“Productivity advice seems to always think in terms of the day, the week, the year, or five years, never the season, the sun, and the shadow.”
Week 01: Gently Return
The first work week of the new year has begun, but I am not beginning with it. I’m taking my time and using today to prepare instead. I’m meal prepping, gathering my notebooks, and laying down some light goals. I’m aiming for a gentle return to a regular schedule, but this time I hope to have a little more focus.
I’ve been thinking about the way the mind wanders during meditation. When you are supposed to focus on your breath but, inevitably, you start thinking about other things. You plan for the day ahead or replay mistakes from the day that passed. You daydream and ride rails of wonder all over the place!
It can be frustrating, but the key is knowing that this is normal, that this is okay. The hard part is noticing it. Once you do, you just gently return your awareness back to your breath. This is a lesson I want to bring into the new year, into every part of my life. I’m aware of my wandering. Now it’s time to find where I left off and start from there again.
Before I do, I want to take a moment to reflect on the wonderful two weeks I had away from work. I’m grateful for the opportunity to take time out for my loved ones, for myself, and for the rest and reset I so desperately needed. I’m ready to return, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m already looking forward to my next long break away again. Until then, those scant hours between shifts will have to do.
With that being said, this week I will:
Meditate. I had started the year with the intention of completing a 365-day course on Headspace, but I missed a few days over the summer and was never able to get back to it. I felt guilty. I felt like I’d failed. I want to begin again with the new year and this time I won’t let the loss of a streak get me down. This year I will practice with zero.
Get back to eating right. A little indulgence over the holidays is understandable, but I don’t want to let the habit follow me into the new year.
Make time for my notebooks. My only resolution for the coming year is to write more things down, and that takes making time to sit quietly, reflect, and write. I don’t need a lot of time. Lunch hours, while watching show episodes, and even just half an hour before bed is more than enough to make sure nothing slips away.
Finish reading The Mirror of My Heart. I’m just 62 short pages shy of the end and it’d be such a confidence boost to get my first book of the year marked off in the first week. Bonus: Finish Dune Messiah. I’m only 83 pages short of its end and eager to start book three: Children of Dune!
Make a plan for next week. I have a class of new employees scheduled to start training and my best coworker is out with an injury. That means I’m on my own not only to teach but to drive to each location. I’ve made a lot of progress in overcoming my driving anxiety, but I’ve still got a long way to go. A solid plan will take me half the distance.
Stay safe. Covid-19 numbers are on the rise and though I’ve had my booster and I am diligent about wearing a mask, I want to be extra careful in the coming weeks. Already I’ve heard we will be taking extra precautions in the workplace and I know it’s imperative that I do my part by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and keeping my hands and high touch surfaces clean.
This week I will not let politics or pandemics get me down. I will stay informed, of course, but I will not practice doomscrolling or allow rolling news reports to play.
There is bad news everywhere these days and nothing much we can do beyond what we already are. Instead of listening so much, find something to say. If you have nothing to say, try taking action. If you feel down or overwhelmed reach out and if you feel alone, help someone in need. The most important good you can do is for the people around you and the community you are in.
The world is too big for any one human. It’s enough just to take responsibility for your share alone.
Goals // Week 40: The Hard Thing
It’s been a while since I’ve last set down some intentions for myself and I have missed the motivation and the chance for accountability. More than that, I have always enjoyed keeping track of the way my goals shift and the way the things I want from myself change.
These past weeks have been hard on me, but my hope is that this will be the one in which the demands start to wane and the to-do list shortens. The calendar is already lighter than this time last week and I feel calm, focused, and strong.
I’ve been trying more than anything to be disciplined. To do the hard thing. To say no to myself, and to keep in mind what I want in the future and not what I want right now. Cravings are hard to curb and executive function is hard to muster in the moment, but I have been practicing and I’m getting better and better all the time.
With that being said, this week I will:
Keep reading. There are no number of pages to get through or a time limit I must meet. I just need to remember to read whenever I can, a little every day. My lunch hour is the perfect time to get a few paragraphs in, or a bit before bed—if I can manage to turn the TV off in time.
