Practical Tips: How to Pace Yourself So You Don’t Burn out

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how I had overworked myself and the lessons I learned from that. Here I will share the practical things I do today to avoid depleting my energy and feeling burnt out. I use tips and tricks on different time scales:

  • Hourly
  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Seasonally/Yearly

DAILY

The modified Pomodoro

I used to work non-stop for hours, and I thought it was normal to feel completely depleted at the end of a three-hour work period. Now I impose breaks on myself every hour (I follow the guidelines of Brendon Burchard). When I start working, I set a modified Pomodoro timer for 45 minutes of work, 15 minutes break, 45 minutes work, 15 minutes break, etc. I use the Custom Timer at Marinara Timer.

When the 45-minute work period is over and the timer goes off, I usually take 2-3 minutes to finish the specific thing I’m doing. I hate being interrupted, so getting up at the moment the timer goes off really annoys me. This means that I have around 12 minutes of break time. But what to do during a break? I usually go to the bathroom, get a cup of tea, walk down the hallway and back, climb some stairs, or do some stretches. I specifically make sure not to spend my break on my phone because that defeats the purpose. At the end of the break when I have 2 minutes left, I sit back down on my chair and take a few deep inhales and exhales. Then I think about the work I’m going to do during my next work block and set an intention for what progress I’d like to make and how I’d like to do my work.

The mid-day break

I can keep working for a long time using my modified Pomodoro system, but at some point it’s time for lunch. I usually take 30 minutes to eat lunch and then go for a 15 minute walk. Afterwards, I get myself a cup of tea and get ready to start working again.

Since I’m a relatively social person, I enjoy talking to people while having lunch. These conversations are often relaxing and sometimes super fun (ah, the things that get shared during Friday lunches…), but I sometimes expend too much energy talking to people over lunch and then need a break from my break. That’s why I like to take a 15-minute walk by myself. It clears my mind and also helps me avoid the after-lunch dip by energizing me. If I’m having a really busy day and I need a longer break, I just have lunch by myself.

Daily movement

I make sure to include some form of movement every day after work. Sometimes that means going to the gym, and other times it’s going for a brisk walk in the park while listening to a podcast. If it’s raining or I’m in the mood, I just dance in my living room! It’s awesome! And if I need some really gentle movement, I do some light yoga at home.

Wind down time

In the evenings, once everything is done (prepare food, eat dinner, do housework stuff, and shower), I have ‘Wind Down Time.’ This is usually half an hour to an hour where I can do whatever I want! In my case, that’s usually to read. I love reading on the couch with an aromatic candle and soft music. This me-time is really fulfilling. A day of work, movement, cooking, etc. (a.k.a. doing all the right things) feels very different after a little bit of me-time. It feels indulgent to read just for the sake of reading and because I enjoy it. I am much more willing to face the difficult parts of the day, knowing that there will be completely easy, indulgent parts as well.

Bedtime

Sleep is quite a priority for me, so I try to get a decent amount of sleep every night (usually eight hours). I have a bedtime I respect, which makes it easy to wake up refreshed when my alarm goes off. Also, I try not to push back my bedtime by more than an hour on the weekend, so I don’t completely mess up my sleeping rhythm and end up super tired on Monday morning when I need to get up early again.

Meditation

It has become increasingly important to me to do my meditation every morning. This is my way of taking care of my mind and checking in with my mental and emotional state at the start of the day. It also allows me to put my thoughts and feelings in perspective and not take myself too seriously.

WEEKLY

Social time

All kinds of research show how important social connections are, and socializing can be truly relaxing. For me, too much socializing can be overwhelming, but I make sure I spend quality time with people 1-2 times per week. Usually that’s my Friday and/or Saturday evening. I enjoy going out to dinner with a friend or two because then we can really talk and connect. Spending time with good friends can also truly put things in perspective.

Time in nature

I really enjoy being in nature, so on Saturdays or Sundays I often go for a little hike in the nearby forest. I just walk without listening to music or podcasts, and I really enjoy the sounds, smells, and the overall feel of nature. It is very refreshing, and nature has the ability to quickly put our human struggles into perspective.

MONTHLY

Special event

A special event can get you out of your routine and make time feel special. Approximately once a month, I do something special. That can be a dance performance, a concert, or an arts event of some sort. In the autumn and winter months, my boyfriend and I go to a spa for a day, and that’s a real treat! It’s wonderful time spent together, and it’s truly relaxing. Other times we take a little trip such as visiting a city for the day or going camping for the weekend. These are all little treats that are easy to include in a weekend but make time feel special.

