Arbitrary deadline

Today is my last working day of the year.  When I next sit at my desk it will be a new year, a new start and I will be a totally new person.  

I will be very efficient, there will not be a thousand emails in my inbox, my to do lists will be legible and realistic.  I will calmly prepare thoroughly for all meetings and ensure that I have read all the required papers and have done some extra research on all topics to be discussed. I will follow all meetings and events with timely feedback and follow up wherever necessary. I will be available for every colleague whenever they need me, answering every email, phone and skype call as they come in.  I will have reflection time every day to develop my work against my plans and priorities. I will reach every deadline with time to spare.  I will be happy and calm at all times.

Ah, just writing all of that is making me feel so much better, I am typing and giggling at myself, which does a power of good.  My personal need to leave the year in some sort of state of perfection is indeed funny, even if I have not been able to see that in the last couple of days.  

Mainly I am looking forward to a holiday and I need to be very self-aware and check this daft feeling that I need to leave my desk today with everything in order for the imaginary perfection to be possible in a fortnight’s time.  Especially as it would take me two weeks just to clear that inbox. 

Happy last working day of the year to you, whenever it may fall for you.

Inbox zero

I have a real struggle with email and the concept of inbox zero.  I like the concept, of course I do – a clear screen at the end of the day would be lovely.  The reality is that I just cannot achieve it, I receive too many emails and email is my main way of working, I do spend half my day working in email format.  Hopefully usefully, but maybe not.

Yesterday I was hit by the feeling that I have a lot of emails I have not responded to.  So I disappeared down the rabbit hole of filing and deleting emails.  I am still in the rabbit hole.  Is it productive? I am really not sure it is, but I am not clear how else I go through weeks of emails and check what I still need to action.

There is of course the theory that if I have missed something, someone will tell me about it.  But my team is in a busy period, so I am less confident of that as a work method.  

And there is the additional theory that Outlook enables easier searching when you leave everything in an inbox, rather than filing in a plethora of folders.

I had become much stronger in resisting temptation to delete all emails, but somehow I have succumbed to the temptation of inbox zero this week.  Maybe I need to compromise and just aim for clearing all of this month’s emails, in the hope that if I have not something from last month, then I will be reminded.  What a 21st century problem!  I need to remember that my work is not email, email is the tool I use for work!

Reading time

I heard an interesting podcast today, one of the Optimal Living Daily series.  They are interesting and make me think, sometimes they make me hit stop, but mostly they do not.  And they are short.  That is a good thing.

Anyway, this one was about reducing our access to the news and instead advocates reading books in order to learn about the world.  The theory being that the emotional roller coaster of the news (specifically on TV) is designed to make us feel vulnerable and therefore most likely to buy the products advertised around the news.  Which makes sense of the number of adverts for holidays in newspapers.

One of my ‘slower’ resolutions was the perennial, but no less urgent for it being repeated, ‘read more’.  I think that one of my issues with reading more is that in spending time reading, I cut myself off from the news.  I listen to audio books instead of the Today programme, I read a novel instead of the newspaper.  But this piece (it was originally a piece by a blogger named Mr Money Mustache ) has reframed that thinking a bit for me.

And it is true, literature offers you a different perspective.  Yes, I escape from reality, in that what I am reading about is not happening here and now, but all fiction is based on some sort of reality isn’t it?  Fiction puts me into a different pair of shoes and keeps me there for a while as the story lingers in my thoughts.  I experience something other than my life.

And how much of the news is reality?  How much is actually affecting me.  Believe me, I engage with current affairs – I campaign, I vote, I write to my MP, I discuss politics – I think I am a fairly active citizen.  But there’s a lot that I cannot change and on balance, not hearing the news more than once a day doesn’t seem to make me less able, instead, the space away from it energises me.  And gives me more time to try and make the world a better place, rather than just worrying about how awful it seems to be.

Here’s to a weekend of success

In any context where you are trying to change something – losing weight and getting fit are the ones that spring to mind – you are generally encouraged to make your intentions known, to be as public as possible, so that you have an accountability measure in place.

I am not sure that works.  I mean, we are all generally very polite.  I know to my health cost that no one I know would ever say “ummm Abigail, that is your third chocolate biscuit in ten minutes you may have now exceeded recommend calorie intake for today”.  I thank you for not saying it, my waistline is mine, keeping judgements to yourself is highly appreciated.

