I’d already written a version of this post, but it looked too much like complaining. Instead, I’m going to try to do some good old self-analysis and see how I can handle this better in the future. Be warned, this post wanders quite a bit.

Where I’ve Been

I had made a pretty significant commitment to myself to stream a lot more this year. I can’t do the “stream every single day” that some people do, but I wanted to do at least twice a week. Preferably one coding stream during the week and one gaming stream on the weekend, assuming I’m at home and able to stream on the weekend.

I haven’t streamed for the last three weeks.

Trust me, it annoys me as much or more than anybody who wanted to watch my streams. I even had “stream gaming” on the list this weekend, and theoretically I could still pull it off later today, but I know I’m not going to.

Why haven’t I been streaming? I’ve been sick. Just sick enough to not be able to do a good stream. Normally when I get sick, it’ll be for maybe 3 days to at most a week and a half. Then I’m pretty much back to normal. This one has been just kind of a low level thing that’s stuck around for so long. Just enough to mess with my voice enough I don’t want to talk for extended periods. Even still, I probably would have streamed coding at least once or twice, had things not doubled down.

Consequences of Energy Drains

The short version: It’s hard to get things done. Obvious, right? Sure, though I think some of this can be handled with some countermeasures. Not all of it though. I’m using this post to analyze why exactly I’m getting so much less done while I’m sick, and what I can do about it.

Sleep

The first thing that happens when I start to get sick (and the entire time) is that I’m exhausted all the time. Normally, I rely on the fact that I only sleep maybe 5 hours a day, sometimes up to 7. That’s not an option when I’m getting sick. I know from experience that if I don’t sleep, I get dramatically worse and things take longer to get better. However, this time I’ve been dealing with insane levels of sleep being required. I’ve had several instances of sleeping over 12 hours to 14 hours. A couple of times I even slept 19 out of 24 hours. You can’t get much done when that’s happening.

Honestly, this is the one category where I don’t think there’s much I can do. I’ve been managing to stay awake and alert during work, but then within an hour or two I crash hard and sleep until 2 or 3 AM, might be up for an hour or two, then back to sleep until work starts. Not much time to get anything done there.

A possible plan is to not schedule myself any more than 10 hours of sleep a night. Meaning that even if I’m exhausted I do whatever I need to (caffeine, energy drinks, etc) to stay up until I’d get 10 hours of sleep. The only risk there is that I won’t get up in time for work.

Focus

Focus is usually one of my stronger points. Focus is probably the source of the speed at which I get things done. When I’m sick, it seems like my pool of focus is much shallower. I’m able to focus (more or less) through the entire work day, maybe not at the same level I can when I’m not sick, but pretty close. Then, the day ends, and I have a much harder time really focusing on something I need to do.

The solution to this is actually pretty simple. Normally I have some kind of background noise on. Podcasts, YouTube videos that might as well be podcasts, TV shows, etc. Things that I don’t give that much attention. However, I noticed that I basically can’t dual-task on this stuff while I’m sick. If I want to get work done, I need to just put on my headphones and listen to music and that’s it.

Projects as Barriers

Let me explain. Part of the reason I haven’t been streaming coding is because the thing I’ve been focused on getting done is something that isn’t very streaming-friendly. I’ve been mucking around with libraries I’ve never used before, trying to implement them, having esoteric issues, and so on. I’ve spent probably 10 – 15 hours on this one problem trying to get various libraries working over the past couple of weeks. Today, I finally decided to do it entirely manually (which isn’t a long-term solution, but is a good enough for now solution), and I got it done in an hour and a half. This piece of the project kept me from wanting to stream, since it was highest priority and I didn’t want to stream me just spinning my wheels.

The solution is to remove the barriers as fast as possible. What I should have done is to solve the problem I’m talking about manually FIRST, since I knew more or less what to do right away. Then, go and look into the other options in my free time if I wanted to. This just boils back to building out minimum solutions first. Get it working, don’t worry about how cool it is.

Distractions

This ties into “Focus” above, obviously. But it goes deeper than that. Distractions are a part of life, and we all have to learn how to manage them. However, I noticed I was getting myself into Finals Mode. I’m talking about that easily distracted mental state you get into when it’s finals time when you’re in college. You remember, right? Finals are coming up, and you keep finding excuses to clean your room, or you start trying to learn some new, completely unrelated skill, etc. For me, this was basically all of 2014 (See my post on not having goals).

I started looking at the idea of starting new coding projects. I had three or four kind of floating around in my head, and at least one of them I got very close to starting. If you’re a programmer, you understand the risk here. New projects mean that current projects become old projects and either never get done or don’t get updated like they should be. There’s nothing wrong with new projects on their own, but I definitely don’t have time without abandoning something I’m already doing. And I don’t want to abandon anything I’m already doing. The worst part: I actually have new projects scheduled to have been started this week. They’re just not programming projects.

I hesitate to “solve” this one. The fact is, that new project ideas are a kind of lifeblood to a creative developer. However, making new projects all the time is bad for a variety of reasons. Here’s how I think I should deal with this: First, any new idea should get written down into some trusted area. I’m not sure where this should be yet, I’ve used a number of places to record software ideas, but I think I’d lose some of my anxiety about starting if I had a central repository. Maybe a Trello board, maybe an Evernote notebook. I’m not sure where, but I’ll figure something out. Then, once I have the idea, I note whatever research I’ve done into there, copy links and stuff, and STOP RESEARCHING.

The time I lost this time was in research. Starting would have wasted more time and potentially been a serious time sink and distraction. Still, just writing down “maybe do X in JavaScript” into a note would be much more valuable in the future when I might actually do the project, than any research I do now. Development research gets stale very quickly. They key is to write down the idea, dump everything in my brain into the notes for that idea, and move on. A minimum of time is wasted, and I can look back when I have time.

Food

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’m not careful enough with what I eat when I’m drained like this. It’s a good thing I have that pizza ban, because I would have had so much pizza. Comfort foods and sweet things take the forefront. Those tend to be heavy foods with a lot of sugar. That causes an insulin spike, then I get tired (this is normal), so then I end up taking a nap or whatever. Just bad energy management.

Solution: Ignore what I have any cravings for, and just eat the right stuff. Ideally homemade food. Lots of water, less sugar, more vegetables. Simple stuff. Harder to keep at when I’m drained.

Conclusion

I dunno. It all really boils down to what I can apply when I’m in the poor mental state from being drained like this. It’s like having a film over my brain, I can’t shake off that mild exhaustion. I think, as long as I apply some of the above solutions, I might be able to get more done while I’m sick even though I’ll probably be tired and unmotivated through it.

No point in dwelling on the past though. I’ve pulled out whatever lessons I think I can, and I’ll try to use them in the future. Today is the only day I can change, so time to keep at it.

Share →