Scott Hanselman

Psychic Weight - Dealing with the things that press on your mind

August 24, 2016 Comment on this post [42] Posted in Musings
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I was really stressed out ten years ago. I felt that familiar pressure between my eyes and felt like all the things that remained undone were pressing on me. I called it "psychic weight." I have since then collected my Productivity Tips and written extensively on the topic of productivity and getting things done. I'm going to continue to remind YOU that Self-Care Matters in between my technical and coding topics. The essence of what I learned was to let go.

The Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Everyone has stress and everyone has pressure. There's no magic fix or silver bullet for stress, but I have found that some stressors have a common root cause. Things that stress me are things I think I need to do, handle, watch, take care of, worry about, sweat, deal with, or manage. These things press on me - right between my eyes - and the resulting feeling is what I call psychic weight.

For example: When the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) came out it was a gift from on high. What? A smart VCR that would just tape and hold all the TV Shows that I love? I don't have to watch shows when the time and day the shows come on? Sign me up. What a time saver!

Fast forward a few years and the magical DVR is now an infinite todo list of TV shows. It's a guilt pile. A failure queue. I still haven't watched The Wire. (I know.) It presses on me. I've actually had conversations with my wife like "ok, if we bang out the first season by staying up tonight until 4am, we should be all ready when Season 2 drops next week." Seriously. Yes, I know, Unwatched TV is a silly example. But you've binge-watched Netflix when you should have been working/reading/working out so you can likely relate.

But I'm letting go. I'll watch The Wire another time. I'll delete it from my DVR. I'm never going to watch the second season of Empire. (Sorry, Cookie. I love you Taraji!) I'm not going to read that pile of technical books on my desk. So I'm going to declare that to the universe and I'm going to remove the pile of books that's staring at me. This book stack, this failure pile is no more. And I'm not even mad. I'm OK with it.

Every deletion like this from your life opens up your time - and your mind -for the more important things you need to focus on.

What are your goals? What can you delete from your list (and I mean, DROP, not just postpone) that will free up your internal resources so you can focus on your goal?

Delete those emails. Declare email bankruptcy. They'll likely email you again. Delete a few seasons of shows you won't watch. Delete Pokemon Go. Make that stack of technical books on your desk shorter. Now, what positive thing will you fill those gaps with?

You deserve it. Remove psychic weight and lighten up. Then sound off in the comments!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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August 24, 2016 9:55
Serenity now!
August 24, 2016 9:58
On the spot; I have a blog post in the making on how to chase up all these unread emails / open Chrome tabs / never ending Pocket lists etc.; not that I'm good at it but hopefully that post would clarify things even for me.

I would say that even for important stuff (work/study stuff, as opposed to TV shows) I find it hard to prioritize. Just bought The Imposter Handbook that you wrote a foreword for and recommended and started reading it, while the ng-book for Angular 2 is still waiting for me as well as Machine Learning course in Coursera and lots of other catch-ups to do.

At the same time, I don't want to /delete/ them from my desk, as each one of them is super important.

Tough call.
August 24, 2016 10:04
Amen to that.

Here's something I wrote 10 years ago along somewhat similar lines: <a href =">The only way to manage a to do list, is to not have one :) </a>

August 24, 2016 11:30
This sounds like the KonMari Method to me, but you're extending it to the digital realm too. Delete anything that doesn't "Spark Joy"!
August 24, 2016 11:43
Couldn't agree more. The infinite enjoyment todo lists themselves are big stressor. Sometimes, I am in a state where neither I enjoy nor I am able to focus on work in hand. I think it it time to reduce some books from desk and some nonexecuting enjoyment plans.
August 24, 2016 11:44
If you start measuring the amount of time you gain by saying No to things(books, movies, meetings, eating out etc) you gain a lot of valuable time to do things you really want to/should be doing.

Life is like an open world RPG, side quests are fun and easy to pass the time, but you have to finish those main quests at some point. That's where the real satisfaction lies.
August 24, 2016 11:57
Talking about books ...

My psychic boulderstone is that I am no longer reading enough technical books !

