Stretching out the mornings

I am a bit obsessed with an author called Laura Vanderkam, who writes about time management.  Her premise is that everyone has 168 hours per week and we have choices with what we do with the vast majority of those hours.  Her recommendation is to work with all 168 hours, not just 24 at a time.

Reading her books led me to examine how I use my time.  Vanderkam actually writes down how she uses her time every day, in half hour chunks, She has been doing so for three years constantly and it is a fascinating study, which she discusses in a recent podcast.  I would love to do this, but something makes me stop.  Not quite sure what though.

One thing that I have taken away is the realisation that the mornings are long.  We wake up early in this house, so a lot can happen before work. We have made chatting and walking the central point of our morning and not chores.  Deciding not to leave the house tidy and organised was a conscious decision. It has made time for hobbies, some quality time as a family and exercise.  And the dishes get loaded into the dishwasher when someone comes home. In fact, it is exactly the sort of chore we need in that transition time into evening from work. Along with laundry and the general tidying.  All a bit mindless, all perfectly doable in the low energy hours of the day.  Or, and this was a radical change in my head, most can be left until Saturday when everyone has more time to waste.  Yes, waste!

I am sure there are other changes I can make, I must get to actually tracking my time to see where those gaps could be.  I haven’t actually stretched out any time in the morning of course, but it feels like we do so much more.


Running out of thoughts

I think I could have anticipated this, but I feel like I have run out of things to say today.  Not that I haven’t got lots in my head, I have, it is a busy season at work and at home, there is a lot on my mind at the moment. But it’s too busy.

I am very aware that in order to be as efficient as I can be I need rest, which is proper sleep and some time not doing anything.   That’s not the same as doing something really good for my brain like a mediation or a yoga session, or even taking an Instagram photo of whatever is in front of me.  Those things are good to do, but that is still being deliberate and active in some way, Instead I need to let mind wander and not think about anything in particular.

It is doing nothing. I firmly believe this gives the brain time to put all the busyness together in a useful way.  I’m also sure it’s where my brain finds the ability to write, to have good ideas, to think up effective processes.

Sleep is also in relatively short supply.  I sleep well, and do everything I can to make sure that is the case.  As long as my exercise routines are in place and I don’t accidentally drink tea late in the day, I can sleep.  I need a lot of sleep though, at least seven hours, anything less and I can feel my brain slowing down.  I sincerely hope no one else can tell, but I certainly can.  It’s one reason I try and write this early in the morning, if I struggle to write, it’s a sign I have not slept enough.

So today I need to find time to stare out the window.  To go for a gentle walk at lunch time instead of trying to do chores. To get to bed early enough that the mind has time to recover.



Drama queen

I am a self-confessed drama queen. I guess it is my defence mechanism, if I make a drama out of it, it rarely lives up to that level of dramatic impact. I would like to think I live life to the full, which maybe means I love heightening the drama of the little things. To be honest, I am not sure I have ever really thought about why I am a drama queen, nor the effects of it on others.

Ironically, I am calm and collected during a proper drama. It’s almost as if I just need some drama, if the situation is not dramatic, I make it so, if it is, then I don’t need to, so you get the calm, collected version of me.

I am not totally sure that that is how everyone sees me though, or just those very close to me. Yesterday a colleague fed back to me (it’s annual appraisal season) that I tend to over-dramatise, so people tend to ignore me. Not in those words, but that’s the gist of it. Anyway, it was given as a weakness I need to work on, so I am musing on it. And what better way for a drama queen to muse than via a blog – the irony does not escape me.

The challenge to me is to be able to communicate effectively when I think that things are going wrong and I need some help. I seem to be disguising fear by being dramatic. So when I am worried about a situation, I seem to frame it in such a way that people disregard my worries. Talk about an inefficient way of communicating.

I am hoping that writing all this down helps me to notice my communication style and find a more efficient one. Or maybe I’m just being dramatic and you should ignore me.




Letting go of the routine

My son has just asked whether I write every day.  I try to, but do not succeed.  After a successful run of posting daily, I was feeling a bit of a failure.  Yesterday, I decided that writing a blog was not a good move, I needed to do some urgent tasks instead. Well they had become urgent, having lurked on a to do list for a while.  I had a nagging feeling that I had failed throughout the day though.

But the offspring’s question this morning was swiftly followed by another: “so how many people read it?”.  He is the generation of media users where if there are no reads or likes, there is no point.  Is this a clue to that nagging feeling of failure, am I getting swept away with that sort of thinking?  I am very grateful indeed if you’re reading this, and more so if you respond to it in some way.  I am posting this into the public for a reason, to have an audience and to feel accountable for making the piece readable.

