I’m semi-amused that this is today’s post. I stayed up too late, then had my sleep interrupted by my daughter. By the time I dragged myself out of bed this morning, I might have gotten five hours of sleep — this, after another short night earlier this week because I stayed up too late watching my husband play Skyrim. Sleep deprivation never used to bother me much, but now even a couple of days of it, and I feel muzzy-headed with a complete lack of focus. This does not translate well to productivity or even using one’s time moderately well.
So that’s one type of barrier. There are many. I mentioned back in July my friend David Bridger’s blog series on getting past obstacles to get words. The barriers people face are many, from chronic illness to a death in the family, from working overtime to simple procrastination.
The worst part about barriers to productivity and time management is that they snowball. Stress leads to problems sleeping, which leads to illness, which leads to more stress. And of course, if you get sick, you don’t want to exercise, which helps reduce stress. Or get your work done, which may cause money stress. And on and on and on, getting bigger and bigger and bigger until you feel like the barrier is the size of the whole world.
There are, I believe, four possible things to do with barriers:
- Let the barrier rule your life. Hit a barrier, go a different way, just like a giant game of Pong. You never may reach your goal, but at least you’re moving. (For example, your parents tell you they won’t pay for your college unless you major in what they want you to do. That’s a barrier to your own choice.) I let my leg rule my life for a long time, afraid to walk, not willing to try to run again, just hiding away in my house. I’m still in my house most of the time, but I do try not to let fear rule my life.
- Pretend the barrier isn’t there. Ever gone to work when you were sick because you had a deadline? Or to school because you had a test? Ever say “nothing” when people ask you what’s wrong because you’re trying hard not to have to face it? Might work short term, but long term, it just adds more stress to the system.
- Fixate on the barrier. The mental equivalent of pounding your head into a brick wall, or of being a hamster on a wheel. You keep your brain focused on one item to the exclusion of all else, and you don’t necessarily see that there may be other options. Sometimes you have to do this — for a short time, for a long time, until you can come to grips with looking away. Not all barriers are simple things, like a missed bill payment that’s going to wind up on your credit report. This can be damaging, especially if you’re hoping to buy a house soon, but it’s not like getting a cancer diagnosis or losing a loved one. Those things will take time to move past this stage.
- Accept the barrier for what it is and figure out what you need to do to reach your goal, or whether you need to set a new goal. Sometimes this is simple — I didn’t get enough sleep last night, so I do low-energy tasks today and get to bed earlier tonight. Sometimes, not so much. After I was released from the hospital after my accident, I was on bed rest for 6 weeks. I got out more when I was in the hospital! I couldn’t go into lab and get work done, couldn’t talk to my thesis advisor, couldn’t attend lab meetings or report on my lack of progress. I found other things to do with my time — read, draw, watch TV, and most especially, think about where I was in life and what I wanted to do with it when I could get out and about again.
Some barriers are permanent; some only seem so. Some we know are ephemeral even though they appear to be the biggest thing in our lives at the moment. No matter what the barriers are, the first step is to see that they are there.