sorts of companies. It doesn’t matter if you are employed, self-employed, freelance, or volunteering – as long as you are doing something that makes you feel worthwhile in your life.
  • disc_health_and_social_care_assistant_practitioner_1Social: We are a social species, and a highly competitive one. As such, many aspects of our life revolve around dealing with other people. Be they friendships, rivalries, families, social groups, team mates, or work colleagues, such interactions matter. In addition, even people we don’t know can affect us – the other passengers on the daily commute, the shopkeeper in the newsagent, or the passer-by in the street can all have a profound affect on our daily lives.

All in all, modern life is very complicated, and discussing it in it’s entirety can (and has) taken many people entire lifetimes, and it still remains incomplete. After all, life evolves just as we do, and that is why trying to discuss can be seen as futile.

All that is really needed is to understand that these areas exist, and more importantly, that they are NOT distinct and disparate. These arenas interact in many different, and complex ways, and is all part of the uniqueness of life.

images (6)My Approach – Past and Present

I could go on forever about overworking and stress, and about the richness of life, and the unique tapestry that we weave, but that is not going to bring this series, or even this article to a close. This series is about me evaluating myself, and looking for flaws and how I can improve.

So, am I overworking, and where might I be doing so? Well, the answer is that I do have a tendency to overwork – a lot. My work tolerance is extremely low, simply because I have many health issues that plague me. I have been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating auto-immune disease where my body attacks the bacteria in my gut, leading me to feel like I have the flu nigh on constantly.

Managing my Crohn’s is a significant physical factor in my life, and the Crohn’s significantly impacts most other areas of my life as well, through pain and discomfort, fatigue, and disruption. It puts many limits on me, which I either have to push through, resulting in a crash, or balk away from as a result of fear.

1282362.largeAs such, my flight or fight response is in overdrive constantly, resulting in high amounts of adrenaline at all times, which puts me under a lot of stress constantly. Since Crohn’s also has a significant stress-related factor, this can, and does, result in a positive feedback loop (it gets worse as it spirals more and more out of control) that can have disastrous effects. These “crashes” tend to be fairly significant.

This is clearly key to my “boom and bust” cycle, and as such, most of my “work” is actually done trying to reduce my stress and prevent such a crash, which in itself is a major cause of my overworking.

I often find myself trying to compensate in other areas of my life, in order to try and reduce my stress so that it doesn’t compound my physical issues. This is not as easy as it sounds, because of the limitations of my Crohn’s.

For example, I cannot work because of my Crohn’s, and this leads me to constant thoughts and feelings of uselessness. As a result, I will often overwork, trying to find ways to be useful. This might manifest by trying to be an AWESOME friend to everyone, often at the expense of myself, trying to be there when I can. This also manifests itself largely in my projects – I identify as a games designer, despite having had limited success and opportunity to actually be a games designer, and thus tend to push myself too hard when the few opportunities arrive, or seek to try and create my own, often futile, opportunities to be a games designer.

c461ca5a35d2cbd928db78458dc91478Crohn’s – A Convenient Excuse?

First off, this may sound like I am using my Crohn’s as an excuse, and in many ways, I often do – largely out of fear. However, it is also an example how much different arenas of life interact in complex ways. I wish I could say that if I didn’t have Crohn’s, everything would work out, but that is not the case. It is hard to say whether or not the Crohn’s is the cause of my issues, or the result of them. I can say, however, that my Crohn’s is both a cause and a result, that is easily used to encapsulate an entire wealth of ideas in a single word.

Is there a solution to this for me? It is hard to say, but it is clear that there isn’t a simple solution here that will fix everything. Instead, understanding it, accepting it, and being aware of it in my decisions will hopefully prevent me from becoming stressed and overworking.

I can improve small factors in my life, and hope that these build up to a bigger benefit. Trying to maintain a moderately tidy home, a stable and fulfilling relation, and relaxing with a fulfilling hobby, while boosting my self-esteem with a satisfying career is pretty much all that I can hope for here in any realistic sense. But then, isn’t that what everybody wants in the end?

Puzzle-piecesI know that this is not much of a solution, but how can there be a more specific solution to such a vague, yet complicated, problem? I could break my issues down into smaller, more detailed chunks, listing every little thing – and this would result in finding a lot of little solutions.

