Last night I stayed up late writing music.
I’m paying for it now, in the sense that I’ve got to play the entire day tired, a bit headachy, a little slower and sludgier at everything I’m going to try to do.
I didn’t need to stay up past my bedtime, fork with my circadian rhythm, and trade a day of focus for an hour of it. I have time in my week already blocked off for composing. It wasn’t like I had to borrow minutes from my own rest and recovery.
But I opened my laptop right before I was going to start winding down (always a bad idea) because I wanted to listen to my oh-so-beautiful composition one more time.
And then I decided to start adding more notes to it.
These notes weren’t even notes that I had to add right that minute, in case you’re wondering whether this was a Muse Striking scenario. As with most of my creative work, I’ve already outlined the entire piece. I know where it’s going and what it needs to do next, and all I have to do is write it down — and I don’t have to do any of that writing in lieu of sleeping.
But I made my choice, and this morning when I filled in my Daily Spreadsheet I had to mark “Energy Level” as “Tired.”
And then I had to color that cell red.
I should probably re-explain what my Daily Spreadsheet is.
I’ve written about this spreadsheet before on my blog, and I’m sure it’s turned up on Lifehacker or The Billfold, and in 2019 I swapped out the spreadsheet for a habit-tracking app called Exist, and then I canceled my Exist subscription and went back to the spreadsheet.
Because — although I liked Exist very much, as an app — the spreadsheet was a much more streamlined way of showing me what I really want to know:
How many cells are green, and how many cells are red?
Most of the cells are green, nearly all the time.
But it’s interesting how one red cell leads to more red cells.
I didn’t take time to wind down before bed last night, so that cell got colored red. I didn’t go to sleep at a time that would give me enough rest before the next morning, so that cell got colored red. This morning, I colored a third cell red to indicate that I was tired.
Things are getting worse for me because I chased after short-term gratification even though I knew it would have a longer-term negative effect.
This is the point at which at least half of you are going to say “I could never live that way.”
Dividing every complex, wonderful bit of life into a green/red binary?
This is the point at which I whisper you’re already living that way.
You’re just not putting it into a spreadsheet.
We all know that what we choose to do today has an effect on how we feel tomorrow, after all — and we’ve all experienced the thing where a rushed or frustrating morning can color an entire day.
The only difference is that I literally color those bits of life red, and watch how they compound.
I made one big change to my Daily Spreadsheet at the beginning of 2021: I ensured that every cell on the spreadsheet directly reflected one of my own choices or actions.
If there was a negative event that was outside of my control, for example, it wouldn’t turn any cells red — but if I reacted in a way that could have negative compounding effects (like doomscrolling, or having an extra glass of wine), I would color the cell red in response.
Then I began trying for all-green weeks.
It’s surprising how easy this is.
It’s also surprising how hard this is.
It’s easy for me to make the choices that result in green cells. They’re the choices I want to make, after all. They’re the foundation of both the life I want to live and the reality L and I want to create together.
But once you make a single choice that you know will turn a cell red, it’s hard to stop making choices that create additional red cells. Especially when you feel like the choices are forced. (“I did this because I was tired.”)
Today, I’ll have to work extra-hard to remind myself that my choices are still choices.
“I told myself,” I told L, “that if I get an all-green week I’ll give myself a prize. Like, I’d go down to the liquor store and buy myself something bubbly and delightful, like a prosecco, even though I know you won’t like it so much.”
“I like prosecco,” L said.
“And then I realized what the prize really was,” I continued. “The prize for an all-green week is feeling really, really good all week long.“
Even if something outside of your control goes wrong, a green week can help you stay balanced. It can help you make the kind of (disciplined) choices that lead towards the (specific) results you know will make you feel better, not worse.
I know this because I have come very close to all-green weeks.
Of course, I haven’t successfully achieved one yet. Nor will I this week, because I’m already down a cell thanks to the choices I made yesterday.
But I could still have five green days in a row, starting on Tuesday. ❤️