how to chart moods | virtual book

how to chart moods

#essays #moods #time-management #energy Mentioned in what I'm doing now

Learning to pick between

productive and absorptive

how to work

(Originally posted on

#essays #psychology #time-management #energy #physiology Mentioned in writing how to work, how to chart moods

When I do work and I get stuck I leave my desk and wander down the hallway. I meander and look out the window as I think lightly about the problem. I weave through the complications crowding my thoughts until I’ve sorted them out. Then I return to my desk and refocus on the screen.

Focus narrows the mind. It zooms you into the fine details and blurs everything else out. But sometimes you need to relax your attention and widen your view to notice the missing piece, or the jagged edge that would snag your approach. You need to loosen up and make space to have new thoughts and interact with them.

Focus guzzles energy like an SUV. But accessing your energy reserves isn’t as easy as pressing the gas pedal. Hour by hour your energy levels rise and fall. If you tune into your body it tells you how much energy is available.

For long I’ve known my energy dips after I eat but still I’d push myself to be productive. Now I embrace it as a natural part of my day and let myself relax for a few minutes. I lay on the couch and play chess on my phone and soon I feel fresh and ready to resume work. Taking those 15 minutes to repose lifts my mood. Listening and adapting to my internal state makes work pleasant and less draining. It makes it sustainable.

Sometimes you need more than a few minutes. Energy levels can dip for days. This could mean you need to rest or do something to replenish your energy. Rest isn’t the only activity that reenergizes.

When you lose steam you can spend time absorbing instead of producing. Moments of low energy are a chance to listen and think passively. When you relax, your creativity stirs and feeds on what your senses are gathering. When you can’t be diligent, be curious. Let yourself follow a thread and soon you’ll be moving.

Watch movies, go for walks, listen to music, spend time in the sun, talk with friends, flip through photos, clean the house. Open yourself and allow thoughts to trickle in and out. Replenish the energy and ideas you’ll use to produce next chance you get. You can delay rest, but you can’t skip it. Dues you don’t pay today you pay twice tomorrow.

activities based on my current mood and energy level has helped me notice, for example, when I should try to write instead of reading.

← productive                                                                                                                                 absorptive →

It occurred to me recently that there are many other dimensions to consider when picking an activity. An obvious distinction is active vs passive activities. It is similar to productive vs absorptive, but it’s possible to be absorptive both actively (e.g. reading) and passively (e.g. watching, listening).

← active                                                                                                                                               passive →

Are you in a mood to expend energy or do you need to refuel? The same answer will have different implications for different people. For introverted people, having “expensive” capacity at a given moment offers an opportunity to socialize.

← expensive                                                                                                                               regenerative →

After determining that you want to watch a movie – a fine choice when one is feeling passive-absorptive-regenerative – you can figure out whether you want to do your passive absorbing alone or with other people.

← individual                                                                                                                                             social →

While going through this exercise, you don’t have to pick a point on each spectrum. I think it’s unlikely you’ll have answers for all. (Ah yes, I’m feeling productive-active-social-regenerative, that’s the word I was looking for!) But with every choice, you filter down many possible activities into the ones best suited to your current mood.

Are you in a social-regenerative mood? Meet with friends to do something that nourishes you. Or are you feeling social-expensive? Do something that you’re not easily motivated to do but that your loved ones want to do with you.

I always try to choose activities based on how I’m feeling so I can evade the taxing experience of forcing myself to do something through willpower alone. But you can’t always wait for the right mood to come. In life, you have to do some planning, and you can do that better if you learn how your moods and energy levels fluctuate.

Notice which activities are expensive for you. Make time after those for your regenerative activites. Whether you’re more introverted or extroverted, take note of how often you need social interaction to keep a healthy balance. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, dedicate your expensive mood to

meaningful, important work

how to work #2

(Originally posted on

#essays #psychology #time-management #energy #physiology Mentioned in writing how to work #2, how to progress without planning, how to chart moods, how to coordinate metaphors #2

Right now, it’s 5:28pm. I just finished my work day. I turn my attention inwards — I’m not very hungry yet, and I still have energy to do something productive. I have to make dinner eventually, but otherwise my evening is open. This is where I make my mistake. I choose an easy activity like cooking, getting groceries, going thrift shopping, watching TV, or scrolling through my phone. The mistake isn’t doing these activities, but doing them when I have both the time and energy to do something special.

These moments are precious, and they pass by unnoticed unless you watch out for them. They offer you the chance to take on work that is challenging and time-consuming. They are an open road and a tank full of gas, space to gather speed and cover ground. Choosing to spend that time on something easy is like burning gas in first gear. Don’t waste your energy on tasks that can run on fumes. Leave the laundry and the dishes for later, when your brain needs to rest. This is your chance to practice a craft or work on a project, anything that requires brainpower and is meaningful to you.

When the opportunity comes, pounce on it. The sooner you start, the sooner you’re in the zone and the longer you’ll stay there. For creative work, it’s not just energy you need but also time. Resist the temptation to do chores just to feel productive. Letting small tasks occupy space in a big gap of time is like parking in the middle of two spaces. Better to dedicate long stretches of time to activities that need it, like making art or building something. Let chores and other small tasks squeeze into the spare minutes in your day.

According to Dr. Dement’s book The Promise of Sleep, energy tends to peak in the morning, dip in the early afternoon, and peak again in the early evening. If you listen to your body, you can figure out when your energy rises and when it falls. Once you know your pattern, you can dedicate the highs to meaningful-yet-demanding work and leave the lows for easy stuff.

Adapting to the ebb and flow of your capacity makes you not only more efficient, but happier. Your efforts bear more fruit because you know when the moment is ripe, and you learn to savor small victories when nothing bigger is within reach. Gone is the guilt of “being lazy” when your energy dips because you know it’s just a phase in a cycle, a valley in a range of peaks. You can have faith in yourself, and let rest nagging questions of willpower and attitude.

It’s 6:27pm as I finish the first draft of this piece. Aware that I had energy to think, and about an hour before I got too hungry to focus, I set myself down to write. Now I have to stop, but a good foundation has been laid, one that I’ll build upon next time I have the time and energy to do so.

. If producing is important to you, dedicate time to absorbing as well. As Stephen King writes in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.