Ultimately, despite what we may think, it is the little things that matter – simply because the little things build up into bigger things. By dealing with the little things, while they are still little, I can hopefully prevent them from becoming too big to handle.

download (2)Being AWESOME

As an aside, I often describe myself as AWESOME, which means to inspire awe, the sense of shock and wonderment that largely equates to the term “OMG!” For me, being AWESOME is something that I strive for, a responsibility and an identity. It is about being the best that I can be, and helping others do the same.

Many people think of this as arrogance, but like everything else in life, being AWESOME is a matter of subjectivity. I feel AWESOME when I get out of bed, simply because I often wonder how I manage it. Doing the dishes, finishing an article, helping a friend move, having a good night out, or making my fiancé feel special with a romantic gesture all provoke the same response in myself, and in quite a few others.

misc-clean-all-the-things-l-232After all, I could be bitter, and I could have given up long ago, stopped caring about myself and others, and be filled with negativity and despair. But I am not. I keep trying, despite my failures, and this is often a key to my “boom and bust” cycle.

Anyway, until next time, stay AWESOME yourselves!

Step 2: Panaramic Vision

So far in this series, I have outlined my classic “boom and bust” cycle of working, and I have already discussed Step 1 in more detail. Now, it is time to move on to the next step, Step 2 – Plan the Scope Too Wide.

Bad_Hindelang_panorama_view_from_southWhat is Scope?

Successful projects have a solid plan. This is a fact. Without a stated goal, projects become nebulous, and almost impossible to complete. This plan is the scope of the project, detailing what the purpose of the project is, how much it will cover, and how it will be implemented.

However, planning is easy, and in many cases, it can be fun. The drawback to this is that it can often lead to the scope of the project becoming too wide. This results in a lack of focus, and as such, many of the same problems occur that would occur if you lacked a solid plan in the first place.

images (4)The scope is there to define boundaries to the project, so that you can focus on what is important, and not get sidetracked into other issues, decisions, ideas, and topics. In turn, this allows you to get projects completed quickly and efficiently, preventing you from wasting time doing things that could be used to finish up your project on time.

Ultimately, the narrower the scope, the more focused your project will be, and the quicker it can be completed. Completing a project is the starting block for a successful project. After all, an abandoned project is typically an uncompleted project, and thus unable to become a successful project.

sniper-scope-wall-decal-2-203-pWhat Makes For a Good Scope?

A good scope is simply a set of boundaries that allows you to focus on a single given topic easily until it is completed. This largely depends upon the resources that you have available, your working patterns, and the current circumstances in your life. A single writer on their own project will normally work better with a narrower scope than a team of 5 people, for example.

It is often tempting to try and cater for success with your projects by trying to cater for everyone, but this is often a futile task that will undermine your project instead. Likewise, it can be enticing to plan for a project to last weeks, months, and even years, often without regard to what such a commitment actually means for your scope.

In general, shorter, narrower scopes are best, and have the most chances of succeeding. More importantly, wider scopes can often be broken down into narrower scopes, making them more manageable, and more flexible.

The Starway to Heaven Nebula Stone NebulaMy Approach – Past and Present

I am consistently making my scope too wide to be effective, and as such, despite having what I considered to be a good plan, I actually had a nebulous one due to a lack of concrete boundaries that suited my purposes and resources.

I am an advocate of the Gamer Lifestyle program created and supported by Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips, but this method does have a few flaws for someone like me. It requires dedication and commitment, and actually advocates planning wider scopes, before tunnelling them down to a bunch of more specific, narrower scopes, which then become tasks that need to be done.

This is ideal if you are a very organised, capable multitasker with enough time and resources to handle the relevant tasks and the upkeep they require. After all, the Gamer Lifestyle is advocated for individuals that wish to become both Games Designers and Entrepreneurs, since a big part of the program involves setting up and maintaining your own business to publish, sell, and market your own work.

download (1)Unfortunately, I am not that good a multitasker – I simply don’t have the resources or capability to maintain such extensive upkeep on a simultaneous number of different fronts. Instead, I am much better at focusing on a single task, getting it to completion, and then moving onto the next.

As such, I am better suited to using a narrow scope, to allow me to isolate a single task at a time. That means I am much more likely to complete my individual tasks, and thus more likely to result in more successful projects. Just as wider scopes can be broken down into narrower scopes, smaller completed tasks can build up into larger completed tasks, and eventually into whole completed projects.

figure_building_plan_from_blocksAn Example – This Series

An example of using such a process of narrowing your scope to individual tasks, and then using these tasks to build up to more complete projects can be seen in this very series.

What I have done so far is to plan the scope for this article series – I am looking at my “boom and bust” cycle, which contains six steps. As such, I can break this series down into six articles. Adding an introduction and conclusion to this series, means that I have a scope of eight articles, each of which has been clearly defined in a narrower scope. By completing each of these articles, it can build up into a complete series, and thus a complete project.

wordpress-logo-notext-rgbSince each article is being published on this website, I can focus on writing each article up individually, direct to the website. Once done, I can add in links and artwork. It is a fairly simple process, but the scope of each task is quite narrow, and thus more likely to be completed.

My scope doesn’t currently include any plans to support or propagate this series. These tasks are beyond the scope of this project, but could easily become the scope for later projects, be it a retrospective of this series in a year from now, or writing a guest article related to this series for other websites, like Roleplaying Tips. Alternatively, I could compile this series into a free PDF for people following the Gamer Lifestyle. There are a lot of options that I could take in the future, but they are just that – in the future. I will never get to any of them if they become the focus, and get in the way of completing this project right now.

Speaking of now, it is time to practice what I preach, and bring this article to a close. I have finished this article, and have discussed the issues of Step 2. Next time, I will be looking at Step 3. Until then, stay AWESOME!

Step 1: Redo From Start

A green button with the word VOIP on it, standin for voice over internet protocol, a technology that allows you to make phone calls over the internet for little or no cost, saving money on telephone communication

Last week, I started looking back over my flawed “boom and bust” working cycle, with the eye towards seeing how can avoid the pitfalls of previous attempts, improve upon my systems, and hopefully end up breaking the cycle completely. These are all lofty goals, and they might be unachievable at this time, but by critically examining my thought patterns and processes, I can maybe achieve them in the future at some point.

This week, we will start at the beginning – Step 1: Decide to Start a New Project. This is an important step, although most people don’t realise it, let alone critically examine it. After all, without making the decision to actually start a project, nothing can begin.

face_question_markDo You Really Need to Start a New Project?

Generally, this step is often associated with starting a NEW project, yet this doesn’t have to be the case. It is tempting to throw away all the old ideas, get rid of all the clutter, and begin again from scratch. A blank sheet can often be intimidating, but for many people it can be enticing and invigorating.

I often fall for this – being all too eager throw away my past work, thoughts, and ideas, in order to get to a fresh page, a fresh project, and a fresh start. In many ways, this article series can be seen as a manifestation of this trait. I typically draw a line under my previous work and move on, completely forgetting and abandoning what I did before.

So, what can be done about this trait? The first step is to acknowledge it, and to understand why the urge to completely start over, exists. In my case, it is typically because abandoned ideas equate to failed ideas, and I don’t like to be reminded of my past attempts and failures. I want to look towards the future, and as such, I am tempted to ignore the past, which often dooms me to make the same mistakes, and trap me in the “boom and bust” work cycle which I am trying to escape from.

Instead, the decision should be made whether or not a new project is actually necessary. Could a simple restart and refresh of the previous material be a better option? Could looking back at a previous project be desirable. Are there things that could be finished up, or recycled, in your current project(s)?

For me, these are all valid options, but ironically, in this instance, I have already made the decision to start a NEW project. After all, this is a NEW article series, based on a theme that I haven’t considered before. If I opted to continue a previous project, this article wouldn’t be getting written, and I wouldn’t be critically examining my working cycle in this way.

paper-pileWhat About Your Old Material?

Having made the decision to start a new project, there is still a bit more to this step. After all, if we are working on a new project, we still have to decide what to do with the old material. Old material can often clutter your mind, your harddrive, and your workspace, and often can distract you from finishing your current project.

Generally, there are three approaches to this critical question, and the answer you take seems to have a significant impact upon how likely you are to return to the “boom and bust” working cycle in due course.

  1. Keep Your Old Material
  2. Destroy Your Old Material
  3. Archive Your Old Material

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these methods, and understanding these can be the difference between success and failure, both of this project, and of future projects.

paper-pilesKeeping Your Old Material

Keeping your old material is often the easiest approach, and has the advantage that you don’t spend time clearing your mind, harddrive, and workspace in preparation for your new project. It allows you to resume your previous project at any time, or to refer to your previous notes and ideas. This can be advantageous if your current project is somehow related to your previous work.