Reduce snacking. I’ve done a great job altering my meals to be more nutrient-dense, but snacking continues to be a problem. Intense cravings come on in the afternoon and I find myself reaching for cookies and candies with no will to resist. The key is to remove the temptation.
Wake up on time. Move your alarm across the room. Avoid hitting snooze. Turn on the lights. Drink some water. Get out of the bedroom! Do whatever it takes to give yourself enough time to adjust to the day to take each task one at a time. The extra time will make all the difference. Bonus: Use the extra time to meditate.
Spend an hour in the evening all on your own. Between the long work hours and the demands at home, there just never seems to be enough time for all the things I enjoy doing. My journals are neglected. I’m behind in my reading, and it’s been over a year since I’ve made anything with my hands. A little time every night to call my own is sorely needed.
This week I will not let social media get the better of me. It’s easy to lose track of time scrolling through timelines and laughing at silly videos but before you know it the sun has gone down and you’ve done nothing that makes you feel any good. You end the day filled with guilt and self-loathing. How could you be so weak? How could you give up so much of your time and attention?
I’m tired of the waste. I’m tired of being the product. I’m tired of algorithms and ads, controversy, and click-bait. My intention is not that there should be no joy, no laughter, no fun, but I want to find joy in the things that interest me, in the things I seek out, not the things that are fed to me. Not the things that are sold to me.
Goals // Week 27: Again, and Again, and Again
This week is the second of the new school year and the work is ramping up again. We’ve recovered from the holiday and we’re looking out through the end of the season and the end of the year. We’re heading to the finish line and whether we’re ahead or hopelessly behind the new year and the new beginning are closer than we imagine.
So, I’m letting go of the last six months and taking the next day by day, hour by hour even. The result is lighter weight and a way forward. There’s no reason why significant progress can’t still be made. I only have to swallow my pride and forget my failure. I only have to love myself enough to keep trying again, and again, and again.
With that being said, this week I will:
Wake up with the alarm. I miss out on at least 30 minutes to two hours a day, or about 8 hours a week of me time by hitting snooze or sleeping through my alarm. That is time to think, to process, to plan. That is time to read, or write, or learn something new. Hitting snooze never results in more rest but it does deprive me of time to achieve my most important goals.
100 squats every day and a walk around the neighborhood every evening. I’m on a mission to regain muscle tone lost to both chronic fatigue and simple laziness. Beware, overdoing it only ever leads to pain, resistance, fear, and failure. Take it slow and spread the squats throughout the day and keep the walk to under 30 minutes.
Take one direct step toward your July writing goals every day. Most days that means doing one thing, showing up, and typing for as long as you can, but there will be other days that call for input more than output. This means reading, listening, and experiencing mindfully and with a clear purpose. This means knowing not just what you are doing, but why.
Take no direct steps at all. Just as muscles need rest between workouts in order to grow, the mind needs rest too. There is not just input and output, there also needs to be periods of pause where the subconscious does its work, connecting concepts and generating ideas all without your knowledge. Take no steps and watch the path clear on its own.
Limit snacking. It’s been a long road to remission from ulcerative colitis and hard work to heal the gut and get back to some semblance of normalcy. It feels good to eat again, too good, and the numbers on the scale, and my increasingly ill-fitting clothes are reflecting that. Time to rebuild a mindful eating habit and I’ve got to start by limiting the between-meal snacks.
This week I will not say yes when I mean to say no. I will give myself time to think before answering and I will remember both that the lack of planning on another person’s part does not constitute an emergency on mine and that doing for others is not the only way for me to show love.
I will not overextend myself or allow my boundaries to be disregarded. I ask so little of others, but what I do ask must become non-negotiable. My well-being is not up for debate nor is it subject to compromise. Other people seem to forget that I am a person like them with feelings and needs in return. I think it’s time I start reminding them that love and connection both depend on boundaries, therefore, enforcing them is doing the right thing for me, and for them.
