I Should Be Doing Something Else

Do you ever have the thought: I Should Be Doing Something Else? It’s a classic dilemma. I get that feeling when I have an unfinished task that requires attention. It’s similar to the notion about being at work and thinking about your kids, spouse, or what you should be doing with your life; then, thinking about work when you should be relaxing, vacationing, sleeping, or enjoying your kids or family. If you have a knowledge type job or manage others, there is certainly the tendency to have your mind going in the background thinking through the endless possibilities of things that need to be done.

typewriter-801921_1280When we have a list of things that need to be done, whether written or simply in our head, we often feel internal guilt about not doing the “Things that need to be done”. It doesn’t always motivate us to actually do the urgent things but certainly makes doing any thing else less enjoyable. Another personal example is this: I enjoy reading, especially novels, non-fiction, and most long form content. However, when I was taking college classes, especially those that suggested (or demanded) lots of textbook reading, I always felt guilty if I read something other than the textbook in my free time. A rational person would simply say, finish reading your text, then you can relax and read whatever you want. However, instead of doing the rational thing, I would simply avoid reading all together. For some reason, other activities that didn’t compete as directly with the mental space dedicated to reading for class, were easily accomplished on my to-do list.

The PhD Dissertation
Over the last six months I’ve been on a mental writing marathon. I’ve been working to finish writing my dissertation for a PhD program in Financial Planning. While my dissertation is not as long as many (probably in the 150 page range), the mental energy and space it occupies is deceiving. I tend to be pretty good at segmenting my life, and I’m typically proficient at safely ignoring the non-urgent activities and enjoying the moment. However, when items directly compete (such as writing for pleasure/blogging) with an overarching ‘long-time-frame’ project, I find it difficult to non-guiltily prioritize writing.

As I’ll explain on Simple Economist over the next few months, I switched jobs in June and left academia after spending 10 years with a public state university. My job was really awesome, featuring a nice balance of research and analytical tasks. By the end of the career, I was pretty efficient at the data tasks and my brain had plenty of time to explore itself while I completed some of the more monotonous work activities. Many of the ideas for this blog came while updating hundreds of pages of charts, tables, and graphs.

My new job is much different. In essence, it aligns more with one of my favorite subjects for this blog: personal finance. If I could design a job, it would pretty much be the one I currently have. In fact, being that I’m working for a smaller business, I was actually able to help design the role I currently have to fit my skill set and interests. The ironic part about doing a job that really suits me well is that the tasks I enjoy doing are mentally challenging. They often require collaborative work, intense concentration over many hours, and processing complex situations. I enjoy it all. However, the biggest change is the lack of mental wondering. I have very little time to think about different tasks outside the scope of finance.

External Deadlines
I still like writing. I don’t really enjoy being forced to write or having external deadlines. They often make me more ‘productive’ but it takes a bit of the joy out of writing. Over the summer I’ve put a lot of thoughts on paper. The ideas that run through my brain to write about on SE haven’t eased up even though I’ve taken a summer break from posting. I still like writing down and thinking through simple or complex topics- but I haven’t spent the time to get my thoughts completely organized, edited, and published here. Once it gets to that stage I tend to feel guilty about not working on my dissertation.

Finishing The Drill
The cool part is my school/work writing is coming to a close. I’ll be finishing my paper and degree in a few more weeks and I’ll be forever finished with the longest project of my life thus far. I’m looking forward to the guilt free enjoyment of writing again for Simple Economist. Although, strangely, the audience for the blog continues to grow even when I take months off writing, I’m looking forward to the therapeutic, personal enjoyment I get from organizing and writing out my thoughts here.

The fall will be fun. I’ll probably talk a little more about some of the financial topics as I work with many different clients and friends on their spending and investing habits. We are in a major fork in the road trying to design the next 10 years of our lifestyle. And, I’ll try to get Ms. SE to write a few posts that will inevitably be better than mine. And I’ll certainly take the time to enjoy the ability to concentrate on personal writing without the nagging sensation that I should be doing something else.

Do you ever get that feeling? Any ways to move past it?

2 thoughts on “I Should Be Doing Something Else

  1. I sincerely enjoyed this blog article because I am a 64 year old grad student. In Ark, Tx, and 15 other states those who are 60 or older do not pay fees or tuition for college. I write for pleasure and for class. Simple Economist is beneficial and entertaining. Thanks.

  2. I get this feeling all the time.

    My to do list is enormous and never ending! But I tend to ignore a lot of it and do fun stuff instead. The list is often nagging away in the back of my mind which as you say does impair the enjoyment of the fun thing, sometimes not much but sometimes quite a lot.

    I find the only way to get round it is to start ticking things off the list. So we’re trying to arrange our schedules now so we do some jobs first before doing fun stuff. I guess it’s that old delayed gratification thing again isn’t it?

    This might not help with such large jobs as a dissertation or in my case a recent kitchen refit, but you can usually chunk most things into smaller tasks and say I’ll write 20 pages then I can have a day off to spend guilt free… etc?