Once again I feel the need to overhaul my calendar

Huzzah! Doing this right now was inspired by an episode of Before Breakfast

Every so often it happens: I come up for air, like a seal or a swimmer suddenly popping up to survey the coastline and check how far they are from shore, and suddenly realize I Must Reschedule All The Things.

And so, this time: day six of vacation, week four of meditation (twice daily! but that’s a subject for another post), and I found myself neatly laying out days in a notebook, Monday to Sunday, and blocking in my Ideal Realistic Week.

Here it is:

dsc_0363

The exact layout was inspired partially by realizing that once the Horrible House Remodel is complete, there’s no reason I can’t occasionally work from home in the morning, then stop by the nearby Barre3 studio for a class on my way in to work in the afternoon. I’ve also been thinking about how to minimize context-switching, whether between 30-minute, back-to-back meetings, or between those meetings, email, and strategy or deeper work. And I wanted to figure out when to write – I have this nagging urge to do so, but I’ve never found a time or a rhythm that feels comfortable, and increasingly I feel that I had better do this now – and how to make better use of my Friday evenings (I know, I know – Friday evenings shouldn’t be hard, but whatever – for me, a person largely allergic to planning ahead, they are).

And so, the ideal.

Of course, an ideal is only an ideal. Weeks vary; constraints change (oh, how I wish I could control all the meetings at work! and never need to go to the dentist; or have the car break down); but it was useful to lay this out. I realized I need just as much time for email & followups as I do for actual strategic work; that I wanted time for work-related reading; that if I’m not doing something social on a Friday night, going for a walk and then doing some writing might be a good alternative. And I set up my work days as basically having two halves, one morning, one afternoon, and putting meetings in only one half each.

This week is vacation, so for the weekdays, I have no intention of following my plan 🙂 For the weekend and next week… I just might.

Small annoying habits I’d like to change

We all have them, right? The things we do, over and over, that we aren’t proud of or find annoying or which simply make life more difficult than it needs to be. They aren’t big things, so they don’t feel worthy of a big effort to alter – but then again, they Just. Keep. Going – making life a little bit rougher, all along the way.

Here are mine:

Not replying to friends’ messages/emails/invitations if I don’t know what to say – usually if my schedule is too up in the air for me know whether I can do whatever it is they’re suggesting or not. I’m not waiting for a better offer or because I don’t know what I want; I just don’t know how to communicate I’d love to do that if it works, but I don’t know if it works because I might be visiting my parents, but only if the kitchen cabinets aren’t being installed on Saturday, and that depends on some stuff the HVAC guys might or might not finish on Tuesday. Um, can I let you know on Friday? That’s a jackass of a message to send, so I send… nothing. I just go silent. Then, because I haven’t replied, I feel rude, and so I continue to not-reply for even longer. This is not good. I’d like to do this differently.

Trying to fit in something “on the way.” On the way, I’ll stop for a coffee. On the way, I’ll pick up that new lipstick. On the way, I’ll water the lemon tree / fold the laundry / etc. On the way, I’ll meditate / go through these emails / rsvp to those meetings. Whatever it is, it does not take thirty seconds the way I imagine it does. It takes thirty minutes. Then I am late and/or did not actually start doing the thing I wanted to do. Then I feel stressed / rude / annoyed at myself for doing this yet again. Again, not good. I’d like to do this differently too.

Overplanning. Life gets complicated. I tend to deal with it by updating my calendar and to do list. Again. Then again. Then deciding it needs a new format and doing it again. Then I look up some new types of calendar online. This is a complete waste of time. I’m not actually doing anything to improve the situation. I’m just moving words around. I’d be better off taking a big deep breath and reading a trashy novel. Or doing some actual work. Or going to bed. Or figuring out where to put those additional awesome-looking plum trees I recently found out about. Whatever.

Pointless online browsing. For me this does not mean Twitter / Instagram / social media / the news. No, it’s more like blogs I don’t actually care about, or looking up to see whether there’s a new tiny laptop I should consider, or new writing software, or a new multi-pen, or the best possible type of compost bin (though this last one did lead me to find out something useful: I don’t in fact want a compost bin at all! Aha.). Again, I’d be better off reading, or working, or watching TV with my husband, or going to sleep, or again, nearly anything else.

Of all these, the one I’m still doing most often is the not-replying one. But. Today I got an email from a friend.

I’m now going to stop writing this blog post, and reply.

Book review: Deep Work, by Cal Newport

Is it ironic or awesome that I’m writing this in a focused 30 minute burst?!

A few weeks ago I realized that multiple bloggers I read had read and commented on Deep Work, by Cal Newport. I’m a big believer in the value of single-tasking and focus, and last summer I had a week-long experience with shingles that convinced me I needed to get less distraction in my life – so I picked up a copy of the book myself, in hopes of a few new ideas.

The summary: it’s changing how I approach focus, and that’s a good thing.

Often I find that business and productivity books are skimmable; all too often, someone takes a three-page idea and turns it into two hundred pages of content. Happily, that’s not the case with Deep Work; I found the whole thing to be worth reading.

The premise: focus and deep work are worthwhile because, professionally and personally speaking, they are a competitive advantage.

The challenge: we (ie, modern humans with access to cellphones, power, and data plans) exist in a context very likely to erode our ability to focus and do that deep work that will help us do whatever it is we’re trying to do (including, unfortunately, figure out what we’re trying to do!).

The approach: build focus and deep work into our lives, using several of a variety of techniques adapted to our specific situations.

Okay, that said, here’s how the techniques break down, specifically as I’m using them:

  • Find a rhythm that works. Tempting as it is to carve out three straight hours every morning starting at eight a.m., I work a lot with New York and India teams, which means most of my mornings are full of meetings. I’ve also noticed I work well in 90 minute bursts.

==> I’ve scheduled one 90 minute block for myself, every work day, and labelled it “project work.” These are usually in the afternoon, at different times each day. I’ve also set them to start on the quarter hour, which gives me a built in break between the prior meeting & the project work block.

  • Build up focus muscles. Don’t check the internet every time it occurs to you to check the internet. Instead, notice that you wanted to check it, and go back to whatever you were doing. This applies both during project blocks and in general. Basically, stop using the internet to amuse yourself while waiting in line. Instead, let your brain just do whatever it wants to do. The other idea I really liked in this section is concentrated reflection on a given topic – rather than just working hard on something, spending a while intentionally thinking it through. This pairs nicely with my goal of going for more walks.

==> I’m trying this. I think I can feel my brain unwinding!

  • Make social media intentional. What are you using it for? Deep connections with friends? Self-promotion? I basically treat LinkedIn like an old-school Rolodex (useful); Instagram as a connection with people I actually care about (I value this); and Facebook annoys me but is (maybe?) good for self-promotion of a poetry reading I’m doing next week.

==> I’ve updated my profiles and I’m paying more attention to what I read and post.

  • Crowd out low-value stuff. Work, errands, and personal tasks will expand to fill every available minute. So – cap the minutes, and fill them with high-value stuff.

==> I’m learning to delegate (I could be so, so much better at this! But I’m learning); scheduled the gym; I’m using the shuttle as a way to force-schedule my workdays; and I’ve made a few more weekend plans.

So. There’s more in the book, but that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been trying this plus tracking all my work time for the past three weeks. So far, so good. I feel a) calmer and b) I think I’m doing more useful stuff.

If you’re working on focus… what have you tried? What’s working?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: