Soundtracks

My oldest son, Jude, is six years old and has global development delays. He doesn’t speak. Which I only mention because it’s relevant to some of what follows.

Jude is very quick to pick up routines and habits. If I wear the same top a couple of days in a row it becomes something he expects to see me wearing. If I’m not wearing it but have left it somewhere he can reach then he will quite often pick it up and bring it over to me. He also likes routines and habits because they make him feel secure and that he knows what’s going to happen.

We try to use this to our mutual advantage. So, for example, there are specific songs that I sing him while he’s having his teeth brushed, when he’s having his pajamas put on, when he’s having his hair washed, etc. It took me a long time to figure this out because the actual song doesn’t matter, it just needs to be the same one every time. I am now consciously using this technique to make things better for both of us.

Which brings me to my next thought and something that I am putting into practice: using the same technique on myself.

I’m not singing songs to myself but I have used Apple Music to create some playlists for specific activities like writing and working. I already had one for running, but for some reason it had never occurred to me to do the same for other activities. Partly that was because I usually prefer to write in silence, but in a house full of noise that’s not really possible, so a soundtrack of music without vocals is possibly the next best thing.

It’s still early days for this, but I know it works for running and I know that it works for Jude, so I’m hoping for similar results in the other areas of my life where I’m trying it.

Looking Ahead

On Sunday I was out running. I set myself the goal of doing 10K, which, after a couple of months of only running 5K’s, I was worried about. I set out, not sure that I could manage it and in the end I did. What helped immensely was that I stopped thinking about running the whole distance. I looked at the road ahead of me and focused on getting about ten metres ahead. And it occurred to me that there’s a lesson to be learned there.

When I run a 5K I can hold the whole thing in my head: I can think about the complete distance and still get through it, but I don’t seem able to do the same with a 10K. Which isn’t to say that I’m not capable of running a longer distance, physically I am capable but not mentally. So is the same true in other areas of life? I think so.

I can sit down and write every day, that much I can visualise, but I can’t conceptually publish a book when I’m staring at a blank page.

It’s a difficult balancing act I think. With running I had to hold the aim of running a 10K somewhere in my mind, in the same way that when I’m writing I hold the aim of publishing a story, but that wasn’t actually what I was doing. When I was running I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other. When I’m writing I focus on putting the next sentence down.

And I think that focus is the key here. What we chose to focus on can make a big difference. If you choose to focus on the biggest thing your mind can conceptualise then you could look at all the small achievements that go towards that as nothing. And at the same time you might find that it limits what you actually achieve. If the biggest thing I could view in one go was a 5K then maybe I would never run a 10K. It’s not a limiting belief in the same way as thinking ‘I can’t do¬†X‘ but it might have the same impact.

Which is why habits are so important. I have the habit of writing every day, that’s all I need to think about when I’m sitting down.

Disruptions

Yesterday we had a bit of a clear out at home and I dedicated the bottom drawer in my bedside table as a charging station. It is where all of my most used electronic devices now live (the ones which are used less often are in a plastic tub under the bed). Once I’d finished setting it up I started to think about what I was going to get out and when. Some of it is obvious: I will get my headphones out when I want to listen to music, but others not so much.

It occurred to me that the default was that I would have certain things with me all the time, or at least within easy reach. My phone being the main culprit there. But with a new default (the bottom drawer) I started to think about what that was going to mean when I was working. Which led me to realise how many potential disruptions I was surrounding myself with.

Old Count of disruptions at work

  1. Personal Phone: Messages
  2. Personal Phone: Phone calls
  3. Personal Phone: Whatsapp
  4. Apple Watch: Messages
  5. Apple Watch: Phone calls
  6. Apple Watch: Stand reminders
  7. Work Phone: Messages
  8. Work Phone: Phone calls
  9. Work Computer: Email
  10. Work Computer: Google Hangouts messages
  11. Work Computer: Google Hangouts calls
  12. Work Computer: Jabber

Which doesn’t even cover the things that might not send me messages to disrupt me but that I might just pick up and check on my phone. It’s a crazy amount of things that could be breaking my concentration.

A brief aside – I have been struggling to decide what to do with my Apple Watch for some time. It doesn’t really fit in with my lifestyle to have a small square strapped to my wrist. But at the same time it’s very useful for tracking my workouts and as a silent alarm so I don’t wake up the whole house in the morning. It seemed like a waste to only use it for those things while it was always out, but now it’s in a drawer I don’t feel the same responsibility to use it all the time.

There are some distractions that I can’t do anything about. My boss wants me to be available on instant messenger so I have to have that running, but I considered my options and came up with this:

New Count of disruptions at work

  1. Work Phone: Messages
  2. Work Phone: Phone calls
  3. Work Computer: Email – but I keep it paused using Boomerang so it’s not constantly disrupting me
  4. Work Computer: Google Hangouts messages
  5. Work Computer: Google Hangouts calls
  6. Work Computer: Jabber

This means that I am using my computer to listen to music, but that’s not a big problem and certainly worth doing to halve the number of disruptions I have to deal with in a day.

Time Away

As of now I am on annual leave for a week (ten days if you count the weekends and bank holidays). I have decided that I am also going to stop using a computer during this time so there won’t be any blog posts from me until 14th April.

I think it’s important, from time to time, to step away from our usual routines and examine other aspects of life. In addition to that, I don’t want to give myself the opportunity to read the news or waste time doing other things online.

My plans are to write (in my notebooks), do some gardening and spend time with my family. We will probably watch a few films among other things. I will also go running a few times and help out my elderly neighbours by collecting prescriptions and going shopping.

We had been planning to go to Scotland for the week, but obviously that’s no longer an option. Even so, there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve staring at a computer screen.

Seven Notebooks

I use seven different notebooks on an (almost) daily basis. It seems like a lot, and maybe it is, but I have tried using fewer and it doesn’t work as well for me. I have also tried using digital methods, and while it is convenient to have all of my notebooks with me at all times, I don’t enjoy it as much. And, while the digital method might only require one device, it still splits things across multiple applications, so I don’t think I am much better off that way.

These are my notebooks and what I currently use them for:

Starting from the top

  1. My pocket notebook, I carry this everywhere for making quick notes
  2. My log book, at the end of every day I write down the things that I have done
  3. I am part of a climate action group and this is where I keep my notes from meetings
  4. My journal
  5. My reading list, this is where I write down the books that I have read
  6. My writing book, this is where I write my first drafts
  7. My task manager, loosely based on the Bullet Journal system

Clearly I don’t carry all of these around with me all the time but they are each indispensable in their own ways.

 

All We Have is Now

Leave March in March. The last month has felt like a decade, February and January weren’t great either. But this is a new quarter. So let’s not dwell on what came before.

The situation we find ourselves in is beyond our control. We can’t change it. We can only make the best of the minutes, hours and days ahead of us. Try to find something to hold onto that brings you joy. Remember that neither good nor bad things last forever. All we have is now.