Boundaries For Work

How I can keep myself from exhausting myself everyday.

I have already written about my ‘One Rep’ system. A system of starting so small that building a successful habit is inevitable.

But I’ve been thinking lately about my own self maintenance and how I - more often than not - don’t take care of myself and let my current preoccupation consume my time and energy for far too long.

It’s a problem that is common with people of my personality type (Enneagram 5w6). Being prefixed on a subject until it is completed and/or the knowledge from it has been completely consumed.

It’s as if I forget what all of my priorities are when I’m in that mode. I don’t eat right, I don’t exercise (or even move), I don’t think about other people and what they need. It’s not good.

The reason this happens is mostly because I don’t have a system of stopping what I’m doing to take a break. I just continue to work and think until I am completely exhausted and/or a definite priority interrupts me.

When I have no rules, I constantly push the boundaries without thinking about the consequences of what I’m actually doing and who it impacts. Usually, when I’ve exhausted myself, I come home and do not treat my family the way I would had I taken care of my primary needs as a human being.

I get completely enthralled by whatever I am working on. I can sit in a chair for 8 hours and work on a single project without getting up, eating, taking a break, or moving a muscle.

I’m always trying to squeeze the most work out of the shortest amount of time. And if I don’t get it done and have to go somewhere else or do something else, I constantly think about it until I am able to get back to it to complete the task I started.

That’s just not healthy.

I need to have a better structure for getting work done, but also being able to let work go until tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow, and I think I forget that in the moment.

There’s things out there like Pomodoro timers, but a 25 minute block of work with a 5 minute break feels way too small for me.

After a quick Google, there’s a method called the 90 Minute Focus Block. It’s a process of working for 90 minutes straight, and then taking a break for 30 minutes. This works well with our ultradian rhythm as a species, and I think it makes more logical sense to me.

If I adopted the 90 minute focus block, what would that look like?

Well, I get up in the morning at 5:30. That means I can work on maintenance tasks (like exercise, read the Bible, and write) for 90 minutes. That means at 7 I can shower and be out the door by 7:30.

That puts me at work just after 8AM. I can start my work blocks with the 30 minute break - so that I can start working at 8:30AM. Then I would work until 10AM, take a break until 10:30AM, and then work until 12PM, take a lunch, and then do two more blocks. Then I’d head home at 4PM.

So that means I have 5 blocks of time to work each day. one of those is absolutely dedicated to maintenance tasks. I’d probably use one block for side project tasks, and three for my day-job. This also means I have ample amount of time to relax, go for a walk, eat food, and interact with people in a meaningful way.

It sounds healthy, it sounds great, but how do I implement it? How do I communicate with people that I work in blocks and cannot necessarily be disturbed? I don’t think it would be too hard. Just wait to talk to me until 7:30AM 10:30AM, 12PM, 2PM, or 4PM.

I actually really like this block style system, because I can set even more rules about what I am able to do with that time. My phone is a major distractor when I am working - if I know I can check it every 90 minutes, and set it in a drawer until then (and tell my wife that what times I’m available), then I would be able to get more undistracted work done.

There needs to be flexibility in my system. Not everyday will be the same - in fact every day will be different. Therefore, the focus is on the relaxation, not the work. The rules are:

  • I cannot work more than a 90 minute period without a 30 minute break.
  • I can only have 5 work blocks in a day.
  • I must document where I am in my work at the end of the block so I can release the mental power used to think about the project.
  • Use brain.fm to stay focused when I’m feeling unmotivated to work.

That’s it. It’s not surrounded by ‘times’ necessarily. The hours and minutes will always change, but the rules will not. This will help me implement this system into my everyday life.

This also forces me to break my work up into chunks, forcing me to get work done over time instead of waiting until the last minute to get it done. This will help me be less stressed when deadlines come - which usually results in me being unhappy at home.

To be able to get consistent work done, have consistent breaks, and a consistent reference as to what I am supposed to be doing with my time will help me immensely. And thus, it will help me interact with my family better (and be healthier in general).