SEASONALLY/YEARLY

Intense vs. easy-going periods

I find it useful to label periods of time as “intense periods” and “easy-going periods.” For instance, July-August is a relaxed period, while September-November is an intense period. This helps me really focus on work during an intense period and know that that’s okay because I will have more rest during the relaxed period that will follow. These periods are well delineated for students with summer and winter break, but I find it helpful to have these for other people too. It can help us focus on what we’ve chosen as important during the current period.

Vacations and trips

Vacations and trips are like “extended special events” (see above). They definitely break the routine, allow us to experience new things, and make time feel richer. I like to have a trip or vacation once every 3-4 of months because it serves as a breath of fresh air in between two intense work periods. I find that people (including myself) often feel reluctant to take a vacation. We think, “How could I possibly take time off? I have so much work to do!” But once you are on vacation, it’s great! And when you’re back, you’re refreshed, energized, and motivated to work again. So vacations are a win-win: good for both our rest and our work!

These are some tips and tricks I use to alternate work and rest and make sure I don’t overwork myself. Implementing these things allows me to have stable energy levels, continue doing high-quality and fulfilling work over the long run, and feel happy with my work-life balance. How do you make sure you have good amounts of work and rest in your life?

How I Learned to Pace Myself So I Don’t Burn out

Six years ago, I got close to burn out for the first time. I was in college, it was exam week, and I had my last exam the following morning. It was for the course Psychopharmacology, probably the most difficult exam I’ve ever taken. I had studied so much that I knew I’d do well, but nevertheless I was miserable. I lay in bed, trying to sleep, but names of pharmacological compounds and various brain areas were swimming in my head incessantly. What was more, I had a fever, and I kept tossing and turning in bed. My stress levels were through the roof because I couldn’t sleep, and I knew how important sleep is for performance at an exam. Needless to say, trying to make myself sleep only made things worse.

It was a truly terrible night. I felt exhausted beyond belief but still unable to rest. My mind was incredibly anxious, and every single thought was torture. Perhaps the worst was that I felt helpless to change anything or to make myself feel better. None of my usual tricks worked, so I just had to lie there, waiting for morning to come.

Lying there, I thought about what I had done to bring myself to this place. The answer was clear: I had overworked myself. I had worked hard for many weeks and months on end, without taking proper breaks and without letting myself rest. I was taking five classes instead of the recommended four (because of course I could do more), and I had three side jobs (because I could do it all!). My only time off of studying and working was Friday and Saturday evenings. Literally.

I still can’t believe I did that to myself. I know how important it is to get some rest, exercise, and have at least a little bit of free time. But I found myself in a situation where every single minute was crammed full of things to do, and I felt constantly anxious about whether I’d manage to complete everything I needed to do.

I think it had a lot to do with the environment. When everybody else appears to be pushing themselves to their limits, it seems to be the right thing to do. And since my self-worth was on the line, i.e., I felt like I would not succeed if I didn’t do that as well, it seemed like the only thing to do. There was no choice, I just had to keep pushing.

On that night when I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep before my last exam, I felt incredibly sad for us humans. We push ourselves so far, to the point of breaking, and we usually only realize it once we are broken. We feel that the only way to be happy, or to deserve to be happy, is by completing that impossibly long to-do list. But we never quite get to that happy point; instead, we just pass out at the end of the day, utterly exhausted. The next morning, we have a new to-do list to complete.

———

That experience (and many others like it) have led me to make some changes. For me, that sleepless night marks a ‘before and after’ point. Before it, I used to take on as much as possible on my plate, trusting that I would figure it out somehow. After that night, I knew that I was able to do all those things, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. What’s the point of succeeding at a bunch of stuff if I broke myself in the process? To me it was clear that it wasn’t worth it.

What followed was an extended (and still ongoing) search for how far it’s good to push myself. It must be a dynamic balance: I don’t want to sit around and do nothing all the time, but I also don’t want to burn myself out. So what’s the right balance?

