Have Fun (and Be More Productive)

I just watched this TED talk, “Why having fun is the secret to a healthier life” by Catherine Price. I think you should watch it, too. But in case you don’t have time, you should know that she redefines fun as having three factors: playfulness, connection, and flow.

I think a lot of what makes work (and school) so hard for many of us, and particularly draining for me as a neurodivergent person, is the idea that we need to “get it right”. We need to already know the right answers, we need to never risk getting corrected by one of our peers.

We’re taught this in school when we’re graded on tests with no opportunity to demonstrate that we’re still learning and getting better. Our ability to get into a good college, or get a good job, is dependent on whether we get good grades. And when we’re neurodivergent, and often miss “obvious” things that all the other kids noticed, we learn, deeply, that we’re often wrong for reasons we can’t anticipate but should have.

But as adults, needing to “get it right” is antithetical to collaboration, and it’s stressful.

When I was a manager, one of my goals was to make team meetings fun. It wasn’t a conscious goal, and I hadn’t watched this talk yet, but if I was going to waste my team’s time for half an hour plus, I wanted them to feel like the time had value. It might be value in the form of team building, growth of skills, or collaboration & brainstorming. But it always started with team building, which we accomplished by having fun together.

Especially once COVID hit, and we were all just little boxes on the screen and couldn’t just run into each other on the way to getting coffee, we would start our meetings with “ice breaker” questions. One question I remember best was to share our favorite children’s books — everyone had their favorites, and we loved hearing about them whether they were familiar or not.

I’m more creative, more energized, and have more capacity when I’m having fun. And I’m smaller, less innovative, and more tired when I’m trying to be perfect.

What do you do to bring play, connection, and flow to your work or personal life?

What is a “Good Day”?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Experiment: Life

Editor’s Note: I started composing this blog post on June 1st, but didn’t manage to post it until 10 days later. I’m behind, but it’s such a great subject that I figured you’d want to read about it anyway. :) I have a couple more posts that are nearly ready to go, I just need to stuff them into the blog. I’ll try to get them up soon.

The first of June! A whole new month, and the first whole month of my new life!

Today I pose the question: what does a good day look like?

Is a good day when I’m fast-moving and productive? Sure. Is a good day when I’m upbeat or happy all day? Absolutely.

But are those things requirements for a good day? After yesterday, I am glad to conclude no.

Yesterday* I woke up sluggish. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for longer than five minutes before I was asleep again. This lasted hours. I asked Ben to set an alarm before he left for work, so I would know when to check on the cooking beans… and I slept through it beeping for about five minutes. Whenever I woke up I would think, “ugh, I really want to be moving, why can’t I stay awake?” I got up three times to check on the beans, and then headed straight back to bed, first for napping, then for mindless games on my phone. “Ughh, why am I so lazy and useless?” I asked myself. I started thinking through all the good reasons for me to be sleepy… I went to bed at a reasonable hour, I’d napped the evening before… and in the afternoon…** Well, my mom told me she slept for a week when she stopped having a job, maybe this was just a delayed reaction. I finally got up and looked around for easy breakfast to eat. “Ugh, I don’t even want to make food. At this rate I’ll be a useless person, eating fast food and sitting on the couch all day!”

Long story not quite as long, most of the day sounded like that.  Finally while I was out on a walk, I noticed that there were gorgeous roses and I’d nearly missed them because I was so focused on why I’m sluggish, instead of focusing on what’s good about the world. Dude, LOTS of things are good about the world! It was sunny, there were roses, I was moving, I had a hat to protect my eyes from the sun, I have a home, etc. As I continued walking down the hill toward the post office, I had a bounce in my step and was noticing the trees and the cars and the ocean… and then had a funny view from outside of myself as the jaunty heroine who has just lifted herself out of a dark hole, and now has a montage scene of being outside in bright colors with a smile on her face, which would be followed by her making food or going shopping or something else appropriate for a montage scene. :)

When I got home, I started (or resumed) puzzling over my brain, but this time without the overlay of “what’s wrong with me”. And what I finally realized is that my analytical mind (or perhaps my judgmental mind, or my Critic) spends all of its time measuring me against a ruler that only has the following marks:

  • Not Even Trying
  • Not Good Enough
  • Nice Try
  • If You Were This Effective Every Day, You’d Actually Be A Useful Person

Seriously, even when I have a great day, I judge myself for not having great days every day. No wonder I have a hard time staying motivated. So now’s my chance to completely recalibrate my ruler. What should the marks be?

  • Good Try!
  • Good Job!
  • Awesome!
  • Kicked Serious Butt!***

That ruler might be more motivating.

So yeah, large parts of the day were miserable and uncomfortable and unmotivated, but because of all that I made this huge realization about myself. Now that I can see the ruler, I can choose a different ruler. Therefore, it was a fabulous day. I should be so lucky to have more days like this.


* Yesterday = May 31st.  It was a Friday.

** Incidentally, this is total nonsense.  I’d woken up totally early on Thursday to have breakfast with friends, then shopped at Target for an hour and a half, and then got stuck in traffic coming home^.  I had every right to be tired from a day like that.

