Synopsis & Links
A new interpretation on an old understanding of the universe
Things feel too big for it to even be worth it to get started on them. And jumping from task to task is too inefficient.
What we can do about it:
A simple reframe in favor of taking the smallest step that can move you forward instead of tackling big projects in their entirety (sometimes - when appropriate for your brain and your to-do list.)
When your focus is too slippery to hold onto anyway, trying to force yourself to stay on task can end up meaning that you lose even more time to the void than you do in the endless stream of transitions bouncing between tasks, as long as you a) don't resist the bounce and b) appreciate the increased activity and literal steps you take throughout the day when you focus on lots of small things instead of one or two big things.
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Kawai Kitsune by Kevin MacLeod
About the Ex-Gifted Podcast:
If you are a former gifted kid who grew up to struggle with basic adulting, then you need the Ex-Gifted podcast.
Host Ren Eliza talks about gifted kid burnout, and the damage that lasts long into adulthood. Damage like battered self esteem, decimated internal motivation, and a continued failure to live up to expectations even while we were placed on pedestals and alienated from our peers.
Ex-Gifted will cover failure, procrastination, imposter syndrome, and chronic anxiety and depression, and a whole lot more.
Each episode also offers suggestions to deal with your executive dysfunction in adulthood so you can rebuild the systems that allowed you to shine so brightly in childhood.
We’re making exceptional children into functional adults.
If you have so many things to do, but they all just feel too big. Then this is the show for you. This is Ex-Gifted.
Hello welcome. I am Ren Eliza.
This week is going to be a little bit different. I hope that it doesn't end up being too choppy. I don't have any specific notes cause I'm working on a thing and I might end up having to move stuff around more than normal. So I'm hoping that when it goes out, it all still makes sense.
I have been researching and reading a lot on ancient philosophies lately. And the one that has drawn me to it the most so far is Epicureanism founded by Epicurus in ancient Greece circa like 300 something BC.
Epicureanism is a hedonist philosophy, which holds that pleasure is the greatest good, and in fact, the only good. That the only way to tell if something is good or not, is if it brings you pleasure. That's the, that's what people usually focus on. But today what I want to talk about is not his ethics, but his understanding of physics. And I'm only going to talk about it briefly in order to tie it in to what I've been doing in my own household lately.
Epicurus was, an atomist, which means that he believed that all matter was made up of some tiny particles that were too small to be seen, but that could not be divided.
Between every atom, he believed existed void. And that that's all that there is, is just atoms and void. Void being nothingness. In his time it was the prevailing belief that anything could be further divided into something smaller. Sometimes this belief was even taken to the extreme, such that nothing would be able to move.
What I want to talk about today is a far more generalized version of this concept, that not only was Epicurus right about the physical world, that everything is atoms and void, or let's say that everything is small things and void, that the same thing is true in your mind and what we're going to focus on today -in your time.
I do recommend to chew gum while you're doing work. I don't recommend to chew gum while you're recording a podcast. That's a lesson learned.
Anyway, small things and void, when it comes to time management. I invented a thing last week, almost accidentally.
I was in my kitchen downstairs, reaching for a hand towel and the basket where we usually keep them was empty. However, I knew that upstairs on my bedside table, I had a whole stack of clean, folded hand towels that I folded with the rest of the laundry, and then just left on my bedside table instead of bringing it downstairs.
So naturally I just went upstairs and got the hand towels, right? No, of course not.
I told myself, "Hmm. Yeah. The next time I need to go upstairs. I have to remember to bring those hand towels downstairs too." What do you think the chance is that that's going to happen? It's very slim.
And so, yeah, maybe it's obvious. Maybe the answer is just go get the hand towels right now. Just whatever it is, do it now.
Maybe that's obvious to some people, but I am an engineer. I have to do what's capital E efficient, and it's not Efficient to go make a special trip upstairs just to get the hand towels. It's Efficient to wait until I have to go upstairs anyway and bring the hand towels back downstairs with me, except for that...
It's not really that efficient because I forget to do it entirely, who knows what I'm going upstairs for- I may need to carry other stuff down with me, and I needed the hand towel right then, and one really big one is that -actually I have talked about this before -a Ren at rest, tends to stay at rest.
