Monday, March 09, 2015

Monday Forum - creating new habits in a crowded world

I headed my last post Saturday Morning Musings - time and focus in a crowded world. As is sometimes the case, the heading didn't quite reflect the content, although I alluded in part to the underlying thought at the end when I wrote: 

Writing a really good investigative piece takes time, sometimes a lot of time. This is hard for journalists in their daily round, equally hard for writers like me who have to fit writing into the need to earn a living. 
I cannot take the equivalent of two to three weeks full time to focus on a single issue. Instead, I try to build a pattern over time based on multiple bits across my multiple interests. There are things to think about here, but not today!

Most of us are time poor. In my case, for example, I spend around 36 hours per week at work. To get there and back takes almost three hours a day, so that's another fifteen hours per week. Then I spread the rest of my time across my research and writing, meals, domestic activities, seeing friends etc. Inevitably some things suffer. 

Like most of us, I have been through various phases in trying to manage all this: time management, goal setting, self-improvement campaigns, fiddling with work-life balance etc. Those who read this blog regularly will have seen this peek through from time to time. 

Measured objectively, I know that I have quite a high work-rate. I am also reasonably focused and self-disciplined. However, I also suffer from a periodic sense of dissatisfaction at the things that don't get done, as well as conflict between things that I like to do and things that I feel that I should be doing. 

When I get home in the evening, I'm often tired. I like to settle down with a drink and just catch up on comments, correspondence and the world around me. That's fine, but its actually not very efficient. By the time I've done that then cooked tea, I really don't want to settle down to spend the next few hours writing. So I tend to go to bed reasonably early and get up early to try to write. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.  

In all this I find, and this is the most dissatisfying element, that the important but not non-urgent tends to get crowded out; exercise, keeping the house tidy, eating properly, personal business, even just seeing people I really like, all suffer. Life becomes a daily whirl. As the days and weeks pass, one wonders what it was all for!

I know that most of us suffer from this to greater or lesser extent and that our responses are determined by the combination of personality, habits and our personal circumstances. In my case, grand attempts to redesign my life don't work, not can I address bad habits head-on. I have to sidle round these things, sneak up through the back door. I also find that I need motivation, positive or negative, to force change. 

 I now have a new campaign running based on the simple mantra health, history and home. 

Each represents a particular point of present dissatisfaction in my life: I need to improve my physical condition; I am not making progress on my main writing targets; the mess around the house is affecting mood and performance. Apart from health where I want to thrash my daughters in tennis (!), I am not setting specific targets or goals, just very broad objectives against which I can measure weekly progress. I also have a friend who is interested and can help me.

Regardless of final results, the campaign has already some results. However, the ultimate success depends on my success in creating new habits or modifying existing ones. 

Take health. Here I have a motivation - thrash my daughters at tennis. While I have been walking, I had become very unfit. I have a regular activity - youngest and I are playing tennis once or twice a week. In playing, I found that the muscles in my left shoulder were straining when I served - I am a right hander, so the opposite shoulder. This means that I need to re-build my upper body strength. Then in the latest round, I started rushing the net when youngest was serving, aiming to put her away quickly. Even though I was only getting one shot in three in, I found that it worked quite well, but it left my knees sore. So other body building exercises are required.

Note that I am not trying to stop my bad health habits, simply build new ones.

This brings me to the point of this Monday Forum. How do you handle your crowded life? What works or doesn't work for you? As always, feel free to go in any direction!  


Anonymous said...

Made me think of this Bill Murray piece:

I can't sing, but the other six steps are...well, only a step or two away :)


Evan said...

A combination of ruthlessness and small steps I think.

Ruthlessness about objectives, small steps in achieving them.

A good book on small steps you might like is

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, both. Murray's steps were quite clear. I suspect that Evan is right. I have never been very good at ruthless!

Anonymous said...

"feel free to go in any direction"

Well ok then - how about the first 'online community connected by tubes' back in the 1800's?

I thought this was just too interesting to allow to pass without a link :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting piece, kvd. At the time they were spreading, there were two letter deliveries a day in London. You could post in the morning inviting someone to dinner, get a reply in the afternoon.

Anonymous said...

By World War II the government tubes sub-system had been expanded connect 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet War Office, the Admiralty and the Home Office, to the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the India Office, the Treasury, and several branch telegraph offices.

the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, India Office...

So, I guess we were one of the several branch offices, or maybe still just considered to be a colony :)

And I like the early idea that "Businesses and individuals could simplify addressing of telegrams by purchasing and renewing a unique one word telegraphic address" - twitter handle anyone, or a domain name? - and also the importance of redundancy built into such an important system.

Nothing is really new.


Winton Bates said...

Jim, I greatly admire your work ethic. I can only focus on one thing at a time. When I am working on something I find it hard to leave it and come back later.

I try to schedule posts to appear on my blog while I am wondering around away from home, but that is not easy.

Your mantra of health, history and home sounds right for you.

Perhaps mine should be fitness, freedom and flourishing. It might help remind me that I need to walk.

Jim Belshaw said...

In a way that's true, kvd, because problems or needs tend to be common, so solutions often have common features.

Winton, I like the idea of fitness, freedom and flourishing. The idea of a simple mantra that you can vary over time is that it does provide a simple focus. I have come to greatly dislike very specific goal setting and measurement. To my mind it has become a recipe for distortion and failure.

In an earlier comment, Evan used the word ruthlessness. That's a word that I find difficult to apply, although I accept the importance of single mindedness.

Dr Purva Pius said...
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