Step 5: Tested to Destruction

CrashTestDummy-2-8544bOver the past several weeks, I have been looking at my working cycle, which is a typical “boom and bust” cycle, with an eye towards how to improve my efficiency and break the cycle. So far, we have covered issues in planning projects too big, overworking, and burning out.

Now, we come to Step 5: Abandon My project. This will be a delicate post, as it deals with the motivations why I tend to abandon my projects. This is the “bust” of the cycle. Some readers may find that the open discussion of the topic of self-destructive behaviour might be a bit distressing. Indeed, it can be – because the impact of self-destructive behaviour can be devastating to everyone involved, not just the individual engaging in such behaviour, but those around them that have to deal with the aftermath.

It is important to understand the seriousness of all forms of destructive behaviour. It destroys lives in many ways, both physically and mentally. Please note that I am NOT a professional psychotherapist, but I must advise anyone who feels that they or those around them may be engaging in self-destructive behaviour to seek professional help as soon as possible. Please don’t leave things until they are too late to deal with.

Cartoon-Car-crash-pq9561Fight or Flight

So, what happens when people burn out? The answer is simple – they “crash.” We have covered why people “crash” in previous weeks, but very little has been said about how people “crash.” This is because such behaviour is often unique to the scenario involved – it depends upon the severity of the reasons of the crash, the mindset and personality of the individuals involved, and the circumstances and support that they find themselves in.

When someone “burns out” from stress, they stop doing what they are doing that is causing the burn out. Unfortunately, the situation causing the stress doesn’t always stop at the same time. This means that it can continue to have a significant impact upon the severity of the “crash” for the individual.

fightUnderstanding Aggression

Stress provokes adrenaline, used to engage the “flight or fight” instinct that all living creatures have. This response is a false dichotomy – there is rarely such a choice involved, since both systems use the same process, with the same ultimate goal – to end the situation causing the stress. The only difference between these two is how our actions and reactions manifest themselves to achieve this outcome.

Unfortunately, in modern life, we can’t always “fight” or “flee” from sources of stress. This tends to leave us trapped in a situation which becomes steadily worse. We become increasingly desperate to escape the situation, by either fighting or fleeing. The thing is that these two are not distinct, and will often be used together to try and remove ourselves from the source of the stress. This is results in ever increasingly extreme actions to achieve this result, until we either successfully escape the situation.

breaking-free-chainsThis instinctive behaviour is largely subconscious, and is a basic survival trait intended for short term immediate survival. It typically manifests as aggressive behaviour, as we either confront the source of the problem, or we try to break out of the situation.

Unfortunately, the direction of such aggression isn’t always towards the true source of the stress. People can lash out in aggressive behaviour to those around them, even if they are no part of the problem. In some cases, this aggression can be turned inwards, towards ourselves.

Such aggressive behaviour doesn’t always have to be overtly aggressive. It doesn’t have to be a direct physical attack on the source, those around them, or even themselves. This aggression can manifest in a number of different covert ways, which often depends upon what the source of the stress actually is.

download (1)As discussed previously, we have many different arenas in our lives, and different levels of needs. Each of these can be a viable target for some form of extreme action or aggression, whether by ourselves or others.

It is important to understand that the stress and the resulting reaction are almost universally some form of mental trauma, and it is often difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between cause and effect. More importantly, such circumstances are not always singular, isolated incidents, but are more likely to be a pattern of behaviour as the person becomes increasingly desperate to find some way to solve or escape the situation.

Depression and SorrowPerpetuation of Misery

Needless to say, such behaviour, although normal, isn’t exactly healthy – physically or mentally. Stress and adrenaline can harm and kill, especially in long-term exposure. Extreme behaviour due to stress can cause significant, if not irreparable damage, to all those involved, including those who just happen to be around at the time. Most importantly, such behaviour can often be a cause of stress and trauma to those experiencing it, thus triggering a potential feedback cycle that actually makes the problem worse.

