To-Do lists: the sweet, savory bane of my existence. I have a love-hate relationship with the long list of tasks and projects that accumulate in my agenda over the course of a week. On the one hand, I feel immensely productive when I get to scratch off those suckers, and on the other, they can become oppressive little demons running around in circles in the back of my mind when I’m trying to relax— or even when I’m trying, TRYING, to get through them. I have often found myself pacing manically around my apartment, bouncing from laptop to yoga mat, to kitchen, to textbook— unsure of what to tackle first or next. I also get regularly struck with the “OH SH*T” wave of horror when I realize that three hours have gone by and I have only finished one partial aspect of one assignment. I couldn’t have been on Instagram for THAT long?? I was relaying my unproductive angst to a friend and he suggested that I try something called Interstitial Journaling.
Essentially, it’s a method for productivity where you replace your to-do list with brief, time-stamped journal entries that include three major components:
- A description of what you just did
- Your lingering thoughts and worries about that last task that you just completed
- Your next task and all the steps it will take to complete it
It’s supposed to replace the idle, mind-numbing kinds of breaks we often take between tasks on social media or on the phone, with productive and thoughtful mental inventories.
Now, I tend to recoil from productivity guru type hacks because I loathe our culture’s fetish for “getting stuff done” and being constantly busy and productive. But that said, I did indeed have things to do. Finals are here, and despite my disdain for a hyper-busy lifestyle, I have tasks and projects to finish for things that I truly care about and wanted to do a good job on. So, with desperate hopes and a swift kick to my own behind, I took on the project. I would be implementing Interstitial Journaling into my life for the next week.
I found the first day relatively straightforward. I quickly realized that despite efforts to keep the journaling as minimal and concise as possible, I ended up leaning into it and wanting to write more about how I was feeling and the patterns of self-growth I was witnessing in doing my work.
Take this excerpt from Monday for example:
I recited my poem twice to Ella. The second time was significantly better than the first which was a pleasant surprise. I was glad that I allowed her to see me during the working process stage of the poem because often I think that I hold myself back from showing my in-progress things to even my most trusted friends and family because I feel like they have to be almost perfect before I can show them to anyone. I am slightly worried still about performing it in class, but I think over a good night’s sleep I will consolidate the information. Now, I need to finish a segment of reading for my English class so that I can post my discussion question about it online tomorrow morning. Tonight I just need to do the reading and, hopefully, sleep will bring me ideas about the discussion question.
The second day, I flew through my to-do list in the morning, but towards the end of the night, I started realizing how much I had to do and a minor existential crisis ensued. See for yourself:
I decided to make myself a snack after finishing up an edit on my essay. Even though it’s late, I’ve had a strange eating schedule today, and I worked out late, so I think that I should give myself some nutrition and fill up a bit before bed. I hate that I really don’t feel “made” for the regular 9-5 schedule of the rest of the world. It’s hard to feel unsure about whether I should go to bed and so I can feel good in the morning, or if I should take advantage of the way that my mind naturally works and stay up late when I am feeling more focused. Staying up late is a fine strategy but it bars me from working with the rest of the world’s schedule which can be socially isolating and therefore sometimes it feels like a compromise I have to make against what is actually best for me. Right now I think I should prepare a bit for my interview tomorrow by looking into the organization and anticipating the kinds of questions that I might get asked.
I’m getting distracted by cooking, looking for GERD pills, organizing my backpack and wanting to go on social media.
I’m resigning to watching Hulu while I eat. I am tired.
I talked to Libby for about a half hour when she came home. I feel like my roommates are a big source of my “distraction,” but they are also how I sort out my thoughts and feeling, and I just connect with the people I’m living with.
Yikes. But you know what, I think that this struggle is part of the process that we all have to go through when trying to implement positive life changes. It’s all just growing pains that don’t hurt so bad in the morning.
Okay, confession time: I burned out a bit mid-week. I didn’t use the journaling tactic too much because I simply wasn’t doing much. I was going through some difficult things personally and needed to opt out of some responsibilities for the sake of my mental health. I reached out to friends and family for that extra boost of support and spent a few days turning inward, practicing yoga, reading more novels and getting centered. Luckily things didn’t pick up again until later in the week when I was more prepared to handle them.
I just finished yoga after waking up at around 10 and calling my mom. I was having trouble falling asleep last night and was distracted as I did my yoga by putting all the things I have to do today to the side while I worked on my first activity. That’s maybe why I will really benefit from using this journaling technique today. I have to first go print out the housing applications for next year. In order to do the housing applications I need to print them, then fill them out, then send them to the woman after mom signs the things she needs to sign. I’m thinking about how I wish a little that yoga had been more of a “workout” but I actually do feel good in my body.
I am starting to study for my Geo test tomorrow. I will be going through the slides for 30 min.
I started to do this, and then I realized that maybe I should try to submit things first that haven’t been turned in late if I still can…
I took the photos of the packets I still need to turn in, but I haven’t sent them.
I did, however, get through all of the lectures and all of the slides in about 45 min. I was surprised by how much I felt I already knew, and I am glad that it’s behind me, and I did a thorough enough job. I got distracted by the end thinking about my summer and how I want to just go do some yoga and journaling. But I’m actually really proud of myself for respecting my own time in this way. If I was just now starting to do this work it would feel so much more exhausting. I feel like I really broke out of my own trap by not just letting the other things I wanted to do pull me away from what I needed to do in order to do myself a favor and ease some anxiety about looming tasks to do.
Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed and even needed this technique in my life. I really was craving more mindfulness in my life overall, and I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about writing daily. This technique fulfilled both of those goals while also not sucking the soul from me by propping up some cheesy, out-there and ineffective new age productivity-robot strategy. It was honestly a great way to identify what my main distractors were so that I could be aware of those and work to eliminate my exposure or access to them during times I’m trying to work.
I also found that respecting and voicing the things that were worrying me about the tasks I was finishing or about to take on was what allowed me to acknowledge those feelings without letting them overwhelm me and ultimately take me away from my work. I didn’t realize before this practice how much those concerns were eating up valuable mental energy!
I was truly way more productive this week! When I did get caught up in being angry about what was distracting me and taking away from my productivity, I had an avenue through which to get those feelings out and refocus myself on my goals.