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Kim Acuff Pittman @EmberFirehair
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The point of the presentation is working towards Work/Life balance. But really, half of it is about burnout. And a little about crunch. And some about self care. But what it isn't is a list of things "Do this and you'll be fine." Because it doesn't work like that. Each person's-
situation and answers to the problems are going to be different. What works for some people doesn't work for others. The idea is that by explaining how I figured it out, maybe you can find your way too.
First - WLB isn't about Time Management. The ability to manage your time *helps* but it's not the answer. You can keep everything neatly planned and still get crispy. The bigger and far more important part is Energy Management.
One of the many things I watched/read while doing this said we generally exist in 4 states - performing, survival, burnout, and recovery. The trick is - you move through these states, regardless of if you want to or not. And in fact - it's healthier if you CHOOSE them.
So what puts us in these states? Well - that depends! Each person is going to be different. Here, I will use my examples - and try to explain in abstract. Everything you do - takes some level of energy. I broke everything down into High and Low energy things.
There is also - positive and negative. So - some tasks/events make us happy and some are just UGH. Now. There are High and Low, Positive and Negative. For me - the realization that I needed to balance these two variables to try to reach zero at the end of the day was what -
I needed to not only come out of burnout, but also keep it from coming back. For example - paying bills is a low energy task. But it's also a high negative. Money - or the lack there of - stresses me out.
At that point - I know, I need to do something that is highly positive to balance it. I usually end up buying something. Shopping is a High Energy, High Positive for me - if I can do it without spending money. I know, that doesn't make sense.
What I end up doing is - spending gold in WoW. I go buy some mini-pets. Or I earn currency for other rewards. Etc. I will get materials and level a profession. It's a replacement activity that gives me the same feeling, but without the negative side effect of spending $$.
Stepping back to Time Management for a moment - it is a source of great stress - which can shift the positive/negative high/low energy for certain activities. Here's my three big tips about that:
2 - "Fuck Yes or No" - the original article ( is about dating - but applying it to EVERYTHING works too. Only say Yes if it's a FUCK YES. It's okay to say no. You can say "I don't have the bandwidth for that right now."
Further - don't give your time to negative things. Don't hate watch/read things that make you angry. Don't FEED your negative feelings. They are just adding to the pile of emotion you are GOING to have to pay back later to get balance.
and 3rd - never say "I'll do that when I have the time." We are VERY good at filling time. We also give in to the Tyranny of the Urgent too easily. If you don't give yourself time to react - you will always be in survival mode.
So when I realized that I needed balance - I took stock. I thought about all the things I do in a day and sorted them mentally (though on paper works too) into 3 categories - things that drain me, energize me, and things I have to do.
Sleeping, eating, showering, laundry, bills, work, WoW, making food... it's a big list. I started with the big ones - am I sleeping enough? (Nope.) Am I eating well? (hahaha) Am I doing things that make my body function *better*? (Ugh. WATER. EXERCISE.)
SO. I am searching for balance right? I started *jeaously* guarding my sleeping time. More than that - I had to break out of my mental habit of viewing taking a nap as "lazy". Napping is LITERALLY GIVING MY BODY WHAT IT NEEDS TO FUNCTION. It's one of the biggest priorities.
I started trying to balance my food - eat a cucumber - eat a cupcake. :D This is why when I started losing weight back in Nov - I swapped to Huel. It ensures I get at least a portion of the correct nutrients. (It is also a low energy task - so I stick to it, because it's not -
hard, exhausting, or fiddly.) I am working on the water and exercise one still. But this moves me into "Self Care." We like to throw that phrase around - and people sneer at it, so it took some mental adjustment for me. I used to view it as frivolous, until I considered it -
from the perspective of "Put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help others." Another good phrase is - don't light yourself on fire to keep others warm. You HAVE to take care of yourself. And that includes taking the time NOW to ensure you won't burn out later.
To use the initial idea - it's making sure I ACTIVELY choose to enter the recovery state. If I am performing - let's say doing dishes (high energy, high negative) - I need to make sure I follow it with a low energy, high positive experience - so get back to balance.
In this case - I always put on a tv show or movie that makes me very happy, and usually I will pour a beer to sip while I work. Neither of these require energy from me, and both are high positives. (Especially if I have my low cal citrus beers on hand!)
Even for people who feel the need to be highly productive (high performing - pushing towards burnout) it's worth it to make sure you have LOW energy non-performing activities. These are periods of REST. We all need them. These periods insure you will be performing at 100% later.