What that means practically is that I have noticed- living in an 800 square foot apartment when my daughter was first born and then moving into a larger apartment. And then this fucking huge house, which is like 2000 square feet plus a whole basement.
I've noticed that my step count tends to be about the same as the size of the place where I'm living. So on the days that I stay home, I get here at baseline at my, my default. I will get like 2,500 ish steps a day, which let's be clear is not enough. And yes, that means that when I was living in that 800 square foot apartment, I was getting 800 to 900 steps a day. On average, I was going a whole day without taking a thousand steps.
This is not a good thing. This is not what efficiency is for.
Anything that makes me walk upstairs more often. That's, that's some fucking efficiency that's getting me steps in and getting the hand towels that I need at the same time.
I was delaying getting the hand towels, not because I was doing something more important at the time, which is a whole separate thing, but for absolutely no reason, except that it seemed like it would be more efficient to do it, to do it later. That's your, brain's a fucking liar. It's not more efficient to do it later. Brains just lie. That's what they do. They lie to get out of doing things or the very least that's what my brain does.
I saw that I was not doing this tiny insignificant chore for just absolutely no reason. And I said to myself, "Okay, I know I've got a lot of things to do, but what if I just spend this day, just this one day, today, doing those little small things that I always try to avoid doing?"
And then as soon as I had that thought, I was like, actually, I really liked this. I could do this like once a week or something like a lot of people in their cleaning schedules or whatever. They have like a catch up day or a makeup day or something like that. And that's always stressful to me. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong if I don't happen to get caught up on everything in that day. But this thing that I deemed small things day. I really liked as an idea for doing it once a week.
And so I went and I got the hand towels right then. And then if I saw a piece of trash on the ground, I would just throw it away. If I saw a dish that was sitting out, I would just put it in the dishwasher. This basically allowed two things to happen.
One, it meant that every single thing that I did took essentially no energy, like we're not even talking about putting on the timer for five minutes and focusing for those five minutes, we're letting the chaos demon out and just letting myself do like what the fuck ever it sees and notices and letting it kind of run free but within certain boundaries, like the boundaries being basically at my house or technically my property, because I did some weeding out in the yard too, but it's like pull one weed. Cool. Small thing done.
The other thing is that it forces me to start noticing these different, small things. The things that I usually try to ignore and just in the back of my brain, it's just saying like, check - that's one thing to do. Okay. Check that's one thing to do. Okay. Check that's one thing to do, but it's all getting basically piled up as like a big thing of like cleaning the house or wash the dishes or weed the garden.
So all of those are getting put on a, basically a subconscious to-do list, but they're being added to a overall big task, but really each big task is just made up of those small things. So when I'm running around looking for small things to do, it's a lot easier for me to see each of those small things that I can do.
Plus it allows my chaos brain to just run free. I'm not trying to hold my focus on one particular thing, but I'm also not trying to push it onto the next thing. If I pick up one dish and then I pick up another dish and then I pick up another dish and then I pick up another dish and I put all those in the dishwasher, that's fine. But also if I pick up one dish and then I go pull one weed and then I go put away one shirt. That's also fine.
I'm going to talk next week about some of the things that you can lose your time and attention to, uh, about attention sinks. And you'll notice that it can seem like you're losing a lot of the time there to the void. Right? But actually you're not really because part of the small things method for me at least, is that I'm using all of that transition time, getting steps, basically. And transitions can be a really big time suck for me. But by not fighting what my chaos brain wants to do anyway, I'm actually_ losing less time_ in that transition because my body is just going wherever my brain has already decided that it's it's jumping to and my body in the meantime is getting activity, getting steps. That's part of the goal.
So losing time to transitions is actually less because I am focusing on a different outcome.
Since each thing is using basically no energy, that means that I'm not wearing myself out physically, but also I'm not wearing myself out mentally because I'm not trying to force and push my chaos demon in some kind of direction that it doesn't want to go. I'm not even trying to guide it. I'm just letting it guide me.
Like letting it off the leash, letting it run around in my house and take care of whatever it wants to do. Just doing literally The smallest thing that you could imagine that couldn't really even get broken down into a smaller thing. I'm not trying to do any one of these tasks to completion. I'm just trying to get it better. Everything just has to be a little bit better than I started.