Goals // Week 21: Celebrate this Ending
This week marks the end of what certainly feels like the longest school year I’ve worked in all the 15 years since I first joined the district. So much has changed. We’ve had major staff and policy shifts. I’ve been working and readjusting to a new role. The kids have gone and come back, gone and come back. They’ve missed major milestones and grown through an incredibly volatile and terrifying time.
We all have.
But now the school year is just nearly over and there is a solid sense of normalcy on the horizon as we shift to summer our summer schedules and some of us start thinking about a little sun and fun.
This week I want to enjoy myself a little more and I’m setting goals that to reflect that. I still have a lot to get through before the weekend is here, but I’m going to be mindful, grateful, and optimistic. I’m going to celebrate this ending that was so hard won and much-anticipated beginning of new schedules, projects, and expectations. I’m celebrating change and coming to it with open and welcoming arms.
With that being said, this week I will:
Bring my longboard out from storage and start learning to ride it. It’s been a couple years since I got it and I’ve been too scared—and too embarrassed—to actually get on the thing. I don’t want to fall. I don’t want to look silly, but you have to be uncomfortable before you can be comfortable. You have to fall a few times in order to learn.
Finish Professor Robert Sapolsky lectures on Human Behavioral Biology. Finally, something I can be proud to binge watch! I’ve been watching these for a few weeks now but they are sometimes hard to follow and if you aren’t giving 100% of your attention, you can miss important concepts. Some of them I’ve had to watch twice, but it is getting easier to grasp and setting the playback speed to 1.5x might just get me there.
Pick up reading The Stand again. I am still struggling to meet my daily reading goal and though alarms have helped, I just can’t seem to relax into reading. The problem might be the material. I’ve been focusing a lot on non-fiction lately and it may be that I’m just a little burned out. My mind needs something exciting, something fanciful, something far removed from this world, somewhere to escape.
Spend evening with ass in chair and a list of pieces I would like to write. I have a few drafts very close to publishing and a few that are little more than a 6:00 AM streams of conciousness. My wife is our house witting for a few days and, since i have no one to talk to and all our shows have to be watched with both parties present, I’m looking at hours every evening in need of filling.
Tackle a house project, give something away, and take care of yourself. I know this is a vague one, but I know what it means and what it will take. I have something I want to do for my wife. Something I want to do for someone in need. And, because stress levels have been running high, there are things I need to do for myself. Being kind is the key.
Laugh. I have been feeling very introverted and irritable. I’ve been uptight, tense, and judgemental. I’ve not been very much fun at all. My amazing friends have been understanding, and have given me space when the signs have been clear I need it but I fear I am pushing them too far. Laughter is good for the body and mind. Its revitalizing and relaxing. It’s medicine.
This week I will not let distraction get the best of me. I’ve noticed that, when I am alone or feeling bored, stressed, or tired—states I find myself in much more frequently these days—it’s too easy to get lost in my social media timelines. It’s too easy to sit down on the couch, pull out my phone, and open Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. It’s too easy to let hours go by unnoticed, un-experienced. Days that quickly add up to days and, over time, whole swaths of your life you let slip away.
Too often, we are indifferent to the loss. Too often, we welcoming that slipping.
Sometimes you just want to escape, but those platforms and post, they aren’t real life. They feel nothing like living. If you must, there are other ways, more fulfilling ways to escape. Every time you want to open Twitter, open a book, open Coursera, open a new document and write something. Hell, open a door and step outside entirely instead.
Do whatever you want as long as you are doing the choosing and not the app developers and their algorithms. Do not let them use your impulses and instincts against you. They will only twist them to keep you hooked, to keep you scrolling, to keep you generating ad revenue, but at what cost to you? Pay attention to what you pay attention to.
Goals // Week 20: Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes
This week is the beginning of the end of the school year for many grades and that means a winding down of one aspect of my job, and a ramping up of another. For me that means it’s time to do all the employee training that we didn’t have time for during the year and even more so now that we have to make up for what was missed during the Covid quarantine months.