In game dev - we like to think if we plan ahead and do pre-production - we are spending time to save it later. That's what this is. We are spending time in low energy activities to ensure we have the energy later to be productive.
(As an aside, I believe this is one of the things that Buzzfeed article was touching - the idea that so much of our generation has been *planned* everything serves multiple purposes, we don't do things just to REST anymore.)
So the FIRST self care thing people always say is "Meditate." If meditation works for you, you might want to skip some steps. I am TERRIBLE at meditating. Or - I thought I was. Until I realized - meditation isn't sitting and clearing your mind.
It's about training your mind to focus but in a very low energy emotionally neutral way. In more specific terms - something just complicated enough to keep you focused, but not so complicated it becomes work.
Mine is World of Warcraft's Archeology or Fishing professions. They are repetitive, simple, and take just enough attention I don't get bored. But allows my mind to relax, and generally allows me to PROCESS whatever I feel like.
Other things I have used, and that might be interesting - coloring (like @TheBloggess' coloring book), match 3 games (like Sailor Moon Drop - Thanks @GlitterNGoth), and sorting things (Magic cards, books, etc.) There's even apps that let you sort! (@selfcaretheapp)
Another issue I had frequently was forgetting things. I have so much to be thankful for, I would forget and get bogged down in whatever most recent negative thing was. I made a notepad file and put it on my computer's desktop and once a week I try to put something I am -
grateful for on it. Maybe it's something "stupid" like - I watched Brooklyn 99 and loved it. Or "I didn't break any glasses while washing dishes." or "It was easy to clean the litter box this week." I really like ones that show my progress.
It became a huge Self Care thing for me. Because then - I remember. I remember the things that make me happy. And when I feel awful - I have a list of things to read, that usually by the end of - I may not feel great, but it's ALWAYS better.
This is also a great point to have a "Go To Funny" thing. That might be Iliza or Patton's comedy specials on Netflix. It might be a pinterest board with jokes (…) or a tv show (Parks and Rec). But something that you know will always make you feel less bad.
Another form of self care is having a hobby! Hobbies are cool! Hobbies got completely RUINED by our generation. *ugh* This is a big thing the Buzzfeed article hit pretty hard. We - or at least a large portion of us - always view everything as a way to make money.
(Ask me why I believe in Universal Basic Income!) Tell me if you've done this - you learn how to do something new - like say... Sewing! - and then you make a few things - they are awesome - and someone else says "You should sell this!" And you set up an etsy and promptly -
stop sewing. *head desk* I KNOW. All too often we are encouraged to monetize our hobbies. A hobby should be a positive experience. It's an outlet for our needs that aren't being met through our work. It cannot become work.
Becoming work - makes it work. A friend recently noticed many people were getting into a physical creation hobby. And I smiled. Of course. Game devs spend so much of our time creating non-tangible things - the ability to create physical items is a very interesting hobby for us.
One of my other realizations with hobbies is - you have to give yourself permission to merely BE OKAY at it. If you try - say drawing - let it be a thing for you. Painting minis? It's okay if it's not perfect. Focus on the joy of DOING it - not making a thing for value.
As an aside - DO NOT TRY TO SHAME YOURSELF INTO BEING "BETTER" - It creates a negative feedback loop that turns the activity negative.
(Especially when it's a thing you know you need to do but don't feel like it.)
So back to the original point - how does all this apply to work life balance? Well - it's about balance. Balancing these positive and negative - high and low activities. As you become aware of how things affect YOU - you will be able to counter them.
When something goes horribly wrong - by thinking about it from the point of view of "Ah yes. This was high energy, high negative. How can I make it easier/more positive next time?" you can actually PREP for things and make them less bad.
For example - there's a week where I have a meeting with the kid's teacher, another social event I don't want to do, and I have to take my car in to the shop. I make sure to get frozen pizza the week before. I can make the pizza on Sunday - then the kid will eat it for dinner -
for at least 2 days. I probably will for one. It removes some things from my list (making dinner for kid) and adds a positive (mmmm pizza). This also frees up a small bit of time I can now use to "flop" and decompress from having to deal with people I am not comfortable around.
By planning ahead - I can prepare and mitigate things I know will stress me out. I am *actively* choosing to go into survival mode. Because it means it will keep me OUT of burnout. I guess that's what I meant above, I choose when to go into the phases, so I can come out -
of them when I need to. All of this serves the master of reducing stress and avoiding burnout. Because - first off - Stress is literally deadly. It will wreck you. It will escalate to anxiety disorders or ptsd.
