Productivity advice

Do the thing you really want to do.

I decided that I will go to a conference that I love but whose timing is terrible, and started working not on the paper I thought I could easily put together but on the one that I really want to do.

Once I started doing that, I also graded an entire set of papers over two days, and finished taking notes on an ILL book that would not renew, adding about 1500 words to my annotated bibliography. Would I rather be doing “real writing”? Well, yes, but it is worthwhile to have thorough notes on ILL books, and it keeps me in touch with the project, not to mention allowing me to return that book so that I’m not blocked from further ILL requests, so win-win-win.

Having been wildly productive in the past six hours, now I am going to go work in the garden, then go for a walk to un-kink my back (inevitably kinked after significant garden time), cook, and watch something on TV with Sir John. We are spoiled for choice right now: old cycling, new Durrells, or new-ish Discovery episodes. Such an exciting life I lead.

Actually, there was a bit of excitement earlier this week: I had a tiny dinner party! Mid-week! A friend was in the area and suggested dinner, and I countered with an invitation to dinner chez Hull. It was lovely. It made me feel so . . . sophisticated? Leisured? Socially active? Like my memories of Lady Maud’s father, who often hosted guests (fascinating, varied, intellectual, artistic) to dinner at his family table, and not just on weekends. Like I was living the life I meant to have, instead of the one I wound up with!

It also helps that I’ve two nights of entirely adequate sleep in a row. What a difference that makes. Long may it continue.

The very local news

  • Basement Cat still fights getting pills, but the discussions over venison kibble that eventually lead to agreement to swallow are getting shorter and can be handled by a single human. This is progress.
  • Basement Cat’s health is definitely improving thanks to said pills.
  • Glendower would like to do some negotiating over venison kibble or baby food, and is a little sulky that he is not the only Poor Sick Cat around here.
  • Reina is doing fine. She likes to sit on my desk or my desk chair, and I have to move her to do any work.
  • Cardinals and mourning doves have visited the bird feeder.
  • Earlier this week, I dug more bellflower out of the front yard. Will this never end?
  • Five weeks into the semester, I still haven’t adjusted to getting up before dawn. Will I ever, or am I just going to be perpetually sleep-deprived for the next ten weeks?
  • While minding my own business, or rather Sir John’s (buying a birthday card for his brother), I bought a novel I would like to read. A week later, I still haven’t opened it.
  • We still have the TV coverage of the women’s Vuelta à España on the DVR.
  • I’m not sure what I have been doing that keeps me from reading or watching TV. Cooking, working on dead languages, and driving, probably.
  • Also grading and course prep. I’m teaching lower-level classes and find that students at that level need lots of accountability. Frequent short assignments keep them engaged, so there we are.
  • I have bought two new pair of shoes since the beginning of the semester. Abeo makes shoes that are comfortable for a person with very high arches. I like having both happy feet and cute shoes.

On August, time, and grace

It’s being one of those long, busy months. I still feel the stars hurtling through the heavens, the northern hemisphere slouching into a new season, but there’s less time to appreciate the passing of time now that classes have started again. My life is carved into lists, lists for each class, lists for research, lists for house, health, finances. Sleep, once again, is iffy, because I am over-stimulated. Not worried, there’s nothing to worry about, but change is coming down the pike, this year, next year, soon, and I feel unsettled.

August has been long in part because of two trips. I went to a most excellent conference, which stimulated in all the good ways; research is definitely exciting at the moment. Sir John accompanied me on a trip to my old stomping grounds, during which we had a very active social life. It was great to see people, but I wish we could have scattered all our events over a couple of months instead of cramming them into a week!

We went to a dinner that assembled several high-school friends and our spouses. We all married “out,” that is, to people who are from somewhere else, met when we were adults, who know only by hearsay of our long-ago parties, excursions, jokes, and catch-phrases. In such a mixed group, we can all be our adult selves, with minimal reminders of the teens we once were. Maybe my friends would be okay with the reminders, but I am much happier as an adult and prefer to think that I have moved far beyond my young self. Long ago, when I was slightly freaked out about turning 18 and thus being legally adult when I had little notion of how “to adult,” as the phrase now goes, the host of this dinner assured me, “Grown-ups have more fun.” I have found this to be true.