2000px-Biohazard_symbol.svgThis process of action and reaction to the trauma of stress and it’s consequences is known as the “perpetuation of misery” and works like a sort of emotional disease within society. It is an unconscious side effect of our own instincts, and can only be tackled, and interrupted by understanding and reason. We must work to overrule our subconscious, but this is always easier said then done.

Self-awareness takes time and effort, and sometimes, when our instincts and reactions kick in, it is often too late to try and stop them. However, by noticing and observing the less extreme problem behaviours, we can often pre-empt and prevent the more extreme behaviours from occurring. This is probably the best way to preventing the “perpetuation of misery” that we often experience – the cycle that most often is the biggest cause of stress in our lives.

glass__lucent_heart_by_raingardenWorst Case Scenario

Failing that, if a crash happens, the next step is to recover and try to pick up the pieces of the situation. We have to try to keep ourselves and each other from being affected by the circumstances of the crash. The best way to do this is to talk about it openly and honestly, so that we can process the information, and learn from the experience, while working through our own feelings and reactions to the events that have occurred.

By being aware of the event, and monitoring our own feelings, we can try to engage our reason and intellect to help us challenge our own emotional responses. We can protect ourselves psychologically, by attempting to inoculate ourselves from the “perpetuation of misery.” We can take steps to anticipate and mitigate our own instincts, so that we can lessen the impact and suffering to ourselves and others.

firstaidDealing With Trauma

The trauma of any such crash should never be underestimated. A lack of understanding or support about any such circumstances is often the biggest contributing factor to the escalation of desperate behaviours. Just as a baby’s cries become more incessant the longer they are left untended, extreme and aggressive behaviour will only become increasingly worse until it is tackled and challenged. Most importantly, we should seek to resolve the cause of the trauma, and not just the extreme behaviours that are provoked by it.

Ultimately, it is important to focus on the process of how trauma and stress works, including how such behaviours can, and often do, escalate if they are left unresolved. While some situations do resolve themselves, many don’t without some sort of intervention by those involved, and those around them. Left unchecked, they can become serious, and sometime fatal. Neglect, self harming, suicide, and worse can all result if desperate situations are left unresolved for long enough.

download (2)My Approach – Past and Present

With this in mind, I can look towards my own crashes, and my own incidents of self-destructive behaviour. Abandoning my projects when they result in  too much stress is the most typical response and reaction, and just one example of the self-destructive nature caused by the trauma of stress.

It might be hard to appreciate why this reaction is such an issue for me. However, when you take into account that successful completion of such projects are a key means of building and preserving my self-esteem, the self-destructive natures of this act should become clear. Likewise, as a professional games designer, have a wake of abandoned projects on my resumé is an act of self-destruction against my chosen career. With each failed project, it becomes harder for me to complete future ones, as my self-esteem bottoms out, and opportunities to take part in such projects diminishes.

Fighting my instincts to abandon my projects is tough. I find that this is the case regardless of the size of the project, be it a product manuscript of 100,000 words, studying for a university degree, or trying to complete a computer game. Even this article series, right now, is a challenge to finish because of other stresses – I find myself writing the articles later and later, creeping closer to my self-imposed deadlines, and just itching to press the delete button.

download (3)Tackling the Issue

So what can I do about this. Firstly, I can, and I am, acknowledging this issue. It is a problem, but with a mixture of determination, reason, and support, I can hopefully overcome this issue. However, it will always be a daily struggle – each incidence, and each project, will have to tackled as it comes, and hopefully I will be able to teach myself how to handle these feelings.

This series, in fact, is basically me going through this process of teaching myself and tackling this issue head on. Firstly, I am asking questions and trying to answer them openly and honestly. Why do I feel the urge to quit? What is it that causes this “crash”?

Well, I think that the true cause is actually low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy. I constantly worry whether any of my projects are good enough, or even viable, as I strive to deal with my need to prove myself as being worth something. Not just as a games designer, but as a part of society and humanity.