So what's burnout? Feeling every day is a bad day. You're always tired, but sleep/time off doesn't help. Everything and everyone is exhausting. It's hard to feel joy. You're kinda numb. Your productivity drops despite working as much or more.
Having less or little patience. Little things make you disproportionately angry. Feeling hopeless. Becoming cynical. Even physical symptoms like panic attacks, insomnia, etc. These might be burnout - of course many are shared with depression as well. Turns out, therapy works -
for both burnout and depression! (See a doctor.) Don't be afraid to ask for help! One of the weird quirks is - doing a thing for ourselves can be high energy/ high negative - but doing that exact thing for someone else is low energy/ high positive. (Humans are weird.)
Once you are in burnout - you will need more sleep. You will need more breaks. You will need more scheduled recovery (low energy - positive) than previously. Take care of yourself. You are effectively injured. And it will take time to get back out.
A trick I learned - thanks to having a kid - is the importance of Ritual for building habits and triggering reactions within yourself. With a baby - trying to get them to sleep well - they tell you to create a bedtime ritual. Bath - reading - cuddling - always the same things -
always in the same order. You end up building a habit with them. An adult example is - people who are caffeine dependent (like me!) - when do you start to feel it? Me - 2 drinks. I feel it in 2 drinks. It's not actually the caffeine. It's the Pavlovian response.
So by creating a similar response in a recovery activity - I can trigger the response. I started making an effort to come home, get into comfy clothes, crawl into bed, and play Sailor Moon Drop until I felt recovered or was hungry. At first - I could lay there all night.
Now, I am already starting to feel the physical reaction - my mood lifts, my heartrate slows down, I feel calmer - before I even get the app OPEN. Sure, I still play a game or 3, but the desired outcome has already happened.
EVEN BETTER. Because my lizard brain latched on to the APP as the trigger - I can use it when away from my bed/pjs. Yeah, it's not as effective, but being able to recover, even just partially, is so valuable!
One of the biggest triggers for me figuring out how this all worked for me was "Not all work is draining. Not all home life is energizing." I feel like people with kids should know this? But I didn't. My work is often so cool beyond the telling of it.
But then - things at home (dishes, litter box, folding laundry...) are often significantly more draining that 8 hours working on a game. Because of this - I would often spend too much time in "Production" mode at work. Then come home and be faced with "production" mode at home.
I wouldn't balance my work load to include bits of low energy positive creation, so I would come home, be too exhausted to do chores, not do them, then create a negative feedback loop with shame over being lazy - until it would start to creep into work and I would be wrecked.
I couldn't take months or years off to recover. I had to learn to do it little bits at a time over the whole day. So now it's like - do several high energy high positive things. A high energy high negative thing (one a day is fine). A low energy negative thing - one or two.
And make sure between each one is a low energy positive thing to recover. So at the end of the day, I am tired, but not exhausted. I am fairly positive. Balance!
There are still traps though! There are low energy things that are so highly positive - they can throw things out of balance. These are like... traps? That we like! So a few examples: I loooove fixing bugs. It's usually low energy - HIGH positive for me. Very high positive.
On a Skylanders game - I once spent like 16 hours fixing bugs. It was amazing. I loved every minute of it. And then I got home, I needed to sleep (I needed to be back to work in 10 hours.) and guess what I couldn't do? It was 5 am before my body finally calmed down enough to -
sleep! I ended up only getting 3 hours of sleep. So now, on the next day - I was exhausted, everything was 10x harder, and everything was negative. Everything for the day was high energy high negative. (Crunch is bad - even when you opt in and enjoy it!)
Learning to pace yourself is important. There will always be more work. There will always be more chores. There will always be more errands. We need to have the same boundaries and communication we would have in a relationship with our self and our activities.
Like - on the last day of the break - I really wanted to stay up until forever watching Brooklyn 99. But I knew it would push me closer to burnout. So - off to bed I went. Not - one more turn, one more episode. It will be there TOMORROW.
Again - all of this works for me. Some of the same things might work for you. But you might also be TOTALLY different. I know it's hard for me to relax when I am anxious. So I have to adjust for that.
And here we are, at the end of my presentation... I really enjoyed putting it together, and I really enjoy talking about it, so feel free to ask questions, add your own notes/comments, and even challenge things on it. I hope it wasn't too spammy and maybe it will help.
It helped me to write it out. It made me feel better. High energy! But High positive. Now I am off to make dinner. (High energy, high positive!) Then I will be back to poke at twitter again. (low energy, ???)
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