dealing with peaks and troughs

on martijn van exel


a landscape with peaks and troughs with a sitting  pensive man, facepalm, on a bench, threatening clouds

In the past three hours I have

And I probably forgot a few things. It looks crazy but I have come to accept that productivity comes to me in huge peaks (and troughs).

No, that's not completely accurate. I've accepted the peaks, but not the troughs. When I'm riding a productivity peak, I tackle 4, 5 things at a time, switching between them quickly. My brain is buzzing! I feel great.

But inevitably I hit a productivity trough. I feel bad because I am not getting anything done, and force myself to keep working even though deep down, I know that I won't accomplish anything. That's wasted time that I should use on recharging: going for a hike, taking a nap, mowing the lawn, whatever does not require my brain to be on, and ideally something that brings me joy. (Mowing the lawn is really not a great example.) Not just that, it actually detrimental to my mental health, because I get frustrated by the time I spend accomplishing nothing and not appreciating that I should be making different choices.

Here's a few things I am considering doing to improve how I handle productivity troughs:

  1. Start tracking these productivity peaks: what time of day / day of week do they tend to occur? How frequently? How long do they last?
  2. Keep lists, like the one above, that remind me how much I have actually accomplished
  3. Force myself to take a break every 45 minutes (or so) and check in with myself. Am I going to fast? Am I getting frustrated? Am I spending my time the way I should be? (I have done things like the Pomodoro method before, but have always found it hard to stick to the rigid schedule of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, precisely because of these peaks, when I just want to keep going, but also the troughs, when I feel like I don't deserve a break.)
  4. Reconsider my caffeine intake. I don't drink huge amounts of coffee, but I do wonder how it affects this.

Fundamentally, I don't see this as a "problem" that needs to be "solved" in the sense that I want these productivity peaks and troughs to go away. I am sure there is medication I could take that would do that. But that would be messing with who I am; not something that sounds particularly appealing. It is something I want to get a better handle on, because my mental health suffers from my inability to recognize the peaks and troughs and making the right decisions in the moment.