Recently I've been having days where I feel completely overwhelmed by all the things I want to do. Complaining about being too busy is a pet peeve of mine because you only have yourself to blame (mostly, I'm assuming that you don't have to work a lot just to make ends meet). I think that the people who do this are usually just boasting because apparently having too much on your plate is something to brag about in our modern societies. I'm not going to do that. Instead, I what I want to talk about how I get myself into these situations where I feel overwhelmed and why I don't think it's normal or healthy.

The first issue is saying "yes" to too often. If I didn't, I would have less to do and wouldn't find myself in these situations. Having written it down, it seems embarrassingly simple, and it is really. While I started off this post by saying you only have yourself to blame if you're too busy, I would nonetheless like to blame society at large for the fact that I say yes (call me Liz Truss, I love a U-turn). In a first instance, I see people doing cool shit and I want to do cool shit too. That in itself wouldn't be problematic if it weren't for the fact that I can do that cool shit. Nothing is stopping me! As Byung-Chul Han says in his book "Burnout Society" we've transitioned from societies of oppression and constraint to the complete opposite, societies where everything is possible. (He blames burnouts and ADHD on this fact, a premise which I find interesting though tenuous).

And so I have frenzied moments where I truly feel like everything is possible and say "yes" (or worse, propose to do things no one asked me to). There's also things I say "yes" to because I think "It would be a wasted opportunity not to" or "It's such a shame that no one else is doing this". Having written that down, thinking in those terms sounds like a red flag, a warning that I probably shouldn't be doing that. Still, easier said than done, since those are the kinds of thoughts that drive 90% of what I do. Even this blog post! (Though I am enjoying myself in a weird masochistic way).

This is bad enough because I'm terrible at time estimation and management and so agree to do more things than I can. However, I make things worse by being incapable of prioritising. I sometimes get this sensation of living in many different worlds, all pulling me in different directions and me stuck in the middle, unable to decide which I want to immerse myself in (I think there would be an opportunity for some decent imagery here about worlds / planets and gravitational attraction but I can't be bothered right now). This makes things worse because in any given day I will flip between research, teaching duties, activism and music, and if I'm not doing something related to them then worrying that I should be. There's research that says that multi-tasking isn't a thing (not referencing it because again, can't be bothered) and equally I imagine that there's research that says that trying to get flip between understanding what on earth you coded just a week ago before answering messages on Signal is an equally impossible feat.

(Long term I also have the issue that my priorities change over time. It wasn't so long ago that I wrote a post lamenting my complete lack of motivation in my PhD, which was followed shortly after by me getting into it again and right now I'm on the fence. If these priority shifts were more long lasting and all encompassing then I might not feel so scattered.)

Which brings me to all the shitty technology we have these days which is designed to divide and conquer your attention until it's left fighting pathetic skirmishes against wildly different adversaries (that was pretty good imagery, no?). Answering your mum's cat meme is done in tandem with replying to emails from master thesis students. Deriving KKT conditions is suddenly interrupted by a friend asking you when you want to go bouldering. I have checked my phone about 10 times since I started writing this, sometimes for no reason at all other than to reassure the useless jumble of silicon that I haven't forgotten about her. Many people have written much better about technology and the attention economy than I ever will (I recommend The Convivial Society in that regard) so I'll leave it there.

All of this builds up into moments, days or weeks where it feels like my to-do list and communication apps conspire to grind my fragile, ape like brain into a useless soup until I give up entirely. Of course, they're not conspiring, and I only have myself to blame. Worse, I'm sure that I do the same to others (particularly within activism), drowning them in messages and requests for more action on their part. I don't think living like this is desirable at all, and yet whenever things ease off a bit (usually because I abandoned some project) I decide to shoot myself in the foot again. Hell, I don't think I have figurative feet to shoot at anymore.

Which is why I loved the first lock down so much, at least initially. I was finally free from all my plans. Looking back, I'm quite sure that this is why I was able to make so much music back then. It wasn't only a question of having the time, it was also that my mind was free of other thoughts and I was able to concentrate. Right now I could make the time for music, but I don't want to because I often feel so tired and overwhelmed that I would prefer to do nothing instead. Having written that down, it makes it sound as if music production isn't relaxing for me, and I guess it isn't, or at least making tracks isn't. Which brings me to another gripe I have, about goals and objectives ruining the fun of the journey, but I think I've rambled for long enough.

As usual, I've written too little about too many different ideas. However, for once I feel like that's a appropriate, given that this whole post was about spreading myself too thin over too many pieces of intellectual toast. I will therefore leave you to chew on that confusing, incoherent and rather dry final piece of imagery.

Next Post Previous Post