25283Changing My Behaviour

What can I do about these feelings? Well, firstly, I can, and do acknowledge, that I have these feelings, and more importantly, that these feelings result in a positive feedback cycle of stress. The more I worry about these things, the more stress they cause, until I “crash.” This is the typical process of someone who suffers from constant neurosis.

Yet, I shouldn’t dismiss or ignore these feelings, because this too causes stress. Rather, the best approach is to acknowledge that these feelings are okay, and that they are a result of my neurosis. That is, that I am stressing about stressing, which is okay when handled with care.

In addition, there are two different, yet similar, actions that I can take to try and resolve my feelings to quit when I get them. The first is to place myself in a controlled, supportive environment, where I can be reassured until these feelings subside. Situations where I can’t hurt myself, or others, when I become desperate. For example, I might spend the day in bed, away from my PC, or doing household chores. I might keep myself isolated, so that I don’t end up stressing anyone else until I feel better. In the worst cases, I might surround myself with things to hurt and destroy that I can do so without significant impact – for example, pillows that can’t get damaged as opposed to my PC.

imagesThe second action is basically a form of substitution or replacement. This means that rather than quit or abandon something that is important to me, I might do a similar, but less impacting action. For example, starting a new PC game (often overwriting an existing one as I “Redo From Start”) is a common action. By doing so, I can abandon the game, with little or no consequence. I think that this, in itself, might be a big cause of my gaming addiction – something that I amusingly try to justify as “research”.

Ultimately though, I aim to also reduce my reliance on such behaviours, by directly tackling the causes themselves. By challenging my own inadequacies, and my reactions to them, I can hopefully train myself to limit the impact that these have on my life. As it stands, I am often able to challenge my inadequacies head on, reminding myself of my achievements.

download (4)Achieving Serenity

I remind myself that I am AWESOME, and that makes me adequate. After all, being AWESOME means to try and better yourself, to be the best that you can be, and that in itself, is more than enough to make me adequate. After all, I am judged solely by my own standards, and I remind myself why they are, in fact, my standards. I remind myself that I am trying to be who I want to be, and that is all that anybody can do.

This can be hard to do when you are gripped in the depths of depression and neurosis, but I just remind myself that I am me, quite often with the help of others such as my friends and family, and directly challenge and disrupt the cycle that results from neurosis.

I have the serenity prayer on my wall, and it’s words comfort me:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to tell the difference.”

This poem reminds me that I should try not to worry about the things I cannot control, that I should be brave enough to challenge what I can control even if it is just to take responsibility for my own behaviours, and that I should strive to be aware about my own thoughts, feelings, and reactions as well as those of others.

With that in mind, there is only two more articles in this series to go, so until next week – stay AWESOME!

Step 4: Crash and Burn

Burning carOver the past couple of weeks, I have been looking at the various steps of my “boom and bust” working cycle, including last week, which covered step 3 – working too hard. The main purpose of this series is to look at ways to improve upon the flaws in my working patterns. However, last week, I failed to define any concrete solutions, and commit to anything more generalised than “try not to overwork.”

Although this may seem like a cop-out, the main reason for this is that overworking itself is cause of the real problem – burning out. Thus, while attempting to limit my overworking, the real problem is trying to avoid burning out, and the effects that causes on my working patterns. While overworking is the main cause of burning out, it is not the only cause of it, and we can solve the same problem by looking at other causes that will help reduce, or even prevent, burning out from overworking.

woman in office with burnoutWhat is Burnout?

Burnout is the term for becoming emotionally, mentally, and even physically fatigued with a given set of tasks. This effect can cause you to actively avoid pursuing such tasks, even to the detriment of yourself and those around you. More importantly, you may become so fatigued that you end up being unable to function efficiently, if at all, in certain areas and tasks.

