Starting Small

Today was my first successful attempt at #writeandrun31.

I wrote! Not just this blogpost, but also I finished the first draft of a short story for this Emerald Street competition (deadline schmeadline, I’ve got three entire days yet), and worked on something for LabourList (watch this space, etc).

And I ran! Only a mile, ish. But actually the very tininess of the run reminded me of one of the useful things about projects like this, where you commit to do something every day: all I had to do today was write and run. As soon as I’d written anything, and run any distance, I’d done what I promised myself I would do.

It sounds counter-intuitive – writing one sentence a day, or running one mile a day, is not going to get you to the other side of a novel or a marathon any time soon. But it does keep the habit alive. If I’d committed to a proper training run today, at some point I would have checked my watch and gone ‘oops, is that the time, no run today’. But because all I had to do was run – and the kind of short run where I spend more time lacing up my trainers than actually out workin’ it was totally allowed – what do you know, I managed to fit it in. Looks like Zen Habits might be on to something when he tells you to Start Exceedingly Small.

Humbug Resolutions

I love New Year. I love the promise of something new and the chance to make plans and goals for the year. I love it even though I know that the best-laid plans o’ mice and mice-sized women gang aft agley: every year, as far back as I can remember, has brought me something I didn’t expect, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But 2015 is the year I turn thirty; the year I’m going to take my first ever trip to New York; and, much more importantly, it’s a general election year. Labour have a long way to go in the next four-and-a-bit months (!); I hope we make it, and I especially hope to see Jeff elected in Manchester Withington to get rid of Manchester’s last remaining Lib Dem.

Big years call for big plans, but I’m not making New Year’s Resolutions this year: instead, I’m all about habits. BlogHer’s National Blog Post Month calls on bloggers to post at least once a day, and the theme for January 2015 is Habit – we’ll see how well I stick to a daily blogging habit!

Similarly, I’ve belatedly spotted No Meat Athlete‘s #writeandrun31 – a challenge to do some running and some writing every day for 31 days. I’m a little late to this perfect combination – and don’t have my trainers to hand – so I’ll have to start that one tomorrow and take it into February.

Happy New Year to you all – barring an early motivation crash, I’ll be back tomorrow!

100 days of productivity: a catch up

This post is part of my 100 Days of (Productive) Summer series. For more about this project, check out the introductory post here.

I’ve been slightly cheating for the last few days, in that:

1. I’ve been scribbling down some ideas for this blog rather than blogging every day

2. On Friday and Sunday I did wake up at 7 and do some emails, but then went back to sleep for a while

& 3. I have been exercising, but in a ‘where I can fit it in’ sort of way – ie walking (with leaflets), crunches (before bed, since I’m lying down anyway) and weightlifting (my godson).

No wonder he looks nervous.
No wonder he looks nervous.

I still think it counts, but I need to up my game. Anyway, here’s my AYOP picks for the last few days:

Fri 4th July – Be mindful of how you spend your time. Constantly check and reflect on how you spend your time (and energy and attention) throughout the day. I often do this by setting an hourly alarm on my phone.

I was quite looking forward to this one, but…events. I ended up taking care of said godson for a few hours on Friday afternoon, and babysitting a four-month-old is not an activity that lends itself to constant reflection – or to having an alarm going off all the damn’ time. Nevertheless I think having a regular prompt that goes: “Yo Grace…are you actually concentrating on this email you’re writing/phone call you’re having/meeting you’re in, or are you thinking about Breaking Bad because I just said ‘Yo’?” would be a positive thing, and so I think I’m going to give that one a better try at a later date.

Sat 5th July – Exercise. In the words of AYOP, “In my opinion, working out is the single best way to get more energy. And it doesn’t just energize you; exercise also combats disease, brightens your mood, and helps you sleep better.”

Now, two years ago I would have been all:

NO to jogging

but now I’m all:

or I would be if I weighed two stone less. And had a stomach like that. And could afford to wear Sweaty Betty‘s beautiful beautiful running clothes from head to toe. And lived near a beach. What I mean is – I run, now. Not as often as I should, but I do, and sometimes I even enjoy it. I love the way I feel after a run (it’s a magical combination of endorphins and smugness), and I love the atmosphere at races, and I love watching myself get ever-so-slowly better at something I never thought I was capable of doing.

Jennifer Lawrence

I hate to risk incurring the wrath of JLaw, but running is amazing. If you’re wondering whether you should try it, the answer is almost certainly yes.

One of my favourite ways to run is as part of the South Manchester Parkrun – a well-organised, well-attended, friendly timed 5k every single Saturday at 9am in beautiful Platt Fields. I don’t go as often as I should – partly because I work most Saturdays now, and partly because, y’know, 9am – but I never regret it when I do. If you’re near Platt Fields you should definitely come along – if not, find a parkrun near you.

I’m also planning on running the Great Birmingham Run this year, which will be my third half-marathon. If you’re also running that one or think you might like to, get in touch and we shall compare training plans and blisters.

Finally, Sun 6th July – Let the air out of your tires every once in a while. AYOP’s Chris took this to extremes with a slob week, but he says a more rewarding way to relax is by ‘creating positive, productive outlets to relieve your stress.’ Appropriately enough, yesterday I discovered the Slap George Osborne game.


Ahh. I feel better already.


Day 25 of 100: quit multitasking

ron swanson

This post is part of my 100 Days of (Productive) Summer series. For more about this project, check out the introductory post here.

Got up at: 7

Exercise: crunches and planks and something called an alligator drag, which I enjoy as part of my lifelong commitment to looking ridiculous.