We also attended a memorial service for a friend’s father, a beloved and influential teacher. My friend told me that he had kept the poems I showed him when I was, what, 18? 20? I am not, now, a poet. I channeled my creative impulses into literary research, and as a scholar I am tolerably successful. (That is, employed!) I may have a better appreciation for poetry because I once wrote some; I don’t know. My friend’s father’s great gift was to see and respect young people, children and teens, as complete people, interesting in themselves, not for what they might become. If they were interested in basketball, poetry, or rap music, then he talked to them about basketball, poetry, and rap. He learned from them. They learned—we learned—something about how to be an adult who pays attention, who is kind, who takes people of any age seriously.

These are not lessons I learned from my parents.

I am still most extremely imperfect in putting those lessons into practice.

These two events, and others with them, have me thinking: who do I want to be, and how can I be that person? My lists and obligations do not sum me up; they are part of me—I’m sure my friend’s father made his own lists—but not all of me. I want to live with something of the attention, intention, and grace that he had, that he gave freely to everyone who passed through his life.

Six Saturday things

Not garden things this week, plus I’m a day late, so I won’t link to the usual Six on Saturday host.

Six food items I bought yesterday, and what I did with them:

1. Strawberries. Washed and eaten plain.

2. Baby lettuce. Salad.

3. Four pounds of rhubarb, washed, chopped, turned into compote and frozen.

4. Swiss chard, washed and steamed in the water that remained on its leaves.

5. Ginger root. Some went in the rhubarb compote, and I chopped the rest fine, put it in a jar, and poured sherry over it for future use. And had a glass of sherry while I was at it.

6. Sliced turkey. Went with the salad.

Items 1-4 were from the local farmers’ market, and 5-6 were from Trader Joe’s. I walked to do these errands. I was so under-slept that I didn’t want to get behind the wheel of a car. The day was sunny and warm, but not too hot or humid. I was in the sort of state where I’m fine if I keep moving, but intellectual activity isn’t happening, so I stuck with laundry, cooking (made a stir-fry for Sir John), and a bit of gardening.

Finally I’ve caught up on sleep, though my hours are still skewed very late (by my standards: admirably early by Sir John’s!). I’ll see what I can do about that, this week.

Well, it IS the best medicine

I feel so much more relaxed since I listened to a few seconds of several different “guided meditations” that I found on you-tube when I searched for “meditation for sleep.”

Not because they put me into a peaceful, trance-like state, but because they made me laugh. Probably you had to be there (and maybe there is something deeply wrong with me, or at least deeply unfit for the world of guided meditation). So much is about the effect of voices, and I’m sure each individual will respond very differently. IME Brits are tart, not syrupy, so when I hear a syrupy voice with a British accent, I’m already primed to find this very strange, and when he says “Tonight we’ll do a guided meditation to help you sleep,” my response is “No, we won’t.” (Speaking of oppositional, N&M!) The sl-o-o-ow speech on the ones I started trying to listen to makes me think “Duuuuuude, are you on ‘luuuuuuudes? And wouldn’t it be more effective to take something than to fall about laughing while listening to guided meditations?”

I think I’ll stick to rain noise to help me sleep. But hey! Like I said, I’m a lot more relaxed for the laugh, so I can’t say I got nothing out of it! Maybe I should spend some time before bed on the Comedy Channel. Only my sense of humor is so skewed that might not help.

Calm

It will be so much quicker to just do some of the things I have to do than to start having feelings about them (ugh, don’t want to, why can’t someone else on this committee do more, why didn’t I do this last week/last month, why am I so slow, guilt, too many things, gah). So I’m declaring this morning a no-feelings zone.

Yesterday I saw a colleague who has been dealing with a perfect storm of deadlines for months now. She is usually a fairly calm person but has been performing stress lately, including complaining about having spent the whole of spring break working. I said I’d worked throughout it as well but also had spent a lot of time at the gym, reading, etc. She asked if I had deadlines to meet and I said oh yes, they whooshed by. She said she was losing sleep over hers: “I’m neurotic that way.” I laughed and said, “Well, I’m irresponsible that way.” She thought we should be combined into one person.

I don’t agree. I’d rather be me. She has accomplished more than I have, in less time, it’s true, and I do have a little envy of that. But I’m being responsible to my health, and if I don’t do that, I won’t be able to work at all. So I have a lot of days when I don’t get that much done (and waste time and energy having feelings about that “failure”), but I hit the gym, and go to bed early (or as soon as I can), and try to set myself up for a better day tomorrow.

And this is tomorrow, so let’s see what I can get done before the next round of House Stuff and the afternoon gym visit.

Day 7

I finished revising the introduction to the translation and sent it to my co-conspirators. I did some more house-tidying. We met with our real estate agent and re-listed the house. I returned library books and checked out more, avoiding long imprisonment in the stacks by going half an hour before closing. At the gym, I beat up an elliptical trainer for half an hour. We watched two days’ worth of Paris-Nice. I did some crosswords and stayed up too late reading in the bath: a collection of Connie Willis short stories that wasn’t really worth staying up for (Christmas theme: obviously not great for someone who doesn’t like Christmas, but I was thinking ‘Connie Willis that I haven’t read, let’s try it,’ plus ‘grab something and go, the library’s about to close’).

Sleep. It is so obvious that I do better at getting on with things and not getting overwhelmed by tasks and feelings about tasks (guilt, mainly) when I have slept enough. At the same time, I am not good at just going to bed (even when I’m sleepy) if I haven’t had any reading/puttering/winding-down time in the day, and I do not count watching TV as winding-down. I do try to have down-time in the evening, and when I get it, it’s much easier to go to bed, so long as I haven’t started reading something I want to go on with (my name is Eleanor and I am a literature addict*). Clearly I need to be more consistent about a bedtime winding-down routine.

I set an alarm this morning (getting set for going back to early rising in two days), but frittered away a lot of the morning on Ask A Manager and the Willis book. Two days! Must keep grinding away at things that need to be done. Tuesday is going to be a day on which work will not really be possible, so I’m planning for that, and trying to finish off some important stuff so next week isn’t too stressful. Onward!

*I am amazed that I don’t have a post of my own to link to. I guess I must have commented on other people’s blogs about this affliction; I remember some discussions Back In The Day about reading habits. In his book on writing, Steven King has an anecdote about an addiction counselor who asked someone (King? a friend? my copy is packed away) how much he drank, and the person looked at the counselor like she was crazy and said “All of it.” That’s me, if you ask how much I read. The only sure way to stop is not to start.

Day 6, the rest of it

I made a pie for Pi Day. I didn’t even realize (consciously) that it was Pi Day until the pie was in the oven and I read JaneB’s post. Consciously, I was thinking that before I packed up the food processor, I wanted to make the pie I’ve been thinking about for months now. So I did, and my low-FODMAP crust turned out very well. The pie would have been better with a second bag of strawberries, but we have proof of concept.

That was in the evening, after Sir John went out. In the afternoon, I did a little more tidying, then hit the gym and Trader Joe’s, and we watched Day Three of Paris-Nice before dinner. So we’re still lagging behind . . . I’m detecting a theme to this week. At any rate, I can look forward to two days’ worth of racing this evening.

On the plus side yesterday, I did not do any crosswords till evening, and I did not lose myself in the library stacks. However, I still have a bag of library books to return, so that could still happen. I was definitely low on energy by evening, due to the short sleep Wednesday plus a vigorous workout, so I was in bed at 10:00 (excellent). This morning I woke up at 5:15 and thought about getting up . . . and went back to sleep till 7:00 (excellent for sleep, not-excellent for re-accustoming myself to getting up 5:30 three times a week). And yet I still feel sluggish. Maybe it’s the weather. Yesterday was spring-like but today we’re back to winter. Disappointed! (That was a reference to A Fish Called Wanda, if the link breaks.)

Three more days, counting today. I’m making progress on my three things, as well as on the other three things, and yet, as usual when there are too many things, I’m not done with anything. I’d try to shift into high gear for the remainder of break, but I don’t feel like I have a high gear. Will just keep grinding away.

Day 1

It was pleasant and reasonably productive, in a low-key way. I wrote up two assignments for one class and blocked out the letter, thus doing about 1.5 of the “other three things.” My future self will thank me for the extra assignment. For that class, I need only one more assignment, and two more for the other class. Those would make good “productive procrastination” tasks this week.

As for progress on the real “Three Things,” I fixed two footnotes in the translation introduction, downloaded one set of papers and looked online at the thesis statements from the other set, and paid some bills and did a little cooking. I’m trying to start small, and build on these small steps. Even though the House element was routine rather than anything that really moves us toward re-listing, I’m counting it as useful deck-clearing.