I immediately made some changes after that psychopharmacology exam. For the following semester, I signed up for four courses (apparently, it’s the recommended number for a reason) and dropped one of my part-time jobs. I also made time to exercise regularly and to meditate. Moreover, I prioritized sleep: I made sure I got seven hours of sleep each night. (Side note: seven hours a night was still not enough for me, but I only realized that a couple of years later when I started sleeping eight hours a night and suddenly I didn’t need caffeine anymore! How surprising!)

Nowadays, I am much stricter about taking care of myself. I monitor my energy levels and my anxiety levels to make sure I steer clear of ‘the danger zone.’ It’s still a struggle sometimes when other people are (or appear to be) so much busier and doing so much more, but I need to do what works for me. Even if I feel that anxious urge to do more, I force myself to do less. For example, at the end of the work day, I know it’s time to get up and go to the gym, but I feel guilty leaving my work. If I could only stay and do a couple more hours of work… but no, I get up, go to the gym, get moving, and give my mind a break. I inevitably feel better than if I had stayed at my desk and kept working until I felt exhausted. And the next morning I’m actually excited to do my work again! What’s more, in this way I have more energy for the important relationships in my life as well.

There are several simple things I prioritized to make sure I don’t overwork myself:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Good food
  • Meditation
  • Rest/free time (at least a little bit)

In the next blog post, I will describe specific things I do to ensure I don’t overwork myself and to maintain stable energy levels and a fulfilling lifestyle. Stay tuned!

My Organization System: An Overview

Over the last two months, I explained my Organization System:

  1. Blog Post 1: Your Priorities
  2. Blog Post 2: Get More Specific
  3. Blog Post 3: Dealing with Tasks
  4. Blog Post 4: The Getting Things Done Approach
  5. Blog Post 5: Useful Tools for Personal Organization
  6. Blog Post 6: The Review System

And that’s it! Remember: break it down and write it down!

PrioritiesGoals → ProjectsTasks

Your best friends are your workflow tool and your calendar. They make life so much easier!

Use whatever tools you like to schedule tasks and keep track of your workflow.

Review your progress regularly and how that fits with your priorities. This will keep you on track and will you motivate you.

And one last tip: Schedule time for fun!

Whatever is on the calendar gets done. Whatever is not on the calendar does not get done.

So put it on your calendar, whatever your idea of fun is!

And let me know! How does this system work for you? What tips and tricks do you have? What tools do you use? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

The Review System

Any organizational system only works if… you actually use it. If you write down your priorities and never look at them again, that doesn’t help you much. If you make a list with all the tasks for a project and never go back to check your progress, that list is useless. Therefore, you need a good review system in place. How to do that?

The daily review

At the beginning of the day, I check my calendar and my Trello for the day. I also check Wunderlist. When I’m working on a task, I drag it to the “Doing Now” list on Trello. When I’m finished with the task, I move it to “Done Today.” At the end of the day, I look through the tasks in “Done Today,” and I mark those as done on my project management board. (See previous blog post for more details.) I also briefly think about what went well today, what didn’t go so well today, and what I learned today.

The weekly review

The weekly review is probably the most important to me. It has two parts: what I call the “Weekly Preview” (at the beginning of the week) and the “Weekly Review” (at the end of the week). In my weekly preview, I look at my calendar to see what I have scheduled for the upcoming week. I check what work deadlines I have. I also look at my project board to look what the next steps are on my projects. Then, I decide how I will distribute my time this week and what tasks I will work on each day. This saves lots of time during the week when I could be left wondering, “Okay, what do I do next?”

I also go through my goals and my priorities. I think about how what I’m going to do this week fits with my goals and priorities. If there is a discrepancy between what I want and what I am going to do, I can change things around and make sure that my daily activities reflect my priorities and are bringing me closer to achieving my goals.

At the end of the week, I do the weekly review: I look at what I’ve done this week by checking Trello and my calendar. I think about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I’ve learned. I assess whether the week has gone according to my priorities and if not, what I’d like to change in the future. Did I work too much? Did I get enough sleep? Did I talk to my family? Did I exercise?

I do a money review as well where I look at how much I’ve spent on what and how that fits into my budgets.

I also briefly go over what I will do over the weekend and next week.

The monthly review

Once a month, I do the monthly review in which I look at what I’ve done over the past month and what I’ll do during the next month (and possibly the next few months). I create a new Google Doc for each month where I write my main goals for the month, the main things I’d like to work on, and the things I’d like to spend time on. I also write down any fun trips or cool things I’m looking forward to.

