4-5 Years ago I wanted to be a professional poker player – just like any other kid back then.
So I decided allocate big chunk of my daily time to play poker because nothing less wouldn’t do it.
After playing daily for 6-10 hours, the reality started to sink in. Here are some symptoms that started to appear:
- I couldn’t think about anything else but poker
- There was huge amount of stress
- I started disliking it the more I played, but I was too obsessed to stop.
- I didn’t feel like doing anything else anymore
- Everything I’ve already mentioned started to bring everything else in my life down along with them
“Poker” itself was never the problem. The problem was that I was living a non-diversified life.
“Poker” could have been some game or tv-series, anything. I actually made the same mistake with World of Warcraft back then: it was amazing to play long hours at first and I really enjoyed it, but after playing every day it became mundane. The deeply seated habit and the time invested to the game made me get back to it again and again.
Why this screws you up & How balance will make you better
When you allocate most of your daily time to one simple activity, your brain starts to create & activate neural pathways related to it. This is why someone who plays poker most of their time can’t think about anything else.
This is also the reason why spending a lot of time around negative influence is so harmful.
In addition, we have a tendency to become bored with anything that we do excessively.
So why not just stop when it becomes boring? The habit will have sunk so deep that the thought of doing something else will feel like crap too. I quit playing poker after the suffering became too unbearable and when it wasn’t worth it to keep playing.
Activities that you participate in daily aren’t separate events: they are all part of a big entirety and each affects to everything else.
I call it the ripple-effect.
When your daily focus is on one (/maybe two) thing, you are risking your emotional health on the long-term.
If you put your eggs in one basket and something bad happens, such as injury in sport, it will feel like your life is tearing apart because there’s nothing else to back it up.
The more you have invested time in one thing, the more the “ripple” from it will affect to other areas of your life. By allocating too much time, like I did with poker, it didn’t just lessen the quality of the time I played, but also the small amount of time I spent doing other things.
Balancing/diversifying your days is the perfect medication for this:
- By regulating time used for one activity, you will feel more refreshed switching to something else and you won’t get bored by one thing too quickly
- If you have to stop with one activity, it won’t matter much because you can keep yourself engaged otherwise – it’s a safety net for your emotional health
- Your days (-> life) will feel more “full” and fulfilling when there’s more variety
- Your performance efficiency will be better – see “How much time to use for one activity?” subhead beneath
Diversification leads to creativity
Creativity is basically creating something new from what we already have.
To be creative, you will have to give your brain chance to make brand new connections. Diversified experience will help your to see things from many different perspectives.
For example, great writers are fully aware that the best “connections” will come from the most unexpected sources. That’s why some of them read practically anything as they can’t know beforehand what will spark it up.
Taking a shower and driving to somewhere are almost guaranteed to make my creative side to flow freely and those are usually when I get most of my ideas. It must have something to do with the ‘meditative’ state they induce.
How much time to use for one activity?
I use from 20 minutes to 1 hour time for some things that are enjoyable, but something that I wouldn’t want to do all day long such as exercise (usually 1hour) and ukulele playing (varying from 20min to 1,5hours).
To blogging I want to allocate as much time as possible without sacrificing anything else. There are days when I write for less than an hour and sometimes I write for more than 3-4 hours.
When it comes to mastering something, Dr. Noa Kageyama has written a magnificent article about how many hours a day you should practice.
It’s a long article, so here’s the important part:
Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.
If you want to be good at something, less is more.
Here is an schedule template that I use:
- 7:30-9am I wake up and I read a book & surf web for a while
- 9-5 I work
- 5-6pm is a “bullshit & refreshment” period where I usually look up interesting articles, check news related to investments, surf and just generally refresh after work. Usually I play some uke here.
- 6-7:30 is for exercise – pull-ups, push ups, abs and jogging + shower + making food and eating.
- 7:30-10 I write, study, maybe play some uke and usually have another short bs & refreshment period here
- 10-12 I read a book for about ~1 hour and fall asleep between 11 and 12.
This is what I’m currently using unless I have something else planned. It’s definitely not set in stone and I’ll be changing it when I find some new activity or just feel like it.
Just diversifying your days like that won’t by itself be a long-term solution, even if it feels great short-term: By making changes, no matter how small, to my daily habits has proven to be very important. Its importance can be described the feeling of “freshness”.
It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular (always :), but something simple such as trying some new food out or taking a day or two break from some activity and trying something new.
The feeling of boredom and not feeling engaged with your daily life is a sure sign to be on the lookout for bigger changes. Don’t wait for changes to happen.