Some fun things, since it is after all break: re-reading a couple of chapters of Tremontaine, season one in the tub in the afternoon (Note to self: put later seasons on birthday list), and watching a couple of episodes of Discovery with Sir John. We’re now ten episodes into Season One. I find the show a strange combination of boring and disturbing. I suppose this is a ramped-up version of my usual reaction to Star Trek series (soothing and exasperating).

I also made an attempt at reading a library book that I pretty promptly gave up on. It seemed promising (fluffy academic mystery), but the plot was all cliches, and while that’s fine if they’re handled with panache and wit, they were not. I particularly object to the trope in which the heroine is reunited with The Boy Who Broke Her Heart When She Was Sixteen, whom she has Never Gotten Over. Unless there is something very wrong with you psychologically, by the time you are in your 40s and have been married, you have recovered from your teenaged heartbreak and know something about how adult relationships work. Your reaction to seeing That Boy again might be “Huh, what did I see in him?” or “Well, now that we’re both grown up this might be worth re-considering,” but I cannot believe you have been carrying a torch for 30 years. Also nearly everything the heroine wore or decorated with had lace on it, so I both wondered what was up with the lace fetish and felt that she was really not my sort of person. I used to find it hard to give up on books once I started but no longer: Life’s Too Short is a useful motto in all sorts of situations.

Day two is starting with feeling jet-lagged, thanks to having trouble going to sleep last night combined with springing forward. I plan more baby steps, and a vigorous gym workout. Day three is going to start early, with work being done on the latest house maintenance problem, so I need either to sleep tonight or be prepared to deal with tomorrow on insufficient rest and lots of tea.

Adventures in sleep

Not dreams. The vagaries of sleep schedules.

Sir John can fall asleep within minutes of lying down. Me, not so much. I know all about sleep hygiene. Sometimes it is hard to put those principles into practice, because I often am required to teach night classes, with a long drive home at the end of them, and then (due to my own inner nineteenth-century schoolboy and a fetish for dead languages) I have to be up and on the road again about 33 hours later. This semester I have no night class, so I’ve actually been able to be somewhat consistent about bedtime.

Tuesday I went to bed at 9:30. I was in bed for eight hours, and asleep for quite a bit of it. When I left campus around 2:00, I hoped to put in a couple more hours of work at home: preferably research, but I figured if I wasn’t up to it, I could usefully design more undergrad assignments or read.

I arrived at home with a raging headache. Made tea, took tylenol, sat in a dim room for an hour or so waiting to feel better. When I realized that not only could I not bear to look at a screen, reading on paper also felt awful, I went to bed. At 5:30. I didn’t fall asleep right away, because my feet were cold, but it was pleasant to lie in a dark room with my eyes closed, and eventually I did sleep. The last thing I remember is smelling Sir John’s dinner and thinking I ought to get up and eat something.

At 11:30, I woke up, and went down to get dinner. My beloved vampire was about to have an early night, so although I expected to hang out with him for a bit in his prime time, instead I ate by myself and read for awhile. I went back to bed at 1:30. Again, I did not fall asleep right away, but finally Morpheus came for me. I woke up at 7:30.

The whole thing was interesting. I believe in sleeping when you feel sleepy, because otherwise you’re training yourself not to allow give in to sleep (this contradicts the standard advice about a fixed sleep schedule). Some of the time last night, I was not sleepy, but I sure didn’t feel like doing anything except lying down. I don’t usually have divided nights like that, but I think I wouldn’t mind doing it on a regular basis if I could have a work/social schedule that allowed for it. I used to have a colleague who taught 8:00 a.m. classes and was done with all her campus obligations by noon. She went home and napped for 2-3 hours till her children came home from school, then did mom-things till their bedtime, did prof-things again till around midnight, and slept another 4-5 hours till time to get up and teach. I’m not sure if she had to teach night classes; maybe in those days it wasn’t a requirement. I’ve always wondered if her schedule would suit me, because I like being up at dawn, and I also like the quiet hours in the evening when other people are sleeping or at least not e-mailing you. My colleague’s hey-day was before e-mail, so her evenings would have been undisturbed even by nocturnal students (imagine).