To get rid of that, any recommendations for .Net Core Books ( ASP.Net mainly ) ?
As much as I like google'ing articles and the selection of books on amazon being huge ...

Any book in particular you'd recommend ?

Ačiū :)
August 24, 2016 14:04
Thank you Scott. This is hard learned wisdom right here.
August 24, 2016 14:40
Most of the weight I feel is from being a father, husband, and provider for my family. I'm guessing your advice would be not to delete or throw out any of that weight?

Balancing the family and work is the hardest thing I have ever done. I want to be there for my children but I also want to show them what hard work is like and things in life don't come easily.

August 24, 2016 14:43
Great article. Not deleting Pokemon Go tho....
August 24, 2016 14:58
Don't forget to enjoy watching The Wire, you cut out all the useless stuff so you can focus on what's really good.
August 24, 2016 15:57
I went through something similar around the same time and it was the only way I was able to move forward. Keep thinking forward and don't get too wrapped up in the things that pass you by. Great post.
August 24, 2016 16:24
I've certainly found that with the DVR - a show that we've enjoyed watching, but then get 4 or 5 episodes behind on the DVR now ends up quickly getting dumped. We're not prepared to find a chunk of time to 'catch up' and it was obviously less interesting than other stuff at some time. I like the idea of calling it a "guilt pile".

On the other hand, I like having access to some seasons on DVD/Digital so that I can go back and re-watch some old favourite episodes occasionally :)
August 24, 2016 16:41
You missed an important one Scott- that huge list of Steam games that you bought during sales but will never play.
August 24, 2016 16:41
Great post. My big drop a bunch of years ago was TV. Yep, all of it. I may sit with the wife and watch a few hours - this year! Netflix is gone, etc. The Tech book pile is shorter, but not gone. Thinking of selling the gear for one of my hobbies, I haven't touched it in a decade, but no burden except space at this point
August 24, 2016 16:47
Most excellent, as always. But there's no true escape from the pressure until you watch all five seasons of The Wire. Really. Move that to the top of your to-do list. It's THAT GOOD.
August 24, 2016 17:21
re The Wire: same here. Irrespective of how good it is, that's an intimating pile of episodes and the depth of commitment it seems to require is too great. I tried deleting all but season 1 but it didn't help. Life may just be too short.
August 24, 2016 17:51
I was with you up until the part about deleting Pokémon Go. Too far, man. Too far.
August 24, 2016 17:54
I deleted all //Build/ 2016 videos from my HDD; which is a huge stressor to me. Now i've space to put some serious stuff on HDD and have that much time to do some priority tasks.

August 24, 2016 18:11
For what it's worth, I tried watching The Wire recently and quit. It didn't hold up for me. I think because there have been so many derivatives of it since then that it felt like a derivative itself.
August 24, 2016 18:36
Here's my trick: tell yourself that you will "save it for retirement". Think about it - in X years, when you're ready to retire, you will be looking for things to do. The entire universe of television shows, movies, and video games will be available for streaming on 100 tbps wifi. At last you will be able to catch up on The Wire, the Marvel movie series, and all of those Call of Duty games you had to pass over because you didn't have time when you were working and raising kids.
August 24, 2016 19:41
Most relaxed I'd felt in a while was when Hell on Wheels had concluded. Now all I need to take care of is staying on top of The Walking Dead. And Game of Thrones. And Fear the Walking Dead. :)
August 24, 2016 20:12
A while back, I found myself thinking "oh, well, I suppose I should watch an episode of Extant". I didn't particularly want to, because for whatever reason I just never found myself looking forward to it.

So I stopped watching it.

Entertainment should be about entertaining you. If you're doing things you don't want to do in the name of entertainment, then you're probably doing it wrong.
August 24, 2016 21:01
This post strikes me head on, and I have been trying to deal with this same issue myself. I have always loved the idea of my home office, and yet dreaded being in it because the walls were lined with proof of my failure to read everything that I wanted to read. Sure, I had plans in place to help out bit by bit, such as only buying a new book after I read two I already owned, but it didn't help out enough.

