Some days, you’re just not going to get it done (and that’s ok)

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself staring blankly at my screen, occasionally pawing at my keyboard. I just couldn’t stay focused, no matter how hard I tried. I was nursing a migraine from the night before, but I had a bunch of things that needed to get done, and it was almost the weekend, so I kept telling myself I could get some rest soon enough.

But then I looked at my RescueTime stats…

Despite the fact I was making a really sincere effort, I was a solid 30% less productive than usual. I was trying to power through my headache, and I was failing miserably. The hard numbers opened my eyes to what should have been totally obvious in retrospect. I was just torturing myself for no reason. I wasn’t doing anyone a favor by being there in the first place, and the proof was staring me in the face.

Deciding when I’ve reached my limit is hard, especially when I’m not firing on all cylinders. For one thing, I’m just not that great at judging myself in a less-than-optimal state. But then there’s also this weird, very fuzzy guilt that I feel. Other people are here working, and I’m not in that bad a shape, so I should just suck it up, right?  Unless I’m dreadfully ill, something just feels sort of lazy to me about saying “Sorry everyone, I just really don’t feel like being here today.” Being able to put some numbers around it really helped to make a more rational decision.

Having a work ethic is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s way too easy for many people to fall into the trap of putting themselves second because it feels like an indulgence to take some downtime. As we move into an era where we can look at ourselves from a more objective, data-based perspective, hopefully we’ll see that the self-sacrifice often just isn’t worth it.

2 Comments on “Some days, you’re just not going to get it done (and that’s ok)”

  1. dreeves says:

    You’re getting tantalizingly close to my utopian vision of an automated taskmaster that always knows what I should be doing. I guess the last missing piece in your example of “you’re not staying focused; go relax” is that it wasn’t proactive. You had to think to check your stats.

    (And of course once again I’m struck by how similar the Grand Visions of RescueTime and Beeminder are! 🙂 Beeminder in one sense wins by this proactiveness criterion — it gets in your face and says “today you absolutely must go to the gym” or whatever — but the huge tradeoff is that you had to pre-specify the goal to get minded about. Also it’s not sensitive to your mental state, which was the point of this post.)

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      Yeah, understanding context is the really tricky bit, and I think that’s going to be really difficult / impossible for a single system to do. RescueTime obviously doesn’t know that I just had a migraine, just like Beeminder has no clue about whatever stressful events made me fall off my weight loss goals last week (true story, btw). It’s one of those scenarios that the concept of a “personal data cloud” gets really interesting, with multiple data sources painting a rich picture that can be algorithmically understood.