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!)

Buzz-Lightyear-Free-Falling-Nooooo-Reaction-Gif-In-Toy-Story-2

 

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.

Breadline Britain

labour food banks

I came home last night to a letter from my MP.

On Monday, following the publication of the Below the Breadline report by Oxfam, the Trussell Trust and Church Action Against Poverty, I’d emailed him asking him to keep up pressure on the government to deal with food poverty. Here’s his (speedy as always) reply:

Dear Grace,

Thank-you for your letter dated 9th June.

I agree with you completely about how deplorable and dreadful it is that people should be living in such poverty in this country that they are unable to feed themselves and their families and have to rely on food banks. This Liberal Democrat/Conservative Government should feel very guilty at this harmful effect of their policies.

 

labour food banks

 

This is an issue on which I am extremely active. As recently as last Saturday I took part in a campaign in our constituency to highlight the shame of food banks.

Not long ago in Parliament I made a speech on this and attach a copy of it. (Link here.)

I assure you that I shall continue to be very active.

You can read the report here and join Labour’s campaign to end the scandal of food poverty here.

Day 18 of 100: download f.lux

viking

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

viking

 

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.

gsd

 

Day 17 of 100: limit your exposure to blue light before bed

wpid-20140611_220757.jpg

Progress today: overslept; wrote a blog post which I’ve scheduled for tomorrow lunchtime; did some crunches.

This week is Sleep Week, in which I use all the sleep-themed tips I can find in A Year of Productivity’s ‘100 time, energy and attention hacks’, in the hope that more sensible sleeping will make for more effective getting up.

The first of such tips was set your thermostat to 65ºF (18.5ºC) overnight. “Think of your bedroom as a cave,” says AYOP, “cool, dark, and quiet.” Thermostat schmermostat. My bedroom temperature is regulated by windows or by blankets. I have been sleeping with my window open this week, but that has rather put paid to the quietness of my cave.

Next: stop drinking caffeine four to six hours before you sleep, and also say no to that nightcap. No tea or wine before bed?

wpid-20140611_220757.jpg
I’m not actually drinking green tea. I’m just hiding behind the box.

And today’s tip is about cutting down blue light at bedtime – that is, the kind of light you get from smartphones, tablets and computers. Time to start putting the internet to sleep a little earlier.

hide-computer-big-bang-theory

Now, why would I bother trying to get better at sleeping? Apologies to any insomniacs reading this, but I excel at sleeping. I can sleep through anything, anywhere. I’ve slept through minor earthquakes. Yesterday I got in a solid half-hour nap on the bus. That last article I linked to refers to participants in a study reporting changes in ‘the quality of their sleep’ – is there a bad kind of sleep? I’ve never had the wrong kind of sleep, ever. My worst sleep was right on the money.

But one of the many things I’m not good at is getting into a routine. Everything I’ve ever read about writing, and everything I’ve ever read about running, says that the secret to doing either regularly is to fit them into your daily routine. What routine? I usually wake up at home, but at least once a week I’m in a friend’s spare room or on their sofa. I might have to leave the house at 7.30am or 8.15 or noon. I might go straight from work to three back-to-back meetings, or leave the office at 8.30 and come straight home to bed.

It’s never boring, but it’s not necessarily sustainable in every area of my life. So for the rest of the 100 Days, as far as possible, I’m going to follow a night-time routine, as recommended in the Sea Change Wake Early module. Here’s my new routine, step by step – we’ll see if it works/lasts.

1. Decide what time you want to get up. (Sea Change suggests waking up 10 minutes earlier than you usually do. Since I don’t have a ‘usual’, I’m aiming for 7.30am.)

2. Use sleepyti.me to work out what time to go to bed (11.45pm in my case)

3. Set an alarm to remind you to start getting ready for bed (I’ve set mine for 11.30.)

4. Switch off all ‘screens’ when the alarm goes off

5. Pack bag for tomorrow and put tomorrow’s clothes/running clothes somewhere obvious

6. Tidy up a bit

7. Clean teeth, get into bed, read for a bit if it’s not 11.45 yet

8.
little-mermaid-sleep

 

100 days of Productivity: catching up and forming new habits

mmm bed

As you might have gathered from my last post – or as you’ll know if you actually know me – I suffer from depression sometimes.

Like this, but less adorable.
Like this, but less furry and adorable.

 

It’s actually one of the reasons I started this 100 Days project: I want to make the most of the time when I’m able to be productive, to make up for the days when the only things I might be able to cross off my to-do list are ‘get dressed, go to work’ and maybe ‘force self to speak in meeting’. Exercising and writing both make me feel better, and forcing myself to get up early – or at least consistently – will, I hope, prevent the occasional weekend everyone-leave-me-alone-to-watch-The-Good-Wife-under-this-blanket-athons.

I had a couple of bad days last week which threw me off track a little, so I haven’t been keeping up with any of my 5 things (and I had to give $100 to Go F**king Do It – that hurt). But I hadn’t forgotten that last week was all about learning how to form new habits, and hopefully applying this to the most important habit I need to develop, namely Waking Up Early, Or At Least At A Reasonable Hour, Dammit Grace, I Mean Seriously.

I’ve been reading The Power of Habit, which goes into a lot of detail about habit formation (including how it applies to organisations and groups, as well as individuals, which is interesting stuff at a time when local government is well into behaviour change).

A ‘habit’ as described in Duhigg’s book is, at the most simple level, a routine you do in response to a cue to get a reward that you crave. So, if you smoke, it goes like this:

Cue: whatever usually prompts you to have a cigarette, like drinking coffee, being around other smokers, being awake, etc.

Routine: have a cigarette

Reward: a hit of delicious nicotine.

And you can’t get rid of habits, only replace them with a new routine: so if you’re trying to quit smoking, you have to react to the cue by slapping on a nicotine patch, or going for a run to reward yourself with delicious endorphins and smugness.

My current habit goes like this:

Cue: Alarm goes off

Routine: Get up, switch alarm off, get back into bed.

Reward: Mmm, bed. So snuggly and warm.

mmm bed

And I need to replace it with a habit that goes something like this:

Cue: Alarm goes off

Routine: Get up, stay up, do some things.

Reward: Something else nice. Like breakfast. Or a book. Or breakfast and a book!

 

So how do I do that? Back to AYOP for habit-forming tips:

Start very small. One of the reasons I’m struggling with 100 Days is that I’m trying to change a lot of things at once. It would be much more effective to start with waking up early, focus on that, and then work on more habits over time. (But I’ve started this whole ‘5 things every day’ now, so YOLO.)

Shrink how long you’ll do something until you no longer feel resistance to it. The example used on AYOP is meditation, but over on Sea Change it’s applied to early rising:

“Change your sleep patterns very slowly, and the habit will be much better. Wake just 10 minutes earlier at first, then another 10 minutes. You’ll adjust each time you make a small change, and then eventually the small changes will add up to big ones.”

Make bad habits more expensive. I have GFDI for that.

Anticipate obstacles to new habits. I think this is similar to an earlier tip about rehearsing how you’re going to resist temptation. Sea Change also has a webinar on this, which I plan to watch while I’m washing up tomorrow.

Reward yourself. It’s an essential part of the habit loop. When it comes to waking up early, Sea Change suggests making the reward itself what you wake up for:

“Have something important to do in the morning. Something you’re looking forward to. Something that will make a great use of the 10 minutes of quiet morning time you’re going to have. I like to write. If you know what you’re going to do the night before, then when you wake up, you can move into doing it.”

This week I’m going to keep working on waking up early, with more help from Sea Change and from AYOP tips that are themed around sleep. More posts to follow!