You Only Have So Much Time – Use It Wisely

Hello there blogosphere… been awhile since I posted!

What’s that you say? Did I lose my motivation? Why no, actually, I’ve been extremely motivated lately. Just not to blog.

You see, I came to a realization shortly after my last post: I’ve only got so many hours in a day, so I’d better use them as best I can. I love blogging; really, I do! But I love spending time with my family more. I love working on our drafty old house, tilling the garden, seeing some tangible results of my work. For some reason, I am finding myself really hung up on the whole idea of producing things with physical presence. For example, for Christmas I spent hours building the simplest little wooden toy for my son. I’m not a natural and not very experienced at that sort of thing, so it was not easy work. But I found immense enjoyment in it, and the look on his face when he saw it come out of the box was nothing short of priceless.

Perhaps this is why I haven’t been blogging much. Writing is wonderful, but if I’m going to be brutally honest, I’d much rather write science fiction than SQL Server. Please don’t misunderstand me; I love my work and learning about SQL Server. When I’m on the job I eat, sleep, and breathe it. I’d say you’d be pressed to find someone more passionate and focused than I am during those 8-10 hours on Monday through Friday. But when work is done, I want it to be done.


The above picture is something that really had some profound impact on my perspective. For a while I felt like I was floundering in my personal life. Things never seemed to really get done. I had my lists, and I was reviewing them, but I lacked focus. I never felt like I had much time to get things done. So, I decided to see just how much time I really had.

Using a simple Excel sheet, I laid out my week, then blocked out sections in color for things I knew I had to do. Green is sleeping, yellow is work, and blue is meals. And when I saw what was left, I was shocked. My feeling that I never had enough time to get stuff done? Boy was I right. Comparatively speaking, my “discretionary” time (that is, the time during which I pretty much choose what I do) was quite small.

Obviously, short of quitting my job or getting less sleep (and believe me, you don’t want to see me in zombie mode), there was no way to increase the time available to me. So instead, I chose to be more deliberate with how I spend what time I have. I sat down and thought long and hard about what is important to me. After awhile, I came up with a list, and while work and SQL Server were definitely on there, they weren’t as high up as I’d have thought. So, I made the conscious choice not to write on this blog, while doing other things.

That word, “conscious”, is a very important one. Whereas in previous hiatuses, the lack of postings was more about my lack of motivation, this one was more about doing what was important to me. And I hope that in sharing this, I might encourage others to do the same. J.R.R. Tolkein famously wrote “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So, if you find yourself mindlessly wandering through your personal life, as I did, stop wandering, and start deciding.

Now don’t fret, dear reader, for I am not abandoning this blog. I’m still going to write, even about SQL Server! But at the same time, I’m going to spend a good bit of time on other things, like writing that novel that’s been sitting at one chapter for over a year now, or tending to my garden (because c’mon, who doesn’t love fresh-from-the-ground veggies?). I hope you’ll stay with me, because I do think I’m still going to write interesting stuff; just a little more diverse than previously. I’m going to work on getting category-specific feeds up, so if you like, you can just subscribe to those that interest you. I also plan on trying to write a few articles for the likes of SQL Server Central or Simple Talk.

The Two Forms Of Racing Brain Syndrome – Part I

Update: I’ve been following the comments on this post with a mixture of surprise, amusement, and a little bit of nervousness. It’s great how everyone is commenting, but based on the somewhat “medical advice-y” nature of some of the comments (and perhaps the post itself) I feel compelled to explicitly point out the following: My naming of “Racing Brain Syndrome” is purely anecdotal and should not be considered any kind of official medical diagnosis. I came up with this name purely from my own experience as described in the post. If you are experiencing any kind of severe or disturbing symptoms, including severe forms of anything described in this post, please consult with a licensed professional. I am not a doctor or psychologist and my advice here should not be taken for medical prescription. I’m just a guy with a fidgety brain trying to relax and be productive.

We’ve all had this happen to us at one time or another. You wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts rushing through your head at a mad pace. You try to take the zen-like approach of “letting them go”, but it’s hopeless. You toss and turn, but the harder you try to sleep, the more awake you are. This, friends, is what I call “Racing Brain Syndrome”.

There are two main forms of this nasty little bug, which we’ll call “Stress Induced” and “Excitement Based”. In this post, we’ll look at the first variety in more detail.

Stress Induced

As the name implies, this version is caused by an excess of built up stress that has yet to be dealt with. Common symptoms (not inclusive of the other variant of this syndrome) include racing pulse, pounding heartbeat, cold sweats, and possibly (in extreme cases) delusions of persecution or general paranoia.

Now stress, as you well know, can come from many sources, including the practice of keeping things in your head, nagging concerns over projects left un-planned, fear of upcoming regulatory audits (a favorite of us IT folks), and of course the ever present conflict between the Ego and the Id caused by an underlying need for affection, complicated by an Oedipus complex.

Whoops, I must apologize for that last one. This post has me reverting to my old psychobabble style of writing. Ignore that one, will you please?

When dealing with this variety of RBS, one’s best course of action is tri-fold:

  1. Determine if the cause of the stress is a rational one. That is, are you feeling stressed because you’ve fallen off your good practice of keeping things out of your head, or are you suddenly having a sinking feeling that you’ve left your torrent bot up and running at work, and the folks from InfoSec are, at this very moment, hot on your trail? Ok, that’s an extreme example, but you get my drift.
  2. If the former, your best bet is to take a few minutes and put some thoughts down on paper around what is bothering you. You don’t have to answer every question out there; just make sure every question is written down so you are confident it won’t get lost in the shuffle.
  3. If the latter, you would be advised to fall back on a technique I used to teach to the children at the mental health clinic I worked at out of college, called (in it’s most complex form) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The basic idea is that you write down the thoughts that are causing you discomfort, such as “I’m afraid the ninjas from security are after me”, then examine them in a critical, analytical fashion. For instance, what evidence is there that you’re really about to be attacked in your sleep? Do you even have a torrent bot on your work computer? These techniques are usually used by patients with more severe mental health issues such as depression or anxiety disorder, but they serve RBS sufferers equally well.

On a sidenote, if you’re actually interested in a more clinical view of CBT, I’d heartily recommend the book The Feeling Good Handbook by a fellow named David Burns.

Next time we’ll examine the milder, and perhaps more pleasant variety of RBS, “Excitement Based”.