Just how far can a person figuratively stretch themselves before a literal injury? This is something I occasionally consider when I sit back in my chair and think about what I'm doing with my time. The last two weeks has seen an incredible amount of productivity, creativity, and accomplishment at the cost of a couple dozen hours worth of sleep and, given the chance to do it all again, I would make many of the same decisions without any hesitation. Being able to create something from nothing is a wonderful skill that separates us from many other forms of life on this planet. Can a person do too much of it, though?
A common theme in many of the articles I've written over the years has to do with my preoccupation with mortality and, more specifically, time. For as long as I can remember there has been a near constant concern about how long tasks are taking. In the back of my mind there is an irrational sense of urgency for darn near everything. Am I responding to email fast enough? Were the server updates completed in time? Will the new code be ready to deploy in the next couple of hours? "Everything" needs to be done and "nothing" is moving as quickly as it needs to. When I catch myself getting suck in one of these cycles it's important to look away from the glowing screens, lean back, and take some deep breaths. Not everything is a race, but it can sure feel like it at times.
As one would expect, there are consequences when the mind is forever rushing to complete its self-imposed To Do lists. Headaches and anxiety are common issues, of course, as is an unconscious shortness of breath1. One effective way to alleviate these problems is to go out for an hour-long walk, which encourages proper breathing, exercise, and alcohol in the park, but another is a little more noticeable for the family: cleaning.
I clean my house a lot. It can be quite therapeutic given the mess that three people and a puppy can make in an area over the span of a few hours or days. If there's a reflective surface that is part of the cleaning, it's even better. When the desire to slam the computer shut and take up a career as a parking lot attendant gets a little too strong, I like to simply walk away from the keyboard, grab some cleaning equipment, and get to work restoring order to a little bit of the chaos that is my home. The boy enjoys the spectacle and Reiko doesn't complain so long as I'm not in the way, which means that cleaning is one of the better outlets for unproductive thoughts. Half an hour is usually enough to turn a frown upside-down and a full hour will see quite a bit of the house organized. By the time I sit back down at the computer, I'll be feeling better and ready to get back to the task at hand.
This wouldn't be necessary if I could learn how to relax and maybe not invest so much passion into various projects. Passion is how I create, but passion is also quite exhausting.
When I really focus on what I'm doing, I seem to forget to breathe. This means that at some point the body takes over and sucks in a big breath, reminding me that the subconscious elements of biology can't stop just because my attention is ultra-focused somewhere else.