We covered some of the areas in which you can overwork, and these areas also correspond to the areas where you might suffer burnout. This means that overworking and burnout is a “positive feedback” cycle – as overworking increases, the chance of burning out increases, which in turn leads to even more overworking and a higher chance of burning out further.

Quite often, overworking in this case isn’t so much about consciously trying to do too much, but that what you currently trying to maintain becomes increasingly harder, until you fail. Even mundane tasks, such as simple household chores, minor social interaction, and maintaining your basic standard of health can become almost impossible to keep up as you burn out.

13427934_lPreventing Burn Out

Because overworking and burning out is a positive feedback cycle, it can be extremely difficult to prevent, particularly once it has started going out of control. This is normally when most people begin to suspect that they have a problem, but quite often this is too late – and the main solution is not to prevent burnout, but instead to try and mitigate the damaging effects of burning out, while picking up the pieces as quickly as possible to try and return to a position of strength.

However, there are actions that you take before this “point of no return,” especially if you are aware of the issues caused by potentially burning out. Trying to reduce your overworking is but one of these options. Some others include things like self-awareness techniques, understanding your motivations, prioritising your goals, time management, learning to say no, and including downtime into your schedule.

silhouette of a man's head with a glowing light bulb, and gears.Self Awareness

Self awareness is a key activity when it comes to managing yourself, and your capacity for work and burning out. At the very least, self-awareness allows you to realise when you are overworking to the point of burning out, and allows you to take actions to slow or prevent this from happening.

Self awareness is also good for letting you plan ahead and spot potential troubles that you might encounter, and to try and deal with them and mitigate them before they become real hassles. In this way, you can try to pre-empt any such problems, and create solutions that will reduce the stress such incidents can cause. For example, if you know that you are prone to having “off-days” where your capability to work at certain tasks is limited, you can try to find ways to help with the necessary tasks, or consider using this time for activities that you find easier to deal with.

1370097681The main benefit of self awareness, however, is the ability to read your own mood and motivation levels. If you know you are feeling low, drained, or depressed, then you can take actions to correct this – such as switching to activities that you enjoy, or to taking it easy for a while. Alternatively, if you are feeling in a good mood, inspired, or energetic, you can look towards taking full advantage of this fact by tackling some of the more difficult tasks you might be facing.

By being self aware, you can adapt your plans to your own individual circumstances, and this can help your workflow better. This roughly equates to your tolerance for work, and as such, the general principle of doing more when you can, and doing less when you can’t is paramount here.

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svgUnderstanding Your Motivation

Understanding your motivation is a side-aspect of self awareness and allows you to get an insight into why you are doing the things that your are doing. According to Maslow, we have an “hierarchy of needs” which drives us in our goals. This hierarchy starts from simple physiological drives, through to emotional drives, all the way to the topmost drive – an innate desire for self-improvement.

This means that most of our actions can be defined according to one or more needs, and one or more levels based on those needs. By understanding this factor, we can look to see if what we are doing is fulfilling our needs efficiently, and if not, whether changes can be made to help your actions better fulfil your needs.

tabletop-game-designerIn my case, my projects tend to be driven by the desire to prove myself as a games designer. This is my chosen profession, and as such, I yearn to engage in this profession, to have others recognise my talents, to improve my abilities, and so on. This ranges from the mid-level “love/belonging” tier, through the “esteem” and “self-actualisation” tiers – the top half of Maslow’s hierarchy. I need to be appreciated, and this is more important to me than the actual financial benefits of my work. As such, I greatly favour blogging and similar forms of content creation, as it allows for quicker feedback on my work.

downloadPrioritizing Goals

An important skill to learn to avoid burnout is to try and prioritise your goals, so that you are working on more effective, and more desirable tasks, which have a longer lasting benefit.

Prioritizing your goals is a very personal skill, however, that is largely based on your own motivation. As such, any advice beyond general principles is hard to come by, and each person should look towards developing and understanding their own list of priorities.

