My biggest problem right now (possibly)

March 2, 2021

My plan is to write this thinkpiece out as I think through my problem and explore solutions. It's like verbal processing and stream of consciousness. I don't know what to expect, but my goal is to draw conclusions that clearly define the problem, break it down, and outline potential solutions to try to address each aspect of the problem.

What's the problem?

I have 56 things I want to do and wanted to do and acted like I was going to do and talked to people about doing and sometimes even agreed / committed to do.

My brain's go-to expectation is that "Yes, I can do [that], because I want to do [that]." or "Yes, I really want to do [that], so I will do [that]." But in reality, I don't do 90% of the things I want to do in a given month.

This impacts both me and my friends negatively.

With my friends, I run around talking with them about doing things and making plans. And my initial response is always, "Oh yeah! Let's do that. I'll do that." And then when I don't do that thing, I'm seen as unreliable, untrustworthy, and lacking integrity. I fail to "keep my word" because my quick, inconsiderate agreement to everything is a promise I genuinely want to keep but rarely ever do. (Obviously, I want to be a good friend who is reliable, trustworthy, and full of integrity.)

And then with myself, I feel like I'm constantly looking back at the past day, past week, and past month with nothing but frustration at myself for not doing everything I wanted to do. So I'm beating myself up about failing to achieve my own goals on the timelines I expected.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I have pretty unrealistic (and thus pretty unhealthy) expectations of what I think I can do with the time that I have. I tend to overestimate what I am capable of doing and the amount of time I actually have to dedicate towards the things I want to prioritize. In the end, I've wound up with a ton of "want to do" items in a giant list that seems to grow more often than it shrinks.

Altogether I'm stressed about time, prioritization, and the fear of that endless, bottomless, ever-growing pile of things I want to do. This stress is a symptom of some significant problem that I currently don't know how to resolve. I want to correctly frame this problem to accurately diagnose it. What are the origins of this problem?

How does it feel?

Here are different ways of describing the feeling of the problem.

  • I feel as though I cannot find enough time for everything I want to focus on in life.
  • I feel as though I cannot schedule a routine that provides me enough time for everything I want to focus on in life.
  • I feel as though I cannot perfectly prioritize my time for everything I want to focus on in life.
  • I feel as though I cannot muster the mental and physical energy to both prioritize and accomplish everything I want to focus on in life.

Is it really a big deal?

To demonstrate how real and significant this problem is, I sat down to write out a list of everything that I wanted to do in the past month, and without pause, I wrote out 56 different things… 56 things I didn't do last month, no matter how badly I wanted to do them. (I believe I could further add to this list, but after writing out 56 things nearly continuously for a few minutes, I was honestly overwhelmed just by the expanse of the words on the page alone. I don't want to write any more because I feel visceral aversion when I go to do it. It's a bit anxiety-driving.)

Outside that list I only did about 6 major things to completion (meaning that I had a list of 62 things at the beginning of last month), and I only made major contributions to the progress of about 2 things of those 56.

What actually happened?

Besides the time spent doing those 6 major achievements and contributing to the progress of 2 other things, what did I do with all the time in the month?

Sadly, I don't actually have a solid, comprehensive answer to this question. In a nutshell, here is my best guess: I fulfilled my basic needs (slept, ate, took care of my hygiene), cleaned, worked, used my phone/computer (or more specifically, the internet), I talked with people, I "hung out" with people, I read, watched, and listened to all sorts of things, I wrote, and maybe I even did a few things with music too.

Only a few of those things fall into my list of things I wanted to do or felt I needed to do. The rest is just "life", I guess. Or it's just my life and maybe I should be able to remove some of those things and replace them with the things on my to-do list. Who knows. But let's go further.

Last month, I wanted to …

Here is my list of what I wrote down in a few minutes to capture everything I had wanted to do and still want to do but did not do and have not done yet.

  1. Edit 6 hours of podcast content into 2 hours.
  2. Play drums every week.
  3. Record a new drum cover.
  4. Create an instrumental song with a friend.
  5. Create a cover song with another friend.
  6. Practice with bands.
  7. Jam with a new friend.
  8. Play some video games.
  9. Work on a video game I'm building with a friend.
  10. Learn new APIs and libraries for multiplayer video game development.
  11. Finish a project at work and release the first public production version of the app.
  12. Exercise regularly throughout the week.
  13. Go trail running and hiking once a week.
  14. Read important, relevant articles on areas of psychology and neuroscience that I'm studying.
  15. Listen to a new audio book I bought last month.
  16. Listen to podcasts I want to closely follow.
  17. Make a new sketch comedy video with friends that I wrote a script for.
  18. Try making another Bill Wurtz -like video.
  19. Create a fun, promotional, interactive web app for TEDxBoise2020, as a part of my volunteering role.
  20. Reconnect and reach out to people I care about but haven't spoken to in a month or more.
  21. Get a credit card and finally start my credit history.
  22. Plan my investment strategy.
  23. Build a layout for my ideal house/home and estimate costs, compared across different cities.
  24. Go to my dentist again.
  25. Get a haircut.
  26. Upgrade my bed with a latex mattress topper.
  27. Work regularly throughout the week on my personal projects.
  28. Write a history and meta analysis of the theories of well-being and flourishing according to positive psychologists. And then outline and draft my own theory.
  29. Begin creating measurements and measuring tools for tracking and assessing well-being and flourishing.
  30. Deep clean my room and the kitchen trash can.
  31. Get back onto a really good sleep schedule.
  32. Practice cooking a new nutritious meal for dinners.
  33. Research global news.
  34. Research news with Andrew Yang running for NYC mayor and implementing unique economic experiments.
  35. Develop an app and tool for visualizing numbers in a way that makes statistics more meaningful, understandable, and relatable.
  36. Listen to new music, discover new artists, and curate my library.
  37. Start listening to podcasts that I have a running list of but have never started.
  38. Watch a few movies.
  39. Host friends for dinner and a game night.
  40. Play a story-driven game with a friend who won't play the game unless I'm there too (because I bought the game for him for Christmas so we could play through it together).
  41. Figure out a great way to incorporate nutritious leafy green vegetables and healthy fish into my regular dietary routines.
  42. Reflect on my past year and write about what happened, what I did, and how I changed and what lead to those changes.
  43. Explore some of the introspective Clearer Thinking programs.
  44. Help two different friends who are both trying to start their own businesses (or a non-profit) and inviting my involvement and collaboration.
  45. Write out some of my biggest goals for the next year and next five years, and outline my biggest projects.
  46. Go on a date.
  47. Play with my roommates' pets.
  48. Work on a conversation and chat app I'm developing.
  49. Go rock climbing.
  50. Go exploring some areas of town I've never been to.
  51. Find good places to run and walk with a friend or a dog or by myself.
  52. Keep ideating and drafting concepts for a future non-profit organization I'm envisioning.
  53. Start a TED Circles community.
  54. Restart the creative community I started earlier last year but faded (Treehouse Team).
  55. Go with friends to a hot spring I've never been to.
  56. Go cross country skiing.

So …

Can anyone else relate to this problem?

For as far back as I can remember (perhaps four years?) my adult life (after college) has consistently looked like this, where I have more than fifty things I'm wanting to do in given month but only end up actually doing a handful of them or less.

How do you deal with this problem? What do you do? What do you change? Or do you mentally accept it? Is it easier to change my perspective of the problem (and my expectations) than it is to change the core context and fundamental factors of the problem?