^ Rush hour traffic.  I always stayed at work until after the traffic was over, and now that I’m not working, why should rush hour traffic apply to me?  Sigh.  I’ll have to get used to planning around this.

*** Apparently nice me who always thinks I’m doing well is really into exclamation points. ;)

My New Way of Life

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Experiment: Life

I’m starting an experiment§.  It’s a life-sized experiment to discover how Liza* lives best, instead of how a “normal person” lives best.  It’s an experiment, so I’m going to be tracking metrics and adjusting variables.  Since there’s only one of me, the comparison will be between weeks.  Also, it’s entirely subjective, being about me, and I reserve the right to change my metrics at any time.  :)

My starting assumption is that I work best when I don’t constrain myself with restrictions and rules.  E.g. “I will exercise every day” or “I will write 500 words every day” or “I will be at work by 10am and work for 8+ hours” are all restrictions that I resent, and then I do the exact opposite (or sit in front of feeling miserable… see “eating my vegetables”, below).  I rebel against perfectly reasonable self-assigned rules, even just “I will go out for a walk today”.  :-/  In order to stop these constraints, I’ve decided to quit my day job**.

Most writing exercises are really just a set of constraints.  The constraints suggest ideas I wouldn’t have thought of if I were just facing a blank page with no constraints.  On weekends when I don’t have any goals and I can do absolutely anything, I often dive into the first interesting thing that presents itself and don’t come out for hours… regardless of whether it was an activity that was actually worth those hours.  NOT the most productive thing.  Putting those two experiences together, my theory is that I’ll give myself constraints within which to structure my life.  Not rules for me to rebel against, but constraints that expand my options in the direction I want to focus my energy.

Examples of constraints I would like to try out:

  • Don’t push myself if I don’t feel like it.  On the other hand, do check in periodically to see if I feel like doing something other than what I’m doing now.
  • Have one day a week planned for running errands — I can run errands on other days, and I don’t have to run them on that day, but it’s an anchor point for thinking about errands.
  • Have one day a week planned for thinking about food.  I can make food on any day, and I don’t have to make food on the scheduled day, but it’s an anchor point for thinking about food.
  • Have one day a week planned for thinking about cleaning.  I hope to do a bit of housecleaning every day, say 20 minutes.  So on days when I don’t feel like cleaning at all, I can think of one small thing to do.  And on days when I don’t mind cleaning, I can think of bigger things to do.
  • Every day, think about my stor(y|ies).  Sit for at least five minutes in front of {the story | a notebook | a keyboard} and write a stream of consciousness.  If it turns into hours of writing, yay!  If it doesn’t, then I can do something else instead.  -> Note: My goal is to spend at least 4 hours writing every day.  But I want them to be fun and energetic hours, not miserable hours where I feel like I’m forcing myself to eat my vegetables***, and you will sit here until they’re all done, young lady† .  So if that means I spend at least 5 minutes hating the peas, then I know today is a pea-hating day and I should do something else fun and/or productive, guilt-free.

This is really the crux of my plan for myself.  The least valuable thing I do to myself is make myself feel guilty.  When I feel guilty, like I OUGHT to be eating those peas, then I can’t make myself do anything else that would be more fun or more useful.  All I can do is mind-numbing things that help me avoid the guilt, like watching TV or reading a fun book or playing a video game.  Creativity goes right out the window.  So, I’m not going to allow myself to feel guilty about deciding not to do the things I don’t want to do.  I’m going to trust that it’s a short term not-want-to, and that wanting-to will come back eventually.  And if I never do want to do that thing, then why on earth should I have it on my list††?  If it’s so important, can I hire someone else to do it for me?

The foundation of the crux of the plan††† is trust in myself.  Trust myself to know what I need to do now, and trust myself to do everything in the right time.  Trust myself to have the creativity I need when I need it.  And trust, always, that “This Too Shall Pass”.

I have a lot more thoughts about trust, productivity, creativity, and how Self works.  I’m sure I’ll share them as I go along.



§ …in about a month.  I’ve just given my two week notice, and then I’m taking two weeks off.  So Experiment: Life will start on April 29!

* Yes, this experiment relies on me referring to myself in the third person.  …  Why are you looking at me like that?

** This means I will have no income.  Eeek!  This is a whole nother subject, but suffice it to say that I have enough savings to live on for a while, and I have faith that through my experimentation I’m going to find ways to earn money doing things I want to do.  And if I don’t… I will go straight back to having a day job.  This is an experiment, and I am aware that it could fail entirely.  I’m trying not to run on self-delusion.  :)

*** FYI, I’m going to use this as a metaphor a lot for things I don’t want to do.  Short-handed to “eating my peas”, even though I like peas a lot.  The context is that when I was little, I could sit for hours (it felt like hours, though I imagine it wasn’t more than 30 minutes) in front of my vegetables at dinner time, refusing to eat them (because I didn’t like them as much when I was little) and being told I had to, and eating just one slow bite at a time.  I’m not even sure how often this happened… it could’ve been once, for all I know.  My memory is pretty spotty.  But I do have a memory of this happening, and it perfectly resonates with how I feel when I’m sitting in front of some task I absolutely do NOT want to do, but have to because it’s expected.  At work, usually.