In general, faster tasks should come before slower tasks, since you can do more of them in any given amount of time. For example, answering an email might be prioritised above writing a product or doing the laundry, because it can be completed quicker, leaving time to work on other goals.

Look towards doing the tasks with the longer lasting benefits, that require the least amount of upkeep and maintenance. For example, writing content can be prioritised before housework, simply because once content is written, then it is generally done and can be put aside. Likewise, a bigger product with a long-term shelf-life might be prioritised before producing website content that only lasts for a few days on your website.

As mentioned, motivation is important – for example, if you like playing computer games, and this helps you feel better, then you might prioritise playing computer games over doing other tasks, particularly when you are feeling low and need the boost. What might seem like a low priority task to someone else may be better as a higher priority, particularly if it has some other, often overlooked, benefit.

busy_someecardsHowever, one key thing to watch out for is that you don’t over-prioritise “busy-time” activities – activities that seem to be efficient and keep you busy, but don’t actually achieve much. For example, responding to a specific email is quite quick, but responding to multiple emails and trying to clean out your inbox can be quite time consuming, and can often be an uphill battle if you continually receive emails as you are working on them. It is all too easy to find that you have spent all day reading and replying to emails, and left no time to actually do any vital content creation.

time-management-skills-300x252Time Management

Time management is a useful skill that allows you to make the most of your time, simply by being aware of how you are using your time. We only have 24 hours each day, and we often have numerous tasks which we have to accomplish in that time, including physical necessities like eating, sleeping, and washing. Add in things like work and social commitments, and it is easy to find that your time quickly disappears, often without you realising it.

The essence of time management is two-fold – being aware of what time you have, and trying to make the most of that time. Like priorities, time commitments are largely personal, and everyone should do their best to try and develop their own processes for working.

wiltshire-free-time-logoTo be aware of what time you actually have, it may help to draw up a timetable of your most common activities. From this, you can see where most of your time is going. Make a note of what “free time” you actually have – time where you get to choose what you do. Most of us tend to have several smaller blocks of free time, rather than a few large chunks, and as such, we rarely realise just how much free time we actually have.

Such a timetable allows you to also be self-critical about your habits. Are you over-sleeping or spending a lot of time commuting to and from work? Do you spend a large amount of time watching television, playing computer games, or checking Facebook? If so, then looking at the time table can allow you to see if any changes can and should be made, so that you can get as much free time as possible.

24hoursThe second aspect of time management is time efficiency. This is about using your free time, as well as other time, to get the maximum potential out of your 24-hours. In regards to free time, this is largely about prioritizing your goals, but also includes how you organise your use of your free time. This depends largely upon how your free time is arranged.

For example, if you have a big chunk of free time, you might allocate bigger tasks to this time, so that you don’t have as many interruptions, particularly if the task requires some time to warm up or wind down. Alternatively, you might break down bigger tasks to fit into smaller free time slots. Breaking down tasks can also allow for greater flexibility. In many cases, doing a task a small step at a time is better than waiting for an opportunity to do it all at once that may never come.

noLearning to Say No

The most important skill that you can learn is the ability to say no – to others, and to yourself. You need to be realistic about what you are capable of. Taking on too much is often the main cause of overworking – even if you have a narrow scope for your projects.

It is all too easy to bow down to peer pressure, and there are many cases when you just can’t say no. For example, if your boss asks you to do something that is part of your job. But in many cases, the sole reason people have difficulty saying no is simply because they are scared that they will look bad or let other people down.

Saying no is probably the biggest form of agency that we have as an individual, yet many people simply don’t know how to use this properly. Although some people may try to pressure you into changing your mind, by saying no and sticking to it, you help prevent people wasting both their time and yours.

It is important not to abuse this power, however. Saying no for the sake of saying no is almost as damaging as not saying no in the first place. Be honest, and think about your priorities and motivations. Think about your time commitments to yourself and others.