To explain how this works, if today is March 1, I will review how February went. I will have written a list for February on February 1, and I will go through the items and briefly remark on how they went. Usually, this looks like, “yeah!!!,” yes, did that,” “yep,” “kind of,” “a little bit,” “not really,” “nope,” or “haha, right” for each item I had for the month. Then I will make a Google Doc with a list of items for March. On April 1, I will review the list for March, etc. I also make sure to implement those items on the monthly list in my project management tools, lists, and calendar. Then I know they will get done.

I reflect on how this month went. Did it fit my priorities? What went well, what didn’t go so well, and what have I learned? (You’re probably beginning to see a trend here.) Did I have a good balance going through the month? Did I make progress with my work? Did I get enough rest? Did I maintain a healthy sense of perspective? Did I have fun?

I also think about what habits I tried and succeeded or failed to establish. Did I respect my bedtime? Did I exercise regularly? Did I meditate regularly?

I check my spending for the month and see how that fits in my budgets and how it compares to other months.

During my monthly review, I also revisit my yearly goals.

The yearly review

Finally, we have the yearly review which (spoiler!) I do once a year, so it’s super exciting!!! People get excited about New Year’s Eve and parties and stuff, but I don’t care about that because how could you if you had The Yearly Review coming on January 1?!?!?! That’s so much more exciting!!!

At my yearly review, I look over my calendar and ask, “What big things did I do this year? What things happened to me?” I also think about what important habits I established and stuck with and what habits I struggled with.

I also do a yearly money review where I look at my spending over the year, how that fits with my budgets, and how it compares to other years.

Then, I go to the integral part: What went well this year? What didn’t go so well this year? What have I learned? What would I like to change and what would I like to keep the same and how? I actually write this out because that really forces me to think and dig deep.

Finally, I make a list of my goals for next year.

Then I usually stare at my calendar some more because I don’t want the yearly review to be over. It’s so much fun, so why does it only happen once a year? 😦 (Hint: Because it’s yearly by definition…)

Useful tools for personal organization

Technically, you could do everything I’ve explained here in a simple text document or even on paper, but there are some helpful tools that will make it much, much easier and more fun. I will list useful tools for each level of personal organization I outlined.

1. Priorities

This is the least technically complicated one and also the most important one because it guides all the rest. I literally have a note in Google Keep (pinned to the top) called “Priorities” which lists my priorities from #1 to #20 in my case.

Tools to use for this are Google Keep, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or any other text processing software you may like to use. Or even pen and paper 🙂

Some people also use Mind Maps, but I never got into that myself.

2. Goals

For each priority, you should have a list of goals. I find it convenient to use Trello for this kind of thing. I have a board called “Goals,” and I make a list for each priority (e.g., PhD Project Goals). There I include a card for each goal. Conveniently, I can then add a description for each goal (i.e., card), and include a checklist of projects or tasks that belong to that goal. I can also include deadlines and labels for easy processing.

3. Projects

For each goal, there are one or more projects. A project consists of multiple tasks, so it’s useful to list those somewhere. I use Trello extensively for work projects and for home projects. Each project is a list, and I add cards for each task. Sometimes a task has sub-tasks, and I add those as a checklist on the card. I can check those off as I go along. When I complete a task, I mark the date on which I’ve completed it. In this way, it becomes green, and I know I’ve completed it. If something needs to be completed by a certain date, I give it a due date, and then Trello reminds me that the card is due soon. I personally use labels according to topics, but you could also use them to mark urgency (I do this for home-related tasks). Whatever works for you 🙂

Trello is a very useful project management tool. I’ve heard of other ones such as Microsoft Project but haven’t used them myself.

4. Lists

Sometimes you may want a simple but functional list tool, and I use Wunderlist for that. I use it very much for things like groceries lists or shopping lists. It’s very convenient that you can share lists with others. Many of the lists are shared with my boyfriend, so if I want him to buy, say, broccoli, I don’t have to message him and ask him to add it to his list. Instead, I can directly add it to our groceries list, and he will see it immediately or whenever he goes to the store to buy food. We have most of the items on our groceries list as recurring items, so we don’t have to add them every week.

We also have shopping lists for specific shops. For instance, I might want face cream from the cosmetics store I like, but I only go there once in a while. So I put it on that list, and if I go to that store a few weeks later to buy body lotion, I can just open up that list and remember that I also wanted to buy face cream.