Ultimately, I needed to let go of most of these books, and many other things as well. If I want to read it in the future I can buy it at that point and not have the mental weight of my failure just off to my side when I am trying to accomplish something.

Of course, I still need to learn how to stop hoarding articles, tutorials, and cool projects that I will never get around to in Pocket but one step at at time.

It is great to hear people that I follow, like you, dealing with some of the same struggles since it removes the idea that somehow they are able to accomplish it all and it is just a failure on my part that I can't.
August 24, 2016 23:57
For me, one of the big ones is social and news feeds. Every time I open Facebook or any other social app I feel compelled to continue reading until I make it through all the new content. I've pretty much given up on Twitter just because it is impossible to keep up with. I also make a point to go through my feedly account periodically and clear out any blogs or news feeds that haven't been adding something to my life. (Don't worry, this one isn't getting cleared out anytime soon) Paring down the list of blogs I follow doesn't remove the psychic weight of catching up on everything, but greatly reduces the amount of time needed to get through them all. 23 unread items weighs on your mind much less than 100+.

If you are like me and feel compelled to always catch up, be weary of any app/network/feed that provides a constant stream of new content. Pinterest is a perfect example for me. Youtube can be just as bad. You start watching a tutorial on the latest javascript framework and end up watching cat videos for an hour or two.
August 25, 2016 0:32
I stopped subscribing to The New Yorker for this very reason. All those quality articles making me feel bad.
August 25, 2016 8:43
Best thing I ever did was not join facebook, twitter or any of the other nonsense. The people around me are constantly interrupted while I'm free like the wind (almost).
August 25, 2016 12:18
Scott. You've got comment spam on here you need to fix.
It's subtle but it links to a NSFW site which is not relevant to this conversation.
August 25, 2016 18:19
"I put a trashcan by the road / and filled it up, just to lighten my load" - Dr. Dog, The World May Never Know

The best part is after you purge these "failure piles," you never, ever miss them. :)
August 25, 2016 18:32
Working on it.

Right now the biggest "psychic weight" is my current job. It's become a very unhealthy work environment. Well, I say "become", but it became unhealthy by slow degrees many years ago and I'm only now recognizing the resulting burnout and related issues. Something something frog something something boiling water and all that.

So I'm now working on cleaning up my position a little bit, making it a little less of a hot mess for the next guy. Once that's done I'm quitting. I'll figure out what's next after I've taken a little time to rest and heal.
August 26, 2016 1:55
August 27, 2016 15:55
Most relaxed I'd felt in a while was when Hell on Wheels had concluded. Now all I need to take care of is staying on top of The Walking Dead. And Game of Thrones. And Fear the Walking Dead. ;)
August 27, 2016 15:57
My big drop a bunch of years ago was TV. Yep, all of it. I may sit with the wife and watch a few hours - this year! Netflix is gone, etc. The Tech book pile is shorter, but not gone. Thinking of selling the gear for one of my hobbies, I haven't touched it in a decade at home, but no burden except space at this point. Great Post.
August 29, 2016 0:55
Life just be that way, I guess.
August 29, 2016 11:32
Ditch your iPhone. No, seriously. I dumped mine just a few months back, and got a button-phone with no apps, no internet, no nothin', and buy oh boy did I get a life! I was not expecting such a dramatic difference, but I have so much more time and so much more *focus* on things that it's like I'm twenty years younger suddenly.

The thing that got to me was when I started to think, is all of this stuff really important or even remotely actually interesting? All the "funny" posts by friends I couldn't stop reading, all the selfies of the same people over and over, the trillions of cat videos (well I did kinda like those the best, hehe), all the games I played. And it hit me: it isn't, it's all just amusement, and I can easily do without it. And I could. And I do.