† I don’t think anyone in my family ever said that or called me “young lady”, but it sounds right for the story.  :o)

††  Note that I’m not talking about things like doing my taxes.  I’m aware that I do have to do them eventually, regardless of how I feel.  But I also know that I don’t really mind doing my taxes, or paying bills, or any of that.  Sometimes I have the right headspace to think about money, and sometimes I don’t.  When I don’t, I shouldn’t be doing my taxes.  When I do, I don’t mind doing my taxes.  So do understand, I’m not talking about never doing the required things ever.  I’m talking about doing them when I have the mental capacity for it, and not when I don’t.

††† Am I taking this metaphor too far?

New Year, 2013

It’s a new year, and I’m at the end of a four day weekend, back to work on the morrow. I have a brand new shiny iPhone5, which I’m also using to write this post.

I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions so much, though I like the idea if them. I have too much experience with them lasting exactly one day and then vanishing back into the cloud from which they came.

I try to live my life like a series of experiments, not always planned out scientifically, but at least always paying attention and observing what works and what doesn’t.

Yesterday I microwaved some soup, and didn’t put a lid on, and it splattered all over (after less than 30 seconds, so this wasn’t merely that I’m an idiot), so today I had to clean the microwave. Here’s the thing. The Pyrex bowls we store food in come with plastic lids. I don’t like microwaving my food with plastic, it seems like begging for trouble. Most of my dishes are made by a good friend, so microwaving might not be great for them either. And our plates are all too big (the small ones are almost 8″). We have one 6″ dish that we use as a lid, but it’s holding butter now. So, we don’t have anything that will function as a lid in the microwave. Arglglglgh.

I found duralex glass plates on the Internet. They only come in sets of 6, and we don’t NEED 12 glass dish/lids (I bought two sizes, obviously), but I bought them anyway. I will store half in a closet somewhere. Therefore this problem will be solved, once and for all, very soon*.

All of which is meant to be an example of trying to improve the problems in my life, often by trial and error. I hate cleaning the microwave? Buy anti-splatter plates!

On the positive side, here’s a cat:



* One of the sizes of plate is out of stock, no ETA. I ordered it anyway. The problem will be half-solved until then, which is vastly better than splatter all over the microwave~.

~ Cleaning the microwave turned into cleaning the counters, the frelling toaster oven, and even the wall behind the stove. Among other things. I hate cleaning in general, I get too fussy about it.

Fits & Starts

There’s this theory that if you do a little of something every day, eventually you’ll have accomplished a whole lot of it.  For example, BIC—Butt In Chair—stands for sitting your butt in the chair every day, regardless of whether you “feel like it”, and just writing.  The corollary is, if you do a little every day you’ll get in the habit of doing a little (or possibly more) every day, and so it’ll be less of a struggle to do every day.  Twenty-one days to create a habit, or whatever that number is supposed to be.

But then there’s also this theory, which is mine, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and there isn’t enough energy in my body, to do a little of all of the things I want to do every day.  Writing, house-keeping, paying attention to my people, WORKING for money, gardening, brushing my teeth (ok, I manage this one every day pretty well), sleeping (if I could only do without…), knitting, listening to interesting & educational podcasts.  Etc.  Oh yeah, and READING.  I do a whole lot of that already.

So instead, I tend to binge on those things.  I’ll spend a weekend vegging because I’ve been pushing too hard for too long.  I’ll spend another weekend away Doing Something.  I’ll spend the next weekend catching up on housework* and maybe knitting and watching TV.  I’ll spend another weekend on a knitting or sewing project.  Another weekend caring for my garden.  In most cases I’m not devoting the whole weekend to that activity, but rather a significant portion of my energy.  Same goes for weekday evenings.  This past week, I spent a lot of evenings between work and paying attention to my significant other.  Other weeks I manage to write in the evenings.  Other weeks I manage to at least compose a few blog posts.

I feel guilty when I haven’t written several days in a week.  I feel guilty when Ben’s hat is sitting half-made for several months.  It was his Christmas present.  With any luck it’ll be finished by next Christmas.  I have a sweater I want to start making some day**.  I have tomatoes that need my attention, and kefir & yogurt to make at least weekly, and …

But maybe it’s not so bad to accomplish things in fits and starts.  I do make progress on those things.  I keep them all going, one way or another.  Not always “on time”***.  The thing is, it’s not that I’m slacking off.  OK, I’m not consistently productive on any one thing.  But that’s not my style.  Maybe it’s time for me to accept my style as the one that works for me, and stop trying to be the person who does the same things every day, or even every week.

And by the way, I’ve read 27 books so far this year.  So I’m clearly not slacking off on my reading.  :)


* Apparently it’s been four weeks since I last did laundry.  :-/  That’s long even for me.

** I have to buy yarn first.

*** See: laundry, hat.