The main reason for writing though is to have a positive habit every morning which enables me to face a complicated day having exercised my brain with something enjoyable, but still a bit challenging.  Yesterday I knew I had not let myself down, I needed to do the tasks more than my brain needed this.  Yet, I felt that I had broken the habitual nature of the exercise, and maybe I missed the interaction as well.  But, of course missing one day does not destroy a habit, it’s making sure I get back to it that counts.  Hopefully someone will read this today. And life feels a bit smoother having spent some time catching up on domestic stuff.


Searching for new rituals

So you get the idea that habit is important to me, it’s easier to stick to things once they become habitual.   The bad times are easier to weather if you have some good foundations to rest on, so it’s worth getting into good habits when the going is good I reckon.

One of those many rituals involves meeting one of the offspring for a coffee in the same place at the same time every week.  Some weeks it feels superfluous, but I know, from bitter experience, that having that meeting time may one day come in useful when something goes wrong for us. and the fact that it is a habit means there’s no pressure for it to be special in any specific way, because there is always next week.

So, I am pondering a similar sort of ritual with the other offspring.  There is no space in either my week or his for a similar coffee appointment, so we need something else.  Something more shared (the other chap likes coffee and this one particular cafe).  It is turning out to be surprisingly difficult to work out what to suggest, maybe because the coffee ritual was suggested by my son, not imposed by me.

Possibly the first step is to think about what interests we already share and build on that.  The strength of the existing ritual is exactly that, it started with the shared enjoyment of coffee in a particular cafe. We then added an additional element of browsing in a few specific shops.  So we now have a whole lovely hour of time together.

I need to put some serious thought into how to replicate the loveliness.




I have been dabbling with running recently, mainly because I needed an efficient way to increase my lung capacity and running seemed like the cheapest, most time-efficient method of increasing heartrate as quickly as possible.  I don’t love it, it is a tool to increase specific fitness of my cardio-vascular system.  I can sort of lose myself into the rhythm of the run now, but still, not loving it as a mental escape really.

Walking on the other hand is really different.  I can get into a daydreaming zone really quickly.  I often don’t take my phone.  This is a learnt protection after I went through a period of getting sustained headaches and the optician reckoned it was because I spent even my school run walks (back in the day) answering emails on my phone, or texting – or updating FaceBook. Lesson learnt – our eyes need a total rest from staring into middle distance.   Apparently, the old advice to look away from your computer screen is hugely outdated, as that was based on us only looking at that distance during work hours.  Not every waking hour.

So, walking is now just walking, letting my mind wander, enjoying chatting to fellow dog walkers, saying hi to a few people, listening to the birds.  Not really being any more productive than that.  And I love it.  This week I am reading Claire Balding’s book about the Radio4Ramblingsprogramme, Walking Home.  It is really lovely, I like her writing style and love the radio programme.

It is also inspiring me to plan to walk a long route – not all at once, but in chunks over a year.  I was dragged around part of the Pembrokeshire Coast path as a young child (about 10!) and have memories of that being very hard work.    But Claire Balding’s descriptions of the benefits of a longer hike are appealing.  I seem to remember St Kenelm’s Way being a local possibility.  Need to do some research I think.  And brush up on map reading skills.  And replace my boots.



A little spot of mine

I have a desk.  This is quite an achievement, it’s not quite completed yet, as in, I am not convinced the desk is in the right place, but I have a desk and I am writing this at that very desk.   One of the family keeps asking me why I want a desk, one is helping to make it happen in any way he can and the third may not have actually noticed yet that I have a desk.

But the questioning interests me.  Why do I want a desk?  I have no real answer.  I have this romantic vision that it is a Virginia Woolf inspired need for a desk, if not a room, of one’s own.  Not sure it is though, as we have discussed having a She Shed in the garden, and frankly, I don’t really want one – I don’t want the hassle of having a whole room to look after and be responsible for.  I don’t really want to have to walk to the end of the garden, I don’t want to be isolated in a shed on my own, I really like my family and like having them around.  I don’t want a whole room of my own.

I do want a desk though, but why?  I own a laptop, so I can use it anywhere.  I am a clear desk sort of person, so would always clear off the desk at the end of a task – or the kitchen table, the sofa, the bed – wherever I end up doing desk-type things. So I don’t need a desk to store things really.