This week I’ll have to focus a lot more mental energy on my day job than I have in the past weeks we consider our “down time” of the year. I’m actually looking forward to it. It turns out that having too little to do for so long can be just as nerve-wracking as having too much. I’m ready for a change of pace. I’m ready to feel useful, knowledgeable, and accomplished again.
With the reallocated metal space comes the need to be more increasingly mindful of how I spend my free time. I’ve learned over the years that one of the way to stave off burnout during times of increased workload or stress is to make sure you do not waste what little free time you have. Make sure you mark it. Make sure you fill it with what truly soothes the soul.
With that being said, this week I will:
Finish editing my review of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and my piece for World IBD Day. Enough words have been written now. Adding more will add nothing. Instead, focus on subtracting, rearranging, and substituting. Take this unorganized, unclear, and, probably, uninteresting mess and mold a readable post from both. Do not let perfect be the enemy of done.
Read for 30 minutes every night before bedtime. I failed again to make this goal happen even one day out of last week, but in failing I have learned a lesson. I realized if nothing changes then nothing changes and if I expect this week will be a success, I can’t keep doing what led to failure before. So, I have a “reading time” alarm and a routine on my phone that turns on “do not disturb” and turns of my wi-fi and mobile data to keep me off of social media.
Heed my meditation schedule and food restrictions. I’ve been weaning off of another round of steroids and as I come to the end of the taper my appetite and cravings have gotten the better of me. For someone with an inflammatory bowel disease this is like playing with fire. This week I will take better care of myself and remember that while the schedules and restrictions aren’t much fun, they are what keeps me happy, healthy, and productive.
Take a daily walk. Though sunshine has been very spotty lately the temperatures are rising and, most days, there is some time to get out and at least around the block. For the days when the clouds and cold, or rain and thunder roll in, there is the treadmill. There is no reason to continue to be sedentary and with the increased appetite and the additions snacks and calories coming in I have to find a way to increase my physical activity too.
Move my scheduled hour of writing from after work to after dinner. It turns out there are a lot of things I need to do after work and almost none of them are related to writing. Instead of fighting myself every day, I’ve decided to simply ask what works better? It turns out, after the day has already been lived, after the to-do list is done and you’ve done had your fill of people, that is the best time of day to do your thinking in and I’ve always done my best thinking when I write.
This week I will not get too far ahead of myself. I will not let anxiety over the coming weeks workload push me to take on more than I can handle or avoid altogether what terrifies me. The key is to know how much each day can hold and fill every one of them just to the brim. No more, no less. There is always more time we wish we had and more we wish we could accomplish, but some must always be left for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Goals // Week 19: Time Without Work, Without Worry
This week I’m absolutely taking it easy. Between my birthday celebrations, Mother’s Day, upcoming weddings, and the world opening up in general, it suddenly it feels like there isn’t enough time to do all the things I have to do let alone anything I want to do or even to do nothing at all! I’m in desperate need of resting both my body and my mind, of finding time to be present, and of silence and solitude.
So, I’m keeping the goals light this week. The outside world is putting on the pressure and rather than pile on, I think it best to be kind to myself and provide some times of relief and release. There needs to be time for things I enjoy: writing of course, but other things too like podcasts, music, TV, games, walking outside, sleeping, laughing, and reading. Time spent not just without work but without worry too.
This week I will:
Finish writing my review of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and draft a piece for World IBD Day next week. I have the words written but the anxiety and resulting avoidance over editing and ending any piece of writing, no matter how trivial, continues to plague my existence. The only way through it is through it.
Read for 30 minutes every night before bedtime. Utterly failed at this goal last week, but I’m trying again. I’m already so behind in my reading goals for the year and every day the gap between where I should be and where I am grows. I’m trying not to be so hard on myself, but I can’t waste the days this way. If the trend continues, social media sacrifices will have to be made!
Make one or two black out poems. I’ve missed pouring over newspaper and magazine articles remixing the words of writers better than me into Instagram poetry. The results aren’t technically perfect, nor are the sentiments profound, but the work forces the mind out of its course and feeds creativity. More than that, it’s just plain fun!