Writing: not yet, but I have an email and another blogpost that need writing before the end of today.

Today’s productivity tip, courtesy of AYOPstop multitasking.

Ugh. I love multitasking. I draft speeches while I’m running. I drink smoothies while I’m showering. (I also once answered the phone while showering, which turned out to be expensive.) I tweet while holding my godson. I watch The Good Wife while washing up.

tgw gif

I watch The Good Wife while ironing.


I watch The Good Wife while cooking.


I watch The Good Wife while on the phone to my mother.


Actually, I do lots of things while I’m on the phone – probably because I spend most of my life on the phone and I like having something to do with my hands.

In short, me quitting multitasking is like [someone topical] quitting [some thing that they do a lot, although for greater comic effect it should not be the thing that they are primarily meant to do].

So what advice does A Year of Productivity have for me? You can read the full article here, but this is how I see the highlights:

– if you can do it without hands, you can do it while washing up

– you can do pretty much anything while listening to music

– but switch off all the social media alerts that distract you

– keep meditating (ack) to help you learn to focus

– and remember that your brain really can only do one thing at once.

In other words:

ron swanson

Day 24 of 100: take more breaks

they were on a break

My renewed 100 Days commitment is going OK so far. I’ve been up at 7 every day this week so far; exercised today (ran a mile) and yesterday (crunches); wrote a speech yesterday and a diary entry of sorts today.

Yesterday, as you might recall from the last blog post, I also attended a meditation class, at the Manchester Buddhist Centre. It was…odd.

I tried guided meditation a few years ago, when I was learning about Buddhism for RS A-Level (bet Michael Gove has put paid to that sort of thing by now), and loved it – afterwards I felt calmer, happier and more creative. Yesterday was more of a mixed experience.

I loved being in the Buddhist Centre – I always do – with its beautiful Northern Quarter building, the gentle smell of incense, the abundance of hippies, the general vibe of finding the zen within the city centre. But once we started on the body mindfulness meditation I found myself having an uncontrollably negative reaction.

I think the problem, sadly, is that I don’t especially like being mindful of my body. For me, right now, it means being mindful of feeling fat, of having bad posture, of sniffling with hay-fever while everyone else in the room is trying to meditate, of never knowing what to do with my hands. With every new area of the body I tried to focus on, rather than a deepening calm, I felt a rising panic.

None of this is unique to me, of course, and the whole point of meditation is being able to accept these things so that you can live with them. So while it wasn’t what I’d call a positive experience on this occasion, I will try again.

Today, meanwhile, was about taking more breaks – and since I wasn’t at work today, I was able to embrace this particular tip wholeheartedly.  I’d recommend you read the article in that last link: there are some really useful tips in there, the best of which, I think, is that breaks are preventative. It reminds me of some advice I came across back when I was studying for my GCSEs – take breaks when revision is going well, not when you’re stuck. The ideas will keep flowing while you’re away from your desk, and when break time is over it’ll be easier to jump back in.

I’m off now for a sleep break – more productivity tomorrow. Night all…

Day 23 of 100: commencing De-Stress Week

bill bailey zen

I’m back! Sorry for the blogging hiatus but I got so caught up in the World Cup…ha, imagine if I was actually like that.

I’ve not been entirely unproductive for the last few weeks – in fact I feel like I’ve been busier than [insert some topical simile here. Probably something about either Coulson or Suarez] – but sadly, apart from daily exercise, I have let most of my #100days pledges slip. I kept hoping I could do some retrospective blogging and catch up, but at this point it seems easier to restart the 100 Days from roughly where I left off, and extend the project to finish at the end of September. (As well as giving myself time off for Latitude and Pride I’m now also including Labour Party Conference and my sister’s wedding.)

I’ve committed to GFDI again for another 10-day stretch, so if I don’t:

– get up at 7am

– exercise

– write something

– try an AYOP productivity tip

– and blog about it

…every day for the next ten days, I will lose £100. (GFDI lets you set prices in £s now. No longer can I hide behind the exchange rate!)



You might remember that I was tackling some of AYOP’s productivity tips in themed batches – the last time I blogged it was Sleep Week. So yesterday I was trying to find a theme for this week, when one jumped out at me.
I should explain first that I was in the worst kind of irritable mood yesterday. Everything was annoying me. Everyone at work, everyone on Facebook, everyone on the bus. My computer was too slow, my earphones were too tangled, my jeans were uncomfortable. I tried listening to an album of calming nature sounds on Spotify and the birds got on my nerves. It was one of those days – and with a lot of rushing around between work and meetings, I was worried it was going to be one of those weeks. But no longer! I hereby declare this:

De-stress week.

Yesterday’s tip was “Invest in stress relief strategies that actually work, like: exercising, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends and family, getting a massage, going for a nature walk, meditating, and spending time on a creative hobby. And today’s is meditate. Yes, really. So I shall be going to a meditation for beginners class in between a run and a Labour group meeting, and I shall update you all later on my progress toward enlightenment.

Day 18 of 100: download f.lux


I have to say, I did some great sleeping last night. Some of my best work.



After I posted last night’s blog a friend tweeted to suggest I download f.lux to help deal with the blue light from screens. So guess what today’s productivity tip is?

Computer screens, according to f.lux’s website, are designed to emulate sunlight – which is one reason why looking at screens at night can mess with you. So f.lux “makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.”

Seems worth a try – I’ve downloaded it and I’ll update you when it kicks in this evening!

I’m not in work until after eleven today, but I’ve got quite a to-do list, including finishing off a short story for a competition that closes tomorrow. See y’all later.