It may be because I have not had a desk to myself since university.  At home, we always shared a computer, until the now luxurious days of having a laptop each.  This is a luxury I still get a huge thrill about, I will never ever not appreciate my own laptop – it is an amazing, beautiful thing.  At work I job-share and have done for about 16 years now, so I have always shared my desk.  I love sharing my work desk though.  Chocolate appears and disappears in the drawers, someone else’s taste in hand cream is always exciting, it’s nice to have a note left on my desk just saying hi. One day there was a bottle of gin in the locked drawer.  The joys of desk-sharing.

Well, this has been the first time the desk has been used properly (it was a splendid stand for the Easter tree over the weekend) and I love it.   Still not sure why though.

The blog is about twice the length as the last few though, so I write more it seems.

This is the first time the photo is actually mine.  A photo-worthy desk.



PS thank you for the well wishes on Monday – all feeling much better now.



Taking it even sloooower

Sometimes stuff just does not go to plan, or at least not to the plan that was forefront in my planning brain.  Easter is full of pretty frocks, warm spring sunshine, egg hunts in the garden and lots of fizz. Right?

It’s not a weekend of mud and rain and cold.  The plan does not include the extended family being struck down one by one with a vicious lurgy.  Nor is it a weekend when one realises that having given it up for Lent, one’s tolerance for prosecco is about zero and for red wine, only marginally better.

The saving grace this weekend – my beloved resolution to go slower.  A long weekend of snuggles on sofas watching movies, naps in whatever bed we can find free, gentle dog walks instead of muddy hikes, less wine but more tea is what we are enjoying.  And, you know what, that fits right in with what I had planned overall this year. Hopefully, as I am not particularly bothered that the original plans have not come to fruition, no one else really minds either.  Well, apart from those who are poorly of course, it does indeed feel a bit rotten for them.  And I have had to postpone the traditional Wii Just Dance fest to later in the week when I am feeling more able to keep up with my niece.

My resolutions for this quarter were getting a bit less slow to be honest, this weekend is a reminder to dial it all back again.  I think I need to add a resolution to watch loads of kids’ films.  Challenge on.


Putting rest on the list

I had a chat with a colleague earlier this week who was struggling with finding balance to deal with illness and work and family, and well, we know the feeling I would say.  I suggested she put resting on her to do list for the weekends.  There was a surprised silence as this had never occurred to her.  Of course I don’t always put the word ”rest” into the weekend plan, but when I know I have a bit of a hectic time in work or an upcoming event, or whatever it may be that will leave me feeling a bit frazzled, I do plan the downtime too.  Sometimes that is literally putting “have a nap” on the list, I am comfortable with being the only person on the planet who adds napping to her to do list, it works for me.  I like feeling intentional about resting, it is something I really want to do and feel is important.

The usual one that I add into the list is reading.  I am a member of two book groups and also use the library lots, so deadlines and reading seem to go together.  I feel wonderfully justified in having “finish Marie Kondo by Saturday” on the to-do list, otherwise I may get charged an overdue fee.  Heavens forefend!

This week though I have a self-imposed deadline.   I discovered that I have read 10 books so far this year, which is more than I expected, but of course it makes a neater pattern of three per month if I could fit in another couple this week.  So that is my focus for the week – two more books.  One on audio, a self-help style non-fiction: Shawn Achor’s Big Potential and on the Kindle (it’s been a long while since I used it) a light read, lots of fun and easy to have as an alternative to TV: The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star in the delightfully silly detective series by Vaseem Khan.

It feels like a wonderfully productive way to ensure I sit down for a bit every day,  or encouraging me to go to bed a bit earlier to fit in some reading time.  I have a fair amount of driving and bus travelling to do this week, so the audio book soothes some of the traffic stress.

If I can get them read, I will be chuffed with 12 books in the first quarter of 2018.


When the brain won’t focus

Starting every day, when my timetable allows, by writing this blog serves well to focus my mind first thing in the morning.

That focus feels impossible today, so this will be a short piece.

It is a busy weekend ahead, filled with friends and Birmingham Children’s Book Group at Bourneville Book Fest, theatre, food, walking and Palm Sunday.  This could be why I am struggling to be succinct or to find focus – the sheer variety of the weekend is making my brain buzz with excitement.

To add to that, I slept less than the ideal amount last night, so my brain function may not be optimal.

“Brain busy” is a weakness of mine, it strikes so often and is generally a good feeling. This is not an anxious buzzing of the brain, it’s a feeling of excitement and anticipation.  And exactly what I need to calm with my intention of being slower.   Finding focus when there is lots to do and think about is still the goal.  One that feels a way off this morning.