You can also choose to add a reminder to an item on your list. For instance, we have a reminder every Tuesday evening to take out the trash.

Another useful feature is that you can group your lists within folders. All of our shopping lists are in the folder “Shopping”. That makes your lists look a bit more organized 🙂

Finally, the Today and Week feature is also quite useful. You can look at what items are due Today from all lists and also what items are due in the next week from all your lists. Quite nice.

There are many list tools out there, and Wunderlist is just one of them. I used to use Google Tasks, but that’s a bit primitive in terms of functionality, so I moved on to Wunderlist.

5. Calendar

Ah, my calendar! How I love it! It really is a work of art. I put appointments on there, obviously, but I also put blocks of time that I like to reserve for something like my morning routine. I won’t go into details on the usage of a calendar because many of us use that. I love recurring events because it’s easy to enter things like going to the gym or recurring meetings. I also value it because it allows me to block off time such as my “Wind Down” time. If I don’t explicitly block that off, I end up doing stuff the entire evening and don’t make time to just do something pleasant and relaxing. The calendar, if it is accurate, contains both the exciting and the drudgerous aspects of our lives. What a perfect representation of life!

I once again want to highlight the benefit of sharing calendars. At work, this makes it very easy to schedule meetings. In my personal life, having a shared calendar with my boyfriend eliminated the need for constant back-and-forth about “Are you free on this date and time to go there? To meet with these people? To go to the gym?” It saves so much time!

There are many calendar tools, and I personally use Google Calendar, but I suppose other tools are just as effective. Some people still use paper agendas, which I admire 🙂 I can imagine how pleasant it would be to have this baby in a beautiful notebook and on paper. But then wouldn’t it be a pain to add recurring events? And how ugly would it look when you have to cross things out and write over them? In my opinion, the digital calendar makes it so much easier to be flexible and to adapt to life as it happens. (Says me, the queen of flexibility… hahaha.)

6. Daily flow tool

Daily flow refers to how you do your work during the day. I start out with a list of things to do this week, then a list of things to do today, then a list of things I’m doing now (only one at a time!), then a list of things I’ve done today, and a list of things I’ve done this week. It looks like this:

At the beginning of the week the first column is the longest, and at the end of the week the last column is the longest (hopefully). At the end of the week, I archive the last list (Done this week). I can review it later if I wish, and it won’t crowd my daily flow for the next week.

I can’t emphasize how useful this is on a daily basis! At the start of the day, I know exactly what I need to do today and what I need to work on next. At the end of the day, I know what I’ve completed today, and I’m also ready for the next day. Tasks from different projects get included here, so I won’t forget about any one project. It’s fantastic!

I use Trello for this because I can conveniently copy cards from my project management board (see #3 above) to my daily flow board. Kanban Flow does something similar.

7. Pomodoro technique

Finally, I use the Pomodoro technique (or a modified version of it) when I’m working. This means that when I start working on a certain task, I set a timer for 25 minutes. Once it goes off, I take a break for 5 minutes. Then I work for another 25 minutes. Then I take a break again. I do this until I complete 4 25-minute work sessions, and then I take a 15 minute (or longer) break. This is extremely useful for keeping up concentration while working on difficult, attention-demanding tasks such as writing or learning a language.

If I’m doing a less demanding task, I may prolong these periods to 45 or 50 minutes with a 10 minute break afterwards. It depends on what I find best for the type of work. If the 25-minute work periods feel too short and like they’re breaking my concentration, I will prolong them to 45 or 50 minutes. But I don’t go any longer than that: After almost an hour of focused work and sitting, I need to get up, move around, and think about something else. If I try to keep going, I just get exhausted early, which in the end is counter-productive and unpleasant.

The Getting Things Done approach

The question still stands: what is the best way to tackle a task? In other words, what do you do when a task comes your way? The Getting Things Done system by David Allen offers a simple and practical approach to this.

From Getting Things Done by David Allen.

When something comes in on your plate, you need to ask the question, “What is it?” and “Is it actionable?” or in other words, “Can I act on this?”

If it is actionable, you need to ask, “What’s the next action?”

If the next action takes less than 2 minutes, you need to do it now. This may sound strange, but it is immensely helpful. If you do quick tasks immediately after they come onto your plate, you make sure you don’t get drowned in small to-do’s later. I often make sure to send that email now instead of leaving it until later. It takes so little time and is a huge load off my mind.

