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Weariness, Planning, Hair, & Granola Culture

I think it’s safe to say we’re all tired of the pandemic. I’ve heard from more than one person lately that they’re just tired of it all, tired of thinking about it, tired of the mask thing, tired of staying away from people. They’re ready to throw in the towel and go back to just living life normally, letting whatever happens, happen.

We humans do tend to have a painfully short attention span, unfortunately.

I’m tired of thinking about it too, and tired of masks, and constantly analyzing whether my sneezing fit is caused by smoke and fall allergens, or if it’s the dreaded Covid monster. I’m not really tired of staying away from people, but I am tired of having to think before going to dinner, or planning a night at the movies three weeks in the future – will our infected rates be going down or up by then?

But, I’m not going to stop taking precautions just yet. Yes, we have some very promising treatments, and the mortality rate has gone down quite a bit. We are less likely to die from it now than we were a few months ago, just because doctors and scientists are more informed, and have several really good treatment options they can employ right away.

Thing is, they still don’t know what causes some people to react worse than others to the virus, and the long-term effects are still a possibility for anyone. And frankly, I’d rather not put my body through that if I don’t have to. So as tired as I am of all of it, I’ll keep masking up inside and around large groups of people. And I’ll keep evaluating case loads and numbers before I decide whether or not to do something. Because it seems like the responsible thing to do, both to avoid getting sick, and to avoid giving it to someone else who may be affected badly by it.

If you think that’s “living in fear”, well, sure it is, to a point. I’m allowing fear to make me cautious. And in this case, I’m okay with that, because the potential threat is still largely unknown. That’s what our innate fear response is for – to keep us safe. I’m merely listening to mine, because it seems logical/practical to do so.

Last week I posted about focus and planning, and I’m happy to report that on that front, really good progress was made. Every night, I took 15 minutes and made to-do lists for work and home, and then I scheduled all the things I needed to get done (and could reasonably expect to do) for the next day. Not only did that make my entire day a lot easier and less stressful, I was far, far more productive, even with a million different interruptions. It felt good, and I’m definitely going to keep that up. It was so…refreshing to be able to just know what I wanted to work on when, and be able to kind of just put the rest of it out of my mind because I *knew* it was already scheduled, and that I’d left plenty of time to work on it, so it would get done and I didn’t need to stress about anything.

I did, however, fail to do any planning whatsoever for the weekend, and…that kind of hosed me up as far as productivity goes. I’ll be more mindful of that for next week, and actually schedule those planning times on my to-do list so that maybe I can have a little more control over my weekend as well.

As for my hair-growth project…it’s kind of stressing me out. It’s at the point now where it’s just going to be difficult to manage for the next few months, and my confidence is waning. I’m having trouble with the idea that it might affect the way I’m treated, both at work and in other social situations. I’m excited at the prospect of having more versatility again, but there’s this voice in the back of my head that’s afraid to just ignore what people obviously respond well to (my short hair, in this case), just because I want something different.

I just remember how things changed for the better when I cut it off, and I’m afraid all that will revert as my hair gets longer (especially in this stupid grow-out stage when it’s just going to be unruly).

We’ll see, I guess. I can always chop it back off, if I find that I just need that coiffed-pixie look again. When I cut it off before, it was mainly for other people. Now I’m growing it out for me, but I’m keenly aware of the perks that come with keeping it short. It’s…difficult to do what I want when I know that the option that serves me better both socially and in the workplace is something different.

I guess it’s like my tattoos all over again, in a way. And I maybe just need to keep reminding myself that once it gets past my shoulders, I can just wear my hair up whenever I need that “short-hair” boost, and then be free to leave it down for myself evenings and weekends.

Am I superficial for spending so much brain power on my hair? Sure, I guess. But honestly? I’d rather worry about that right now than all the other more serious things I could be anxious about.

For my next personal change of 2020 – I plan on buying some flannel shirts, and re-embracing the granola culture I spent my college years in. Not because I want to go back to college (definitely not), but because it’s comfortable, and it feels more like “me”.

I can’t decide if I’m “devolving” or “evolving” given that I’m basically going back to who I was in my 20’s. I guess the real question is, do I care? The answer right now is, not enough to stop. We’ll see what happens as the months go on.

Rest assured that whatever happens, I will never wear socks with my Birkenstocks. And I don’t even own crocs. I do still have *some* standards.


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Finding Focus

I’m sitting here on my ottoman, a whole list of things I want to get done, not doing any of them (at least not until I started writing this blog post), and wondering why I spend so much time thinking about what I want/need to get done as opposed to actually *doing* it. I do this everywhere…though I am somewhat more focused at work when I can be (which isn’t as much as I’d like, because…other people).

That said, even here at home, by myself (well, just me and the dogs), I am…unsettled. Unfocused. I know what I want/need to do, but I can’t decide what to do first, or for how long, or what to do when I get interrupted, or…well, you get the picture.

Part of the problem is that I’m interrupted so often (even here at home), that I have trouble getting into anything because it seems futile. I know that happens a *lot* at work, and here at home with the dogs too. I’ve gotten so used to that, and it’s so disruptive to being “in the zone” with anything that I often just don’t even try. I pick at things, piecemeal, afraid to get too deep since an interruption is inevitably just around the corner instead of really focusing. It’s far less efficient and less satisfying than being able to actually put my head down and work steady for a good couple hours on the same project, but it’s often all I can do to actually make progress on anything.

