Peace and planning in 2020

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Hiking at the Pinnacles, Dec 2020

A few weeks back I re-read Getting Things Done. It’s a classic of productivity, and I’d been feeling overwhelmed: not by big things, which happily have settled down, but by daily life’s minutia. I needed to wrangle things into place, and make space to move forward.

Getting Things Done is interesting. The core idea involves capturing all the things, getting them out of your head and into some other system so you can free up your brain for other tasks. This resonates with me. I tend to shy away from looking at what I’ve signed up for – I just don’t want to know. But really, I do know, and that knowing drags at me.

As I made my list, beginning to clear the clutter in my head (and make things actionable: it’s not “clean up office,” it’s “put away shoes & makeup”), I started to think about how similar the ideas are to other practices of mental clarity. From Marie Kondo’s “does this spark joy?”, to the early Arts & Crafts movement & William Morris’ “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” to traditional rhythms of spring cleaning or breaking or burning possessions at various celestial or cultural milestones, to cleaning up one’s desk before beginning work – the notion of streamlining, getting things in order, creating a fresh start by creating a fresh sense of place is fundamental. As humans, we tell ourselves this story, these instructions, over and over again.

And so. It’s New Year’s. I don’t have New Year’s resolutions; I’ve learned I don’t think in years. Instead, I have a short list of goals for January and some habits I’m banking on to get me there. I’ve cleaned out my closet and the pantry, and detailed out the spreadsheet that tracks the house remodel. Tonight I’ll celebrate with hot cider and fairy lights on a rosemary tree, and watch my breath steam up in the outdoor cold.

What does your fresh start look like?

A January Experiment: Focused Deep Work

Late in November of last year, I took on some new responsibilities at work. My team grew. My role grew. The amount of stuff I’m responsible for grew.

I’m going to have to do some things differently.

So in January, I’m going to experiment.

First, I overhauled my schedule so that I can have a solid block of focused work time each day, mostly first thing in the morning. Making this happen took an amazing (to me, anyway) two hours of focused effort on overhauling my calendar – but while I was at it, I also built in three visits to the gym, two long walks, and a preset day to work from the San Francisco office. This is all weekly, so it gives me a lot more predictability, and I feel good about having that work time to look forward to.

Second, over time I’ve gradually reduced my own multitasking. If I’m in a meeting, I don’t take my laptop, just a notebook and pen. This reduces the temptation to check email, especially becauseā€¦

Third, I’ve turned off all email and chat notifications on my phone. I’ve also decided not to check email until after my daily focused work time.

So that’s January! I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. I’m hoping that in combination, these changes will lead me to get more thoughtful work done, at a greater level of depth, while feeling less scattered.

2018 -> 2019

2018 was tough. In pretty much every aspect of life except work, 2018 was full, it was difficult, it was a headache and a pain both emotionally and physically and logistically (yeah, I know, that’s more things than ‘both.’ Too bad). I don’t know when I’ve ever spent so much time scheduling, and I hate scheduling. And scheduling was when I got a handle on things.

Some of the full was good. I travelled to Australia, and Tokyo, and Tel Aviv, and New Mexico, and New York (twice). At home, the avocado tree didn’t die. The deer in the yard are more used to me, and watch me cautiously instead of fleeing. There’s a red-shouldered hawk that’s taken to hanging out on the fence or cedar (cypress? I can never remember) tree. The house remodel, awful though it is, did start, and make progress. There’s now a ceiling light in the master bedroom, among other things. I published my first poem (thank you, Modern Haiku!) and was invited to be a featured reader at Coastside Poetry (coming up in February – thank you, Coastside!). And there’s work: work was a bonus this year. I joined a team I love. I took on new responsibilities I’m excited about. Plus I just like it. Work right now is, and throughout 2018 has been, my calm and happy place. I’m almost inexpressibly grateful for and excited about that.

In 2018, my goals were simple. Trust my energy. Find some whitespace. Get comfortable with uncertainty. Follow some patterns that work for me (morning planning, meditation, flow). That worked… okay-ish. I liked the idea of not having set goals, but I also often felt scattered and reactive, and until I sat down to think it over at the end of the year, I didn’t have any sense of progress. Plus I don’t like meditation; my notions of whitespace were vague; and the need for scheduling that is simply a side effect of travel house remodel new work responsibilities felt antithetical to uncertainty. By the end of the year, I’d taken on a ‘one day at a time’ approach that seemed to work; realized I want more of an ongoing sense of progress; and thanks to an ‘ack’ moment involving a favorite dress not fitting, realized I have a serious need for more fitness.

On to 2019!

#planning #goals

and

And I missed the deadline. Contributing factors include:

  • Timezones – if you’re planning to submit poetry to a magazine in the UK, well, May 29 there doesn’t end at the same time there as it does here
  • Weather – it was really really nice outside and so I read a book in a chair in the sun rather than cleaning up piece #3 that I wanted to submit
  • Friends – had dinner with friends rather than cleaning up piece #3 that I wanted to submit
  • House – did useful stuff re: planning the remodel rather than … yeah, that.

I did learn some things though, namely:

  • Clearly, submitting these pieces to this issue wasn’t my P0 (ie, highest priority) – I had plenty of things I could have chosen not to do, that I did, and therefore I didn’t do the writing. As my mother says my grandmother said, you do what you want to.
  • I can write really fast when I think I’m on deadline. When I finally did clean up piece #3, on a plane just a few minutes before what I thought was on time… wow, that was fast. And the results are pretty good. I’m happy with how it came out.
  • I also found another poem inside a longer piece I’d written years ago. That was cool.

So. I didn’t make the deadline, I didn’t send things off to this particular thing, but … I did stuff. It’s stuff I’m pretty happy with. Okay.

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