I'm not talking about doing things where like, I pull everything out or that I decide to change the flooring and I pull back the carpets. I'm not talking about big things like that, which even though you can break them down into smaller pieces. I'm not talking about doing the starting parts of big projects that will actually set you backwards if you don't finish it. I'm talking just about little things that you can do that are only moving you forward.
And that's a big distinction here. Sometimes you also have to do those big things. Sometimes you have to pull up all the carpet first. But that's an entirely separate thing. That's not what I'm addressing today.
I loved the small things day so much that I went ahead and decided to make it small things week. And then instead, I decided to kind of do small things indefinitely. And I am certain that I am going to get to a point in the future where the small things isn't working for me anymore, that it's too kind of wild and unstructured and that I'm going to need something kind of more similar to what I was talking about last week, the finding flow. Something that is trying to direct my attention in a specific direction.
Sometimes that is what I need, but sometimes I just need the ability to let my chaos demon. Let it bounce around from one thing to one thing to one thing and just focus on whatever it wants whenever it wants. And sometimes I need the more structure, the more detailed plan, getting to a greater goal, because if you do spend all of your time in small things, honestly, I think that there's probably a way to sit down and kind of plan out how you use that, bounce around and eventually end on a bigger goal, but without having figured that out first, you're going to spend all of your time doing the things that are right in front of your face, which is great. My house.
I see. I'm trying to demonstrate how small things works in this episode by allowing my brain to just bounce around from topic to topic and then I realized that I don't finish any one of the thoughts before I move onto the next one, which is fine. That's again, that's the point. You're not trying to finish the dishes. Eventually you need to finish the dishes, but at any one point during the day, you're not trying to finish the dishes. I have been basically using the last hour or something before bed to wrap things up, to run the dishwasher, even if it's not full or whatever, to pick up everything on the floor so I can run the vacuum, whatever.
What happened in practice is that actually. My house has been a whole lot easier to manage overall because just throughout the day, I'm doing those small little resets that it's never getting as much out of control as it was before. It's never getting as much stuff in any one spot. So that even the jobs that I'm seeing don't feel as big as they used to.
For one, there's actually a lot less stuff left for me to do because I've been taking care of things as they come up because I'm spending time on one dish or one piece of trash on the ground. So there's not nearly as much left instead of doing what I used to do, which is saving it all up to just take care of it all at once, because it's more Efficient.
And seeing each thing as an individual item is actually really helpful for me. If I see five pieces of trash on the floor, I'm seeing five individual pieces of trash on the floor. And I know that each one of those little trash pieces of trash on the floor will be quick and easy to pick up instead of seeing there's trash all over the floor.
Breaking down tasks is a known struggle for executive dysfunction. And so small things day is a really great way to practice getting, getting those tasks broken down and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. So when you start seeing the smaller tasks that becomes more of a default state for you is seeing the, seeing the small things instead of seeing the overwhelming big jobs.
I will be honest. I can totally see how there could be different brain types, different mindsets. That will be more overwhelmed with the big number than with the unexamined pile. I think it's easy to think that you're definitely that way when you might not be, so it's worth trying. But if the big number seems even more overwhelming, then that's fine.
Don't do it this way, do it your own way.
What I am saying is absolutely not that this is the thing for everyone to use all the time. I'm never going to say that. Because different things work for different people, but also different things work for any one person. At different points in time.
Like I said, small things is probably not going to be my new life philosophy that I live like this. It's just one tool that I have in my inventory.
Inventory is a concept that I developed for the roleplanning journal. It is straight out of, you know, role-playing games that you've got your backpack or whatever your inventory with all of your stuff in it, your tools, weapons, potions... whatever it is that you need in order to accomplish your quests.
And so the roleplanning journal includes a section in there for inventory where you can write out what all of these different tools are that you use and that are working for you so that you won't forget them because a tool that you don't remember having is not really very functional.
If you don't already have a list of the tools that you use, like the finding focus thing I talked about last week, like looking at things as small things, like using a planner in the first place.
Whatever kinds of things that you do in order to help you live your life in the way that you want to live your life. Write all those things down, just so that you remember to actually use them, make a list somewhere in your planner. If you don't have a planner, make a planner, or you can buy the roleplanning system which as I noted already has the inventory built into it. And if you use the link in the show notes, you can also get 10% off.
So next week we're going to talk about the things in life that suck our attention away. Until then. Byeeee.