But I can totally see why people reach out for that support, knowing that you are not in a solo battle with your own willpower is helpful indeed.

I know there is some cynicism about folk having a social media presence which makes them out to be eating only green foods and running a marathon every weekend, but I, for one think it’s great.

Keep posting your weight losses, your miles run this year, your pbs over 5k, the hours you have spent meditating, the number of books you have read, the distance you have covered with an injured knee, the artwork you have created, the allotment produce you have grown, and most of all your beautiful dogs, cats and children.  I love it.  I love your success and I love celebrating it with you virtually.

Creating good habits in what is an unhealthy world is hard.  The negative judgement is within us and around us.  We are all being the best we can be and let’s keep celebrating that.

Here’s to a weekend of sharing the successes. Just so you know, my aim is to sleep 26 hours between Friday evening and Monday morning.  I’ll keep you posted on progress: 7/26 done so far.

not my cat, not my photo



Anatomy of a morning

I love mornings, I am a lark, not an owl.  That said, I need sleep, if I have not had my sleep I cannot wake up – those are the mornings I do not like.

The morning routine is something I think about a lot.  And it is a routine which changes over the years.

Pre-children it was a short shower, breakfast, leave for work routine.  With a lot of talking to anyone alive in the house.  They did not always respond, I did not always notice this.

Offspring the elder is a similar lark, so morning feeds were sometimes in the World Service broadcasting hours rather than Radio 4 (which means before 5.20am).  The mornings were long, cuddly, busy.

Offspring the younger is a night owl, he woke late.  So, I had a year or so of a child-free half an hour or so at about 6am.  I drank tea and baked bread and listened to the radio in a blissful time.

Now they are teens, they need to up and out early, but they do not need my assistance.  How times change.

Now my early mornings can be a good chunk of time in which to do what I want. I have discovered something exciting this winter.  Getting up and doing something quiet and sedentary feels as legitimate as getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise, which seems to be the usual recommendation.  So, to soothe me through the dark cold mornings of the quiet season, I am indulging in mornings of coffee, reflection, writing, reading and prayer.  Not all of those every day, but always the coffee.   Here’s to mornings.


An unexpected day

So, the thought occurs that having to cope with the unexpected is what throws me most.  I am a planner by nature.  Some may say an over-planner, but actually I like it that way.  I enjoy knowing what is going to happen, I enjoy the anticipation.

I have just had a couple of working days which have been filled with what can only be called the unexpected.  It does not matter to me if the unexpected is a large event or a smaller one.  Even something trivial can push me off my tracks.

Nevertheless, I am very good in emergencies, at least I like to think so.  I love thinking on my feet and generally respond well.  But that is not the whole story.

One part of me wants to run my life within a well-planned routine; ticking off the to do list, attending scheduled meetings and appointments; keeping all habits in the same way and the same time every day.

But the odd thing is that I do not believe that even as I write it.  It sounds boring actually.  Both realities are totally true.  I love planning, I love having varied and challenging days.   Maybe my solution is to plan for the unexpected.

There are a few ways to do that I think:

  1. Block out parts of my day and week for the unexpected, I am not sure I can do that practically, but I may give that a go next month (this month’s diary is now full – mainly with annual leave though).
  2. Leave a few spaces on the daily to-do list to fill. I try and have a limited list for each day, recognising that in order to prioritise my brain finds it easier to have a short do-able list in front of me every day, rather than a huge long list from which I then have to pick a small number of things every day.
  3. Actually write down on the list: “react to the unexpected”.
  4. As soon as the unexpected hits, then my next action is to triage the to-do list and move other things off it.
  5. Spend two minutes every day jotting down what went well in the unexpected, not just noticing what did not get done on the list.

And maybe I need to spend a bit of time being grateful for challenges which exercise my brain, stop me from getting bored, but do not turn my world upside down.  And equally grateful for the weeks where the routine is less stimulating, but allows for some time to reflect, to rest and to enjoy the process.  I have experienced the illness of a child, turning my world upside down, stopping all usual routine and imposing a way of life that was very unexpected and even more unwelcome.  God forbid that level of challenge ever returns.  I am strangely grateful for the manageable unexpected and the boring routines.