20 for 2020: week 2

Week two: Week of 6 January

Welcome to week two of 20 for 2020. This is the first full week for the year and I’m lucky I still have some time before my uni course starts to concentrate of some of the other tasks, some of which I think will be important to have done because they will help me stay on track with uni (thing 8).

The most obvious of which is Indistractable (thing 13), which is a book by Nir Eyal about helping out get control of your attention so you can do the things you really want to be doing. There is a bit of overlap between this work and the creative kickstart course (thing 6) and also the wellbeing work (thing 3) I’ve been doing so I think it’s good to be tackling them all at the same time.

Something that all three things look at is whether what you do every day is actually what you want to be doing. It’s described differently in all three, but the idea is that you look at how you spend your day, look at how you would spend your day if you were leading a life that you truly wanted to live and then start to see what shifts you can make to move your life closer to the life you want to be living. Each approaches it in a different way, and I love seeing the differences in approaches between a productivity person, a creative person and a person focused on health and wellbeing.

Rather than attempt to explain all of the three groups of activities, I’ll write about what I’ve been doing.

One of the first things I did was to track my time. This is important so you know what you spend time on and can assess whether you might be able to claim back some of the time you spend on activities that are less valuable to you so that you can work on things that are really important to you. I did this in excruciating detail for five days. I kept a spreadsheet and every time I started to do something different, I noted it down.

The first thing that struck me when looking back at it that every day I woke up to the alarm rather than already being awake (four of the five days) I lay in bed from 25 minutes up to an hour and 25 minutes. So over four days I wasted four hours lying in bed avoiding getting up. If that’s normal, it means I waste 365 hours a year avoiding getting up. That’s 15 days a year I spend in bed doing nothing. Two weeks!! I only get four weeks annual leave each year. I’d never waste two weeks of that like this, so what the hell am I doing this for?

I had never thought about it this way until I looked at those numbers.

The next thing that is painfully obvious is that I am very “distractable”. Other than things like walking, going out for a lunch break. watching a movie or spending time with family, the longest stretch of time I did any single activity for was 48 minutes. That was highly unusual. I did most of my work in 10-15-20 minute bursts (or even less), interrupted by emails, checking social media (48 times in five days and I think this is way less than I actually did), getting up to move, colleagues, text messages, phone calls, family members, my boss . . .

Not all of these were bad distractions. Getting up to move, for example, is very important for my physical wellbeing and to prevent further injury to my back. But a lot of them were distractions that I initiated myself, and this is where some of the work in Indistractable and the creative kickstart work is focused. Eliminating (or minimising) self-initiated distractions that take me away from the work I want to be doing. I don’t have to check social media ten times a day. I don’t have to check email that often either. What this exercise has shown me very clearly is my lack of capacity to work undistracted for long periods and, therefore, to get into a state of focused concentration where I can do my best work. This isn’t just at my day job; it’s at home too when I want to do some writing or photo editing, so when I say “work” I am talking about both.

Part of this is environmental and it’s not all down to me not controlling my attention. My day job is in a noisy open-plan office, which is not conducive to doing concentrated work for long periods. Indistractable has some ideas for minimising distractions in that type of environment, which I’ll get to later, but my work for this week has been on minimising the distractions that I create for myself.

One idea that has occurred to me is that I find I get annoyed by the walk breaks, which are reminders on my Fitbit at 10 minutes before the hour if I haven’t moved enough that hour, because I’m often (finally) settling into some work after dealing with distractions I gave into throughout the hour. So I thought if I restrict my access to my phone until the walk alarm goes off, that will minimise a lot of my self-initiated distractions and I can use the 10 minutes to have a break, move and check things on my phone if I want to. The challenge will then be to put it away again when I get back to my desk. I also think that in my day job it would be helpful to use the walk alarm as a trigger to shift into a different position and to take advantage of the sit-stand desks, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on trying to make more habitual. Using the walk breaks for good.

Distractions notwithstanding, however, the main purpose of this tracking exercise is to look at everything you do and to figure out what you’re doing that aligns with what you really want to be focusing on, and what is taking up your time and stopping you focusing on your work (however you define that, paid work, art, writing, blogging, photography . . .) and the things that are important to you, such as family, friends, walking, photography and chickens. Having done that, you decide whether you can get rid of some of the stuff that doesn’t align. If you can’t (hello, cleaning out the chicken enclosure) and, if not, whether you can delegate it to someone else, defer it until later, reduce the amount of time you spend on it, or change it in some way so that it does better align to what you want.

Travel to work is a prime candidate. It’s not a thing that aligns to anything. It’s something I have to do or I might find my cashflow stop rather abruptly. One way I got rid of it a long time ago was to start working from home one day a week, which, from where I was living at the time, gave me an extra two hours a day. Nice, but not available to everyone. Now I just scroll social media on the trip to work.

I want to read more. But I have no time to read. But I have an (approximately) 20 minute bus ride to work. Therefore, I have 20 minutes to read. Twice a day. Done.

I want to do more exercise. I bought an e-bike that get me to town with some effort but not enough to make it necessary to need to shower when I get there. Therefore, I have two sets of about 35 minutes of exercise.

Okay, that’s an easy one, but you get the idea.

On the same theme, Gretchen Rubin had this great idea many podcasts ago about mundane activities. She says that when you’re doing an activity that’s really boring try to put the word meditation after it to reframe it. “I’m doing waiting in line . . .  meditation”, which she says feels a whole lot better than being bored and frustrated by waiting in line or cleaning the bathroom or waiting for the bus (or subway in her case since she’s in New York). She refers to the saying “if you can’t get out of it, get into it”, which is, I think what “shifting” is all about. Related, Gretchen and Liz have an interesting discussion on boredom in this podcast, which is a little related to my Bored and Brilliant challenge (thing 12).

After looking at my activities and working out what aligns with where I want to go and what doesn’t, and discovering that there isn’t much on that list I do that I can actually delete, I worked through Chapter 10 of Indistractable, which asks you to allocate how many hours a week you want to allocate to each activity. Then you sit down and work out how to fit it all into your schedule.

My hours added up to 196.5.

This is after eliminating everything I no longer want to do.

There are 168 hours in a week. This ain’t gonna happen, kids.

Well, I do have 30 hours a week of work. 196.5 minus 30 is 166.5, which gives me an hour and half to watch a movie as well . . . .  Unfortunately, I also need the pay that comes with that work time!

So the work now is to figure out a schedule that gives me time to do what I love to do, and what I have to do. This is only chapter 10. There are 25 more chapters to work through.

I finished reading the book too, with my new bus reading habit (thing 14).

As I said, a lot of the work I’ve been doing for Indistractable has been connected to the wellbeing work (thing 3) and I did some of the journalling for that this week too.

I’ve now worked through seven days of the creative kickstart course (thing 6) as well, which covers a lot of the same ground. One suggestion I liked was to set aside “just 15 minutes” every day to create. I have started experimenting with doing that after my morning walk. The idea is not just to commit to the time but also to commit to what you’ll be doing at the time, so I decided to spend just 15 minutes every day on my photo project (thing 1). It’s not much, but if I do this consistently for a year it will be 90 hours I would otherwise have not devoted to the project. That’s nearly four days! I have to be able to get it done in that time.

I rode my bike to work (thing 10) and read some of my uni material (thing 8) in preparation for the start of the unit on 20 January.

Summary for the week

  • Things completed this week: 1 (10)
  • Things completed to date: 2 (10, 18)
  • Things I progressed: 7 (1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 13, 14)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress: 0
  • Things not started: 13 (2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22)

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