The downside is that you can easily be distracted from your current project by your previous work. Focus can be impaired, as you often feel the draw to improve your previous attempts when you refer to the material. Storage can become confusing, and mistakes can creep in. Plus, you often don’t get the sense of a “clean start” that could otherwise invigorate your work.

paper_fire_01_100707Destroying Your Old Material

Destroying your old material is an option, and is good for providing the blank sheet that sometimes helps push a new project onwards. It allows for an efficient, distraction-free, working environment and mindset, that often allows for a sharper focus on the task at hand.

On the downside, destroying old material often means that you might find yourself inadvertently retracing old steps and repeating tasks that you have already covered, and sometimes even making the same mistakes. You have only your memory for reference, and it comes down to your capacity to learn to avoid such pitfalls. In addition, who knows when you are going to want to consider restarting or returning to a previous project?

SBC_sr-a26Archiving Your Old Material

Archiving your old material is considered a compromise between these two extremes. It allows you to store your old material in a way that is fairly easy to retrieve, but is not so distracting when you are working on your current project. Archiving can give that sense of a new start, without the finality of never being able to return to previous ideas.

The downsides of archiving are that it is essentially an extra step that can often be time consuming and get in the way of the invigorating energy of starting a new project. In addition, you can end up with a lot of material that simply becomes too much of a chore to search through at a later date.

downloadMy Approach – Past and Present

For me, I used to destroy all my previous work, because I really needed that “fresh start” to fire me up and get me working. However, I would still end up burning out, and then found myself going back over the same material, essentially repeating the same project over and over, while never seeming to get any closer to finishing it.

This is clearly a key factor in my continuing “boom and bust” working cycle, and changing this is a good start to trying to break this cycle. For the past few projects, I have started archiving my material instead, allowing me the uncluttered mindset that I require to work, but meaning that I don’t necessarily have to repeat content I created in the past. As of yet, I have not got to the point where I would commonly end up repeating my work, so I have not found whether this is actually a better approach for me yet. Time will tell.

After deciding to start/continue a new project, and what you are going to do with your old material, it is time to move on to Step 2. We will cover this next week, so until then stay AWESOME.

“Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends…”

charge!It has been a long time since I actually did any work. Too long, in fact. It has been little under five months since I even sat down at my keyboard and tried putting down my ideas into anything resembling usefulness.

As usual, after such a long period of absence, dealing with the changes in my life (and their have been a few), my first thought is to archive all my previous work, look at where I was going wrong, and see what I can do to make things better.

Looking back, I realise that I have a terrible “boom and bust” pattern of work, which has resulted in a long line of epic, incomplete projects. I tend to push the scope to far, force myself to work too hard, and then burn out, leaving for long periods of time, all before I attempt to restart the cycle.

In short, my cycle is as follows:

  1. Decide to Start A New Project
  2. Plan the Scope Too Wide
  3. Work Myself Too Hard
  4. Burn Myself Out
  5. Abandon My Project
  6. Re-Evaluate and Repeat

6d35d2f831001e67820b92803928a8b0Although I am aware of this cycle, I have never actually tried to focus on looking on the flaws in this cycle, and seeing how it affects my working patterns. By trying to put this into a website article, I can hopefully help process my thinking better, and realise ways in which I can start to break this cycle to become more productive, improving both my workload and my health, physically and mentally.

This cycle is a common cycle for many people, and tackling it will hopefully help myself and others recognise the pattern and be able to nip it in the bud before it takes root. It is all too easy to accept things as being outside of your control – and sometimes, they are – but only by looking at it can you be certain.

Study9Even then, the key is to look at what IS under your control, and change those factors accordingly. This is a type of thinking that is important for games designers and games players alike. Nobody ever won a game of chess by giving up because they couldn’t move their Rook on the first turn. Instead, they asked themselves if moving their Rook was important to their strategy, and if so, what would it take to allow them to move their Rook.

As such, over the next few weeks, I will go over my cycle step by step, discussing WHY I tend to take such steps, what the flaws with each step are, and what can be improved about each step. This is not a cycle for success – but it IS a cycle of good intentions, and hopefully by critically examining those intentions, a far better system can be created.

Next week, I will be looking at the first step – Deciding to Start a New Project.

Until then, Stay AWESOME!