Keep my headphones close. I’ve missed the magical way music can transform my mood into anything I want or need. Music can bring you up, bring you down, transport you far away, or bring you back to the present. When you are stuck behind a desk all day, wishing you were anywhere but here, music is the only way to travel.
Spend some time behind the wheel. For those new to the blog and unaware, I suffer from pretty severe driving anxiety. I rarely drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary, but I’m ready for more flexibility and independence in my life, and that means I have to face my fear and start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s been far too long and I am far too late, but it’s better than never. I can do this!
This week I will not be so hard on myself. It’s been hard not to compare my place or progress with others. Everyone seems so capable and everything I do takes so much effort and half the time results in failure or disappointment. I know this is a problem of perspective, and I know that there are so many things I can do better than most. It’s just most days and in most situations, my soft skills seem of so little value.
This week I will work on finding my own way rather than going the way of others. I cannot do what others do and expect the same results others get. I am me, and I can only be me, and using my unique set of skills I can pick a path that feels a better fit, that feels a better journey, than struggling along someone else’s rocky way.
Breathe Into the Thing
Goals // Week 18: Simply Flowing
This week marks the beginning of a new month and what I hope will finally be the end of wintery cold and clouds. I’m looking forward to the sun, Spring finally springing, and to the world opening up, to life returning everywhere.
It isn’t a particularly busy time at work right now. Instead, it’s a time of preparing. The school year will end in just a few short weeks and though the vast majority of the kids will be enjoying their summer break, there is still work to be done as we ready for the next year to begin. There is summer school, trainings, conferences, renovations and purchases to make, and a plethora of policy changes to implement.
This week I’m dividing my time. I’m preparing at work and I’m pulling away for my own passions too. I have returned to writing and I don’t want to lose my motivation or momentum by either looking away or looking too closely. This week I’m simply flowing.
This week I will:
Continue meditating. I let the practice go some months ago, and the failure hit me so hard I haven’t been able to return until last week. It hasn’t been easy to get return to either. I’m fidgety and mind wanders far too easily, but I’m learning not to resist them but to let them come and then let them go. A much-needed lesson in these trying times.
Set aside one hour a day of writing. Ideally, this will be the first hour I am home directly after work. No one is expecting anything from me during that time, and I am generally alone. I will sometimes use that hour for a quick nap or to take care of neglected house chores, but that is only a way of procrastinating that I think will result in less guilt. It doesn’t.
Use all other free time for doing the “fun” parts of blogging. Reading, commenting, image searching, idea generation, and design are all things I tend to do instead of actually tying words onto the screen. The point of the scheduled hour is two-fold, to remember when to write and to be able to give myself permission not to write.
Read for 30 minutes every day. The next TBR to tackle is Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. It’s a great book and the difficulty I face trying to finish it is through no fault of the author. I simply struggle to concentrate while reading from a screen, but like all things I expect I only need more practice. This week’s lunch hours are allocated for the work.
Finish one blog post this week. I have many drafts started and plenty of notes and free writing done, but nothing edited and nothing ended, which is always the hardest part for me. This week I’m going to stick to my writing schedule and tackle the drafts one by one. Hopefully next week I can hope for two blog posts! Bonus: Wrap up one newsletter draft as well.
This week I will not put too much pressure on myself. Things have been enjoyable lately and I don’t want to lose that feeling. I want to write, and read, and learn, and connect, but I don’t want it to be work and I don’t want it to be hard. I want these goals to be a source of joy and peace, not a reason to have to negotiate or berate myself.
What doesn’t feel good or right will go, and what works will go on working for me as long as it will. Change is not only welcome, it is sought, and I’ve decided too that it shouldn’t hurt. It just shouldn’t be this hard. The rest of life already is. What you give and ask of yourself should be the balance.
Photo by Tom Robertson on Unsplash
Stop measuring days by degree of productivity, and start experiencing them by degree of presence.”
— Alan Watts (swissmiss)