If the task takes more than 2 minutes to complete, you can try to delegate it. Not all tasks are suitable for delegation, but if it is, that’s a great option. In that case, you can email, message, or call the person to inform them of the task. Crucially, after you’ve done this, you need to make a note of it in a “Waiting For” list or under the project heading where the delegated task belongs. We often forget what we asked someone to do for us, and things can sometimes slip out of our control when we delegate them to someone else. That’s why it’s useful to have a way to keep track of what we are waiting for from someone else.

If you can’t delegate the task and you can’t do it right now, you can defer it to a future point in time. You can put it on your calendar, so you will do this task on a specific date and time. For example, I will wash my car on Saturday at 10:00. I don’t have to do it now, but I know it will get done.

You can also put it under a project heading (i.e., in the list of tasks belonging to a certain project) for you to do as soon as you can. This means that you don’t have to do the task on a specific date and at a specific time, but you will get to it when the time comes.

Every time you work on a certain project, you revisit your list of tasks for that project and tackle the task at the top of the list. In this way, you know that the tasks you put on there will get done and won’t be forgotten. Let’s say you want to change a light bulb in your house. You don’t want to do it now and there isn’t really a deadline for when it needs to get done. So you put it on your list of Home tasks. Next time you’re at home and have some time to do housework, you can take a look at your list and change that light bulb.

If the task that comes your way consists of multiple steps, then it may in fact be a project. If it is a project, then make a separate project heading for it with a list of tasks under it. If it’s smaller than a project but requires multiple steps, you can put the task under your already-defined project heading and include a list of sub-tasks that need to be completed. Then you treat each sub-task as described in the previous paragraphs and either do it, delegate it, or defer it.

Let’s say you want to buy a new washing machine. It’s not quite a project because it’s not that big (it belongs to the Improve Home project), but it’s a multi-step task. I’d identify the following sub-tasks: look for washing machines online, pick 3 washing machines, go to a store to see them, order a washing machine, install the new washing machine, remove the old washing machine. Then I would schedule “look for washing machines online” on my calendar and proceed from there.

If the task is not actionable, i.e., you can’t act on it now, you can include it as a reference. This means you can look at it later when/if you need to. It’s good if such a folder or system is organized by topic or is searchable in order to facilitate easy discovery of materials. I often use this for interesting articles, videos, web pages, etc.

Alternatively, you can incubate the task or idea as a possible later action. It’s nice to have this collection of possible later actions, for instance, for future work projects, trips you could take, or books you’d like to read.

Finally, you can consider deleting the incoming task. If it’s not important or interesting enough to end up in your reference materials or in your possible future actions, then it’s probably fine to just delete it.

This is a brief summary of the Getting Things Done system. It offers a practical approach to any task that might come your way and while in reality it may not always be easy to decide which category a task belongs to, you can always ask yourself the right questions, make a choice, and enter the task in your pipeline. In this way, nothing slips through your fingers and you end up tackling tasks one way or the other.

Dealing with tasks

Now that you’ve broken down your priorities all the way down to tasks, how do you deal with those?

Let’s take one task as an example, for instance, washing your car. This is not the type of task that can be done immediately because it takes a while. Therefore, you should schedule it. Ask yourself the following questions: When does the task need to be done? Perhaps before your parents come to visit next month. When is a good time for you to do the task? Next Saturday morning could be a good time. You can go ahead and put that in your calendar.

Tasks can get scheduled on your calendar or they can be put on a to-do list, possibly with a reminder. The important thing is to actually check your calendar and your to-do lists. Otherwise things go on there but never get done.

Here comes the important part: actually doing a task. At the beginning of the day (or several times a day), you can check in with your calendar and your to-do lists. Let’s say it’s 8:50 on a Tuesday morning. What activity is scheduled for 9:00 on your calendar? Or if you have an hour of two of time for general work, what tasks are on your to-do list for today or for this week?

By going through the tasks you’ve already outlined for yourself beforehand, you make sure that you’re completing tasks you’ve outlined as important earlier. You don’t have to make the decision now about what you need to do. You’ve already made that decision beforehand, and by taking action now, you know you’re making progress towards your goals and that therefore you’re living in accordance with your priorities.