Never going back. The tablet is the next one to go, and good riddance.
August 30, 2016 7:39
I think a lot of us are missing the point here. Many are interpreting this as "what can I do without so I can live a less stressful life". But we also want to live a more fulfilling life. As Scott asks, "What are your goals?" I think this is the really tough question we should all be asking. We all have the obvious ones, provide for our families, pay the bills, build a nest egg, have some fun along the way. But are we really living out our life's purpose? If you're not working toward achieving your goals, you're probably working on someone else's. I struggle with all the same things, have all the same piles of books, emails, and bookmarks. But I probably struggle with what I really want to focus my time on the most. I don't want to wait till retirement to figure it out either. I hear meditation is great for stuff like this, I'd love to hear if anyone has a more concrete approach to figuring it out.
August 30, 2016 13:57
When it comes to to-do lists, I tend to keep it simple. I used to have all sorts of systems for prioritising and categorising and organising all the things I was never going to get around to doing, and I spent more time shuffling the lists than I did actually doing the things on it. Now, I use what I think of as the N3 system.

When I think of a thing that needs doing, I label it Now, Next, or Never. If it's literally the most important or most useful thing I could be doing with my time, and/or it needs doing immediately before I miss the opportunity, I do it Now. If it's the most important or useful thing out of all the things that are left after the thing that's labeled Now, or if I know a good chance to do it is coming up osmeitme soon but isn't here yet, then I'll do that Next. Having a Next means I don't have that period of inactivity while I try to work out what I'm doing when I finish what I'm doing Now, and it means I'm keeping an eye out for opportunities to get started so I don't miss them.

Meanwhile, if I think about a task for a while and it doesn't seem useful, or I don't know when I'd ever find time to do it, then I'll label it Never. That means I'm allowed to forget about it. I don't have to feel guilty because I've been meaning to learn how to play the piano, or speak Russian, or whatever it is, and it's been so long and I haven't done it yet... it's gone, it's off the list. That doesn't mean I can't bring it back later, but for now, I'm saying no, and I'm letting go of it.

Other than that, I sometimes scribble down tasks so I don't forget them (usually on the back page of my notepad, which gets torn out and thrown away from time to time), but there's no ordering, no categorisation. It's a to-do bucket, not a list; when I finish what I'm doing Now, then I start what I was planning to do Next, and I select one more thing from the bucket to take its place. The effort of evaluating the things in the bucket happens only when a task has been completed and I'm moving on, rather than a daily procrastination. As we know from Agile, any priorities assigned to tasks today may well have changed by the time I actually get round to them some time next week - or next month, or next year.

All I have to hold in my head is what I'm doing Now, and what I want to do Next. At work, if your boss asks what you're up to, then saying "this is Now, and that is Next" is almost always enough detail to show them you're on top of things. At home, there's no need to stress yourself out with a huge list of demands on your time. Now, Next, Never, and *maybe* a patiently-waiting bucket. That's it.
August 30, 2016 16:01
Hi Scott, another great article. Here is a Psychic weight i added, i bookmarked this article to share later. Note i still have your other article still bookmarked and not shared yet :)
September 01, 2016 23:24
An old Buddhist parable:

Once there was a man on a long journey who came to a river. He said to himself: “This side of the river is very difficult and dangerous to walk on, and the other side seems easier and safer, but how shall I get across?” So he built himself a raft out of branches and reeds and safely crossed the river. Then he thought to himself: “This raft has been very useful to me in crossing the river; I will not abandon it to rot on the bank, but will carry it along with me” And thus he voluntarily assumed an unnecessary burden. Can this man be called a wise man?
September 01, 2016 23:36
To be honest Scott, maybe a little less Twitter for you my friend.
September 06, 2016 20:16
This reminds me of the first of the 4 Disciplines of Execution: focusing on the "wildly important". Or as Derek Sivers would say, HELL YEAH!

I like to think of the things I delete that they'll come around again if they're truly important. I don't think I've ever regretted deleting anything off my todo list.
September 07, 2016 18:07
Hi Scott!

I always read your blog and I've never write any comments until now.
I'm really stress out with things of work and other stuff and reading this post makes me realize that I worried too much of everything.

I guess i have to let go some weight that doesn't concerns me.
Thanks for those words you wrote.

I really thank you.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.