Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Life by the Clock, Continued

It's been about three weeks since I began scheduling my entire life. When I get up, when I go to bed, and every moment in between, is accouted for and explicitly allotted time. I move some things around inside the schedule freely, but the allotted amounts remain the same. So . . . how's it going.
  • Regular sleep is by far the most important component. The lie I told myself most often was, "I'll just stay up late to finish that," as if I could magically conjure up more hours after midnight with no consequences. I go to bed at 10:30 pm and get up at 5:00 am, and I think I have the sleep titrated about right, because I'm tired when I go to bed but I usually wake up before the alarm goes off. (And that 6.5 hour regimen is sometimes supplemented by a noon-time 15-minute micronaps . . . and I have no doubt that caffeine is propping up my capacity somewhat.) In the past, the only way I could go to sleep without anxiety was to work myself to the point of exhaustion; it was the only way I could be sure I had done everything I could do. Now, I go to bed still knowing the same thing; I have optimized my performance, and I'm not going to gain anything by pushing it any harder. Occasionally, I'm tempted to stay up another half-hour to finish a project or see the end of "Law and Order," and the next day I feel it. But I don't think I'll ever return to the lifestyle of routine post-midnight work.
  • The morning routine of writing is the next most important. Morning is definitely the best time for me to write, and I have no stress about "squeezing in" my writing anymore, though producing on the clock sometimes squeezes me to finish faster than I'd like. Last year I had gotten in the habit of jotting notes on blog topics in my Treo 650 during the day, and that has become a vital part of the process; you can't sit down at the computer without already knowing what you're going to write, or you're toast.
  • Daily exercise is certainly doing me good, but it is a subtle good. I am only slightly better on the elliptical, and my pushups and situps show tiny incremental changes. But, as the CEO of my last company said, "All I need is a trendline! Just give me an arrow pointing in the right direction, and I can keep the investors happy." And there's always audiobooks to listen to, so I'm getting nice steady doses of Frank McCourt. The investors are happy.
  • I get dressed for work now. I used to shlump around the house in my bathroom until the middle of the morning, and then put on jeans and a t-shirt. Now, even if I'm working at home, I put on khakis and an collared shirt and real shoes. When I sit down to breakfast with the kids, I feel like I'm "going to work." I think everyone else feels it, too. Again, it's a subtle effect, but a measurable one.
  • Work time: I'm definitely living by the calendar, because we're so busy now I can't afford not to. I tried to cheat last week, stealing time from one customer for another, but I quickly realized my peril and confessed to Harry by the end of Friday. Monday morning I was having conference calls with both customers, with Harry attending, setting new expectations. We got some serious pushback from one, and none at all from another. It was painful, but not nearly as painful as I expected, and certainly better than the stress I was living under by lying to myself and others about what was going to get done. Harry said: "Don't worry. They'll respect you more because of this. They will value you're time more." And so far that seems to be true.
  • I said I would record my billing time as it happened, and that's not really happening. I'm better at taking written notes about what I'm doing while I do it, but I'm not putting it in GoldMine right away, and still spending the bulk of Thursday evening typing it up. Some improvement is called for.
  • Evening time: this used to be Guilt Central, home of the "I ought to work on this, but I'm dreading it so I'll do that instead . . . or do nothing at all." It definitely has forced me to plan my SKS work more carefully, which means it gets done. (We had great turnout for our first meeting on Monday, thank God.) But it's still a lot harder to keep that time dedicated to specific purposes: work still tries to creep in where it shouldn't, and school meetings and such are sometimes disrupting it. But I have been faithful to getting at least two hours of financial stuff a week in, which I'll need with tax season upon us.
  • Weekend time: This used to be Anxiety Time, the "I'm here with the kids but I'm angsting over when I'm going to get to work on other things" time. A lot of that is gone, but not all of it. The weekends have never gone exactly according to schedule, primarily because so many other players are involved; the kids get sick, Janet goes out to a poetry reading, Janet gets sick, yoga gets rescheduled, Janet and the kids go to grandma's for the day, etc. It makes me very conscious of how I have to coordinate with Janet . . . which is good.

Overall, I'm amazed at how many good changes came upon my life all at once. I year ago I made a list of "all the things I ought to do but don't." They were all disciplines I had struggled with for years: regular sleep, regular exercise, realistic work hours, committed Group work, etc. Now, eight of the top ten are being done, and it almost seems too easy.



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