After you’ve completed a task (or a group of tasks), you can review your progress. I usually do this once or twice a day, typically at the end of the day. I look through the tasks I’ve completed today and remark on the progress I’ve made on my projects and thus towards my goals. Even if I’ve worked on very small, specific tasks during the day, I can evaluate exactly how those fit within my overarching goals. This brings perspective, reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing, and reassures me that I am respecting my priorities.

On some days, things don’t go exactly as planned, and at the end of those days I don’t usually feel like doing a daily review. It feels like the day has been a mess, so I just want to leave it behind and get on with my life. In fact, every day includes something that doesn’t quite go according to plan. But that’s all the more reason to do a daily review: What actually happened today? How did it differ from what I had outlined for myself today and why? What forced me to adapt my plans? For instance, if a request comes in from a colleague, I have a choice about whether to tend to it right now, to put it on my to-do list, or to schedule it for a later date. If I choose to do it right away (and the request is not urgent), that may mean that I am overly eager to serve other people instead of sticking to the tasks I have prioritized. Or it may mean that I am anxious about the project I need to work on and prefer to procrastinate by doing other work.

It is extremely useful to examine those differences between the “ideal” day, as planned beforehand, and the actual day that ends up happening. What are the differences and what tension do they stem from? Do you have unrealistic expectations for yourself; do fake emergencies come your way too often; is there a priority or project that pops up but you haven’t accounted for properly; are you overwhelmed or anxious about a project you’d like to tackle; do external circumstances derail you?

If you stop to think about what unwanted factors are influencing you, you will be better able to avoid their influence next time. And in that way it will be easier to actually do the tasks you wanted to do in the first place.

Get more specific: Priorities to Goals to Projects to Tasks

Once you’ve set your priorities, you need to make sure you’re living in accordance with them. To do that, you need to make your priorities actionable. But priorities are by definition at the big picture level. How are we supposed to make them small and action-sized?

The way to do that is to break down your priorities into goals, your goals into projects, and your projects into tasks. In this way you know that when you complete a task, it completes a part of a project, which fits into a goal, which supports your priorities. If you follow this scheme, even the small actions you take will be feeding into your goals and making sure you’re living in accordance with your priorities.

Often when we are engaged in a small, everyday activity, it can feel meaningless or boring. We lose perspective (why am I doing this?) and do the activity just because we have to do it. But if we follow this framework, no matter how small the activity, we can easily link it to our projects, goals, and priorities, so it quickly fits into our overview of our life and where we’d like to be.

For instance, if I am sitting in front of my computer and renaming files, it can get boring very quickly. But if I remember that I am doing this because once the files are renamed, I can analyze my data and find out the answers to interesting questions I’ve posed in my research, suddenly I know why I am renaming those files and feel more motivated to keep doing it.

Or if I am at home, standing in the kitchen and cooking for two hours, I may feel annoyed and may want to stop. But if I remind myself that I am preparing healthy food that will support and heal my body and ultimately help me to lead a more vibrant life, I may find myself suddenly energized and willing to cook.

What does it actually look like to break down your priorities into tasks? I will give an example from my own work. A priority of mine is to complete a PhD. One goal that belongs to that priority is to publish a paper. One project that belongs to that goal is to collect data. One task that belongs to that project is to schedule the participation of participant 1.

Priorities -> Goals -> Projects -> Tasks

It’s very helpful to have an overview of your priorities, the goals that you currently have for each priority, the projects that belong to each goal, and the tasks that belong to each project. This makes it easy to see how far you’ve progressed on a certain project or goal and how this fits with your priorities overall.

Here is an example of some of my goals and how I’ve divided them according to priority. Each goal contains a list of projects or simply tasks.

Your Priorities

I often wake up to a list of to-dos. From the moment I open my eyes, I am running around: quickly, shower, eat breakfast, get dressed, rush out of the door, don’t forget anything! All the things that need to get done today hang over my head like ominous red lights. Will I make it through today? Will I complete everything? Or will some unexpected obstacle come up and make my day explode into pieces? Once the evening comes around and (hopefully) I have time to relax, I am exhausted. I can’t enjoy my free time because my head is spinning with worries, and I can’t be warm and caring towards my loved ones because I’m drained. Even though I’ve done so much today, what difference does it make? This is hardly the life I want to live. This is not how I want to feel.