Even just now, writing this post, I had to get up to let the dog in, but when I sat back down, I checked my email before coming back to this. Is there anything else that needs my attention? Do I need to shift focus again? Is it okay to try to get back in the zone for another twenty minutes or so?

I’ve trained my brain to be like this, to just work shallowly around all the interruptions throughout my day, and I get stuff done, but not nearly as efficiently or satisfyingly as I could if I were able to actually focus, even for just a full hour at a time.

Thing is, I probably could, it’s just that I hate being pulled out of the focus zone so much, and it’s happened so often, that the fear (or certainty) of it happening again keeps me from allowing myself to really delve into anything at all. And I’ve trained myself to give into that fear, unfortunately. Which means to “fix” it, there are a couple of things I really need to work on.

The first is planning. I’ve gotten lazy about both keeping track of projects and scheduling the smaller parts of the whole. The only way to be able to focus on anything is to first know what it is I wanted to focus on in the first place. I have a ton of projects to keep track of for work, and also a bunch for both the house and my writing. Today I wasted a ton of time just trying to decide whether to clean first, or write this blog post, or do some editing, or rearrange furniture…and that’s only four different things! If I had a running list of to-dos, and then either late last night or first thing this morning, I looked at that list and my day and actually scheduled when I wanted to do what, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time. I would have had a plan to follow, and even if I was interrupted or thrown off the schedule, I still would have been able to pick it back up from the last undone thing, and could have continued from there.

I have the tools to do this. I have a main calendar program and a list program that is easily used for automated reminders and scheduling. I also have a digital paper tablet that I can hand-write on (which often works best for me when making initial lists before they get scheduled into the automated one). The only thing I don’t have? A routine habit for maintaining the system.

The second thing I need will arguably be more difficult, and that is to somehow get over the fear of being interrupted, and learn to get into the “zone” of focused work more quickly so that even when I am interrupted, I don’t lose so much time. Part of that is knowing what I need to do when, but the other part is just retraining my brain so that when the interruption has been dealt with, I just check my list, figure out what I’m supposed to be working on next, and then just slide right back into it. That is a discipline thing, and it’s going to mostly involve using my to-do list to “trigger” my brain into focus-mode. It’s going to involve a lot of willpower.

I’ve been employing that throughout writing this post. Whenever I feel myself losing focus, I close my eyes briefly, remind myself that I’m writing a blog post, and then continue. I think what I’m going to do after I’ve finished this is to rearrange the screens on my cell phone so that my to-do list is the only thing on my home screen. That way, after any interruption throughout the day, I can unlock my phone, my to-do list will be right there, and at the top will be whatever is scheduled for the day and not yet checked off.

I think doing these two things – maintaining a to-do list/calendar and using it to trigger/ground my focus after every interruption, I can alieviate at least a little stress from my life, and hopefully spend more time actually focused on tasks rather than wondering what I should work on next or picking at things piecemeal throughout the day.

Next up on today’s impromptu to-do list: Update the actual to-do list, and schedule a time (either late night or early morning) to pick the priority items for any given day.

This sort of thing is why I should take vacation days more often. I have a hard time stepping back, looking at what’s causing me stress, and figuring out how to fix it when I don’t have time and space to just be quiet and think. Evaluation/re-evaluation days are important.


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No Good Deed…

…goes unpunished. That’s how the saying goes, right? Apparently it applies to “deeds done for myself” too, given the events of last week.

I carried out my plan to shift my schedules and get 6 hours of sleep every night. I moved my bedtime up half an hour, and decided to get up half an hour later on Tuesdays, and half an hour earlier Mon/Weds/Thurs/Fri, which means bedtime at midnight (sleep time – reading 20 min before), and up at 6am for six full hours of sleep every night.

Tuesday morning, I felt good after those six hours of sleep, and…the staff meeting was cancelled. It was still good I had the extra sleep though, because the workday was *brutal*. Six hours Tues/Weds night had me going through my routines like a pro, getting stuff accomplished that I’d been wanting to finish for weeks, and finding that balance I’d been so desperately looking for in the evenings between play and work. It was awesome. I was feeling really good about things.

And then Thursday night, I was hit with one of the most painful sore throats I’ve had in a very long time – like shards of glass every time I needed to swallow. It was so painful I couldn’t sleep Thursday night and finally got up around 3:30am to take some ibuprofen, leaving me with about 2.5 hours of sleep (and a gnarly sore throat) for Friday.

Needless to say, I was doing pretty well just making it through the day on Friday, couldn’t dictate anything at lunch due to my throat, and was too tired to even contemplate editing, much less staying up for “business hours” late Friday night. I did my budgeting, made some questionable purchases (but did talk myself out of the most expensive “want”, so there’s that), and went to bed (which was definitely the best decision just then).

My throat is healing, slower than I’d like, but it’s definitely getting better. More to the point, my schedule change was working really well until my throat gave out. And I’m writing this during one of my scheduled “work” times, after walking the dog and then putting my games down after “game curfew” at nine. Which is to say, the new schedule is still working so far, and I’m making better decisions, sticking to schedules, and not just being lazy and squandering my evening time on things that are fun, but ultimately don’t get me closer to my goal.

This is a good direction to be moving in. I like it.

I’ll like it even more once my throat is back to normal.


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