Ask yourself if you want to do it, will it help you, and is it an efficient use of your time. Likewise, ask yourself if it really needs to be done, and what the outcome of you not doing the task is actually going to be. Can the washing be put off for a day while you finish your product? Do you have other plates in the cupboard? Are you really needed to go shopping right now?

Most importantly, the biggest issue most people have with saying no, is that they don’t give a clear reason why they are saying no. Don’t be afraid to justify yourself when you say no. It is perfectly acceptable to say that you simply don’t want to do something, and if you can demonstrate why, people are more likely to either offer a solution or accept that you have said no.

Downtime Activities

Being realistic about your priorities, motivations, and commitments is very important in making sure that you don’t overwork, and in limiting the possibility of burning out. However, it is also important to understand and accept that main way in we recover from work is by taking part in downtime activities. People need time to relax and wind down, to avoid being overworked.

However, just not working isn’t necessarily the best way to wind down. Everyone should allow them some time to do what they want to do, just for fun. It might not be efficient to just relax on the sofa and watch TV, but if it makes you feel better, then it should be included in your priorities somewhere.

When it comes to downtime activities, look towards things that you actually enjoy. Everyone has different tastes and requirements. For some, listening to music or going to the cinema works, while others might need to take up a sport or engage in a more thought-engaging hobby.

If possible, try and keep your downtime and your free time separate. It is all too easy to consider downtime as free time, and then find yourself overworking as you fill up your free time with your work and neglect to give yourself enough downtime.

Downtime should be the periods where you get to choose what to do, for the sake of relaxing and recovering, rather than fulfilling other types of goals. There’s nothing saying that you can’t work on your projects during this time, if you desire to do so, but it isn’t a decision that should feel forced.

If you can find ways to combine your downtime and free time in synergistic ways, then that is good. For example, if you like playing games, pleytesting new ideas can make downtime productive for you.

I cannot state the importance of efficient downtime enough though. If you can use your downtime to relax efficiently, then that is good. It will help you feel better, increase your working tolerance, and your productivity and quality. The biggest cause of burn out is not giving yourself enough downtime, or using your downtime ineffectively.

If you are not recuperating during your downtime, you are not using your downtime effectively. Not doing anything isn’t downtime – it’s wasted time. Try to make sure that you are doing something meaningful with your downtime. Something as simple as cooking a meal, doing the washing up, or having a nap can be efficient if that is how you like to recuperate.

Basic RGBMy Approach – Past and Present

My approach has often been to try and squeeze as much out of my free time as possible, and neglect my own downtime. After all, my priorities tend to revolve around me working, and if I am not working on something, I am not happy. In many cases, I will often use my downtime as my free time, leaving me little or no actual downtime for myself.

Because of my Crohn’s Disease, I don’t always know how I feel each day, how much energy I am going to have, and how much downtime I will need. In fact, as my Crohn’s Disease gets worse, I have discovered that I am requiring more and more downtime to recuperate. This makes time management a bit more difficult for me.

As such, I have adopted a simpler approach, which is based upon flexibility and self awareness. Basically, I tend to go day-by-day, giving myself a single task or priority for the day based on how I feel and my other commitments. if I feel up to a big task, I will do a big task. If I am only up to small tasks, then I will do one or more of those. If I am not up to anything, then I don’t do anything.

With this task-based approach in mind, the rest of my day is basically downtime for me. I might only have a small amount of downtime if I spend all day on a task, or spend all day in downtime if I am not feeling up to anything. I try to prioritise correctly, and I am not afraid to say no and be clear about why, regardless of what others might demand from me.

This project has required weekly articles for my website, and as such, I will generally spend a day writing these. If I am feeling up to it, I will write two or more in a single week, allowing me to get ahead of myself. As long as I have a single article scheduled for this website, I am happy.

The best approach that I can find to avoid burnout is to be realistic about myself and my capabilities right now. I don’t know if this will work, but as long as I can try to keep myself from overworking because of my desire to “prove” that I am a games designer, it seems like the best way to go.

Until next time, stay AWESOME!

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.