You might think that in order to change the way you feel and the way you live, you’d need to make a big change: quit your job, move to a different house or city, leave your current relationship, etc. It is appealing to escape our current life and all its troubles. It’s easy to think that the problem lies in our job, living situation, or other people, and it’s tempting to get rid of all our worries and troubles by getting rid of one specific thing. We imagine that we’ll be so much happier if only that one thing is gone from our lives.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. You are you, and your worries and troubles will come with you even if you try to escape. The uncomfortable truth is that the big problems are not outside of us but rather inside us. Escaping them is not possible. Instead, we need to find a way to deal with them.

One of the biggest issues is that we walk around feeling unhappy, expecting that the world around us has to make us happy, and when it inevitably fails to do so, we complain and blame. We don’t take the time to think about what we want and what would make us happy because that’s way more difficult than blaming our unhappiness on somebody or something else. And even if we do think about what would make us happy, we don’t do anything about it or we have unrealistic expectations.

But there’s another way. We can carefully reflect on what we want and observe what makes us happy. These things are often much simpler than we imagine. We don’t need the most exciting, amazing job ever or the most romantic, perfect relationship. Instead, we need to figure out what is good enough for us and learn to appreciate it. This is easier said than done, so a good way to approach it is through trial and error: try something and see if it makes you happy. Observe. The important thing is to stay inquisitive and intentional. After you try that thing, does it make you happy? Does it fulfill the purpose you had in mind? Does it give you the meaning you were looking for? Does it inspire you?

You’ve probably heard about priorities before. No, not this kind of priorities.

In this way, you can find out what your priorities are. Your priorities are the main things that matter to you in life, and they guide everything you do. Often we think of priorities as vague things: career, family, friends, health. But if you want your priorities to really guide your behavior on a daily basis, they need to be more specific. “Work” might become “Complete a PhD program” or “Become an independent researcher.” “Relationships” might become “Be close with the people I love.” These specific priorities may change over time, and that’s okay. In fact, they should change, so they reflect what’s important to you at different stages of your life. In this way, you feel connected to them, and they truly guide your actions. It’s best if you write down your list of priorities and review it often.

This is a list of priorities that is way too vague.

Make sure each priority is specific and inspires action.

Gastritis Post 8: Main Message

So, what should you do if you have gastritis? Here is what worked for me:

  • Eat foods that do not cause a sugar peak and dip.

I’ve found that the insulin response is critical in the amount of pain I experience with gastritis: if I’m having a sugar dip, then I also get a lot of pain in my stomach and my gastritis gets irritated. For this reason, I make sure I eat plenty of protein, enough fat, lots of vegetables, and not many carbohydrates. I only have sweet stuff as a treat once in a while because that helps my blood sugar levels stay stable. For more details about what foods to eat, read this blog post.

  • Avoid foods that irritate the stomach.

This plays a big part in letting the stomach heal. Each person will experience different foods as irritating, but for me some of the big ones are: alcohol, coffee, spicy foods, fried foods, and some raw vegetables such as lettuce. For a full list of foods to avoid, read this blog post.

  • Avoid taking acid-suppressing medications in the long term.

While medications that suppress stomach acid production can help someone with acute gastritis, they are not a solution if the condition is chronic because a) they don’t treat the condition and help the stomach heal and b) they have side effects that can be dangerous in the long term. To read about my experience with acid-suppressing medications, read this blog post.

  • Help the stomach lining heal by taking some supplements

Turmeric has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties and it really helps reduce the inflammation of the gut lining in the case of gastritis. Also, L-glutamine helps tissues rebuild themselves, so it helps the stomach lining heal. For more specific tips about how to take these supplements, read this blog post.

  • Try to reduce and manage stress

Stress contributes in major ways to numerous digestive problems including gastritis. Therefore, as difficult as it might be, it is worth it to try to reduce and manage stress in your life. For more ideas about how to do this, read this blog post.

And that’s it! Good luck and let me know how these tips work for you… I’d be curious to hear! Are there any other approaches that have worked for you?

Here are links to some of the main resources that have informed my search for answers throughout my journey with gastritis:

Robb Wolf: Lots of information about the way of eating I describe (a paleo-inspired diet) and about lifestyle in general.

Dr Brooke Kalanick: Building on that, lots of information about our hormonal system and the important role hormones play in our health.

Girls Gone Strong: Lots of information about healthy movement, our relationship to food, and self-confidence and appreciation.

Source of featured image: Real Estate Dynamics