Life is change. Such a cliché.
Yet it is true. Everything is changing around us and if we try to stay the same, the world passes by. If you don’t want to move backwards, you have to keep reinventing yourself.
Even if I don’t want to constantly reorganize my day, as a parent I must. The constraints set by the world, by the obligations of my kids make me do so.
They are not the only reasons, but at least they have helped me to get into the habit of making changes. I’m not attached to how I do things.
The need for change
I wake up about an hour and a half before my family on a normal workday to progress with reading, with writing my blog, and my book projects. A few months ago, I started to feel that things progress very slowly. I spend the same amount of time on writing, but I don’t progress well - something that you hopefully haven’t realized by reading my articles.
For some reason, I find it more difficult to deal with context changes than before and it takes me more time to focus on something than before. Ideally, I should understand the reasons behind it so that I can act on the problem. Maybe it’s because my topics are more complex than used to be, or at least I demand a deeper analysis from myself, a higher quality - something that you have hopefully seen over the last few years.
If I want to keep up with the demands of the raising bar that I have set for myself, I have to apply some changes.
I changed how I use pomodori
Until I don’t understand the root causes of my struggles, I made some immediate changes. Working on different things every day and progressing a little bit is great. It helps you to realize the benefits of the compound effect. But if the taxes of context switching is too high, then it’s worth investing the double less frequently, reaping twice the benefits every time (or even more).
Mathematically it makes sense.
Imagine that you do something every day and you get 1% better. By the end of the year, you’ll be 37 times better. It’s maybe inaccurate in this context, but it shows the power of compound interest.
1 (1 + 0.01)**365 = 37.78
If you only do the same things every second day, but then you get better by 2% because you invest twice the time on each occasion and you get better focus, you can still get ahead just as far.
1 (1 + 0.02)**183 = 37.48
So this is what I’m trying these weeks and months. I have reorganized my work on personal projects in a way that instead of one pomodoro, I spend two consecutive pomodori on a given area a day. I still start my day with half an hour of reading - unless I don’t manage to get up, which sometimes happens especially if the kids don’t sleep well. Then instead of working half an hour on one and then on a second writing project, I only work on one for a full hour.
Maybe it’s just the power of the new approach, but so far it works better.
It usually takes some time to get focused, but then I can get into a flow-like state and I can make bigger progress.
Some smaller adjustments
You can usually read that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. If you manage to change one aspect of your life, it will have an effect on all the others. I want to become better focused and I think there are a couple of things that are in my way.
When I’m tired - that can be during the day - or when I’m just waiting for a task to finish, I tend to open social media and not do there anything useful. I just scroll. I’m not even willing to enter into any discussion because it never ends well.
So instead, I try to keep a list of articles open and just resume those when I have some time to kill, up to a few minutes. I try to get ahead by reading C++-related articles or The Pragmatic Engineer.
When I left behind the office because of Covid, I quite quickly lost about 3 kilograms. I guess all fat. The reason was that in the office, there was always an occasion. Someone brought some pastries, a cake, whatever. They were not replacing my breakfast at home. They were additional calories.
This disappeared when I started to work from home and the results were visible - at least on the scale.
With years this started to change. And I have often gone out to the kitchen looking for something to eat, usually in the late afternoon even though I cut some fruits each morning for an afternoon snack. I decided to cut these afternoon journeys to the kitchen. As I started to associate most of these items with sugary industrial garbage, I tend not to desire them. The best would be not to have them at home, but hey, I don’t live alone.
I also like to drink 1-2 beers or glasses of wine a few evenings a week and they are often accompanied by a handful of peanuts. Obviously, I started to limit these items too. An easy thing was to buy less peanuts, so if there is no more, there is no more. You could argue that I should do the same with alcohol, but I buy them when they are on sale. But if there is no beer in the fridge, who would drink it? So that’s a solution. And anyway, I find it much easier to say no to these items as they are associated with bad habits and addiction, not like peanuts which contain a load of calories but are healthy as well.
With these changes and my rigorous evening walks I start to lose the excess. I mean we talk about an excess of less than 10kgs, not a huge amount, but you must take things under control while they are easily manageable.
In any case, in my opinion, going for a walk every day is a must when you work from home both for physical and mental reasons.
Double task list
I started to manage a double task list at work. There is one for the current items that I have to deliver. There might be two projects in parallel or just that they are not broken down as much as I need for my daily work. They are refined enough so that the team understand and decides what to work on, but I prefer to further break it down into bit-sized chunks so that I can more easily pick up the next during the day.
Also, if I have to wait on a longer local build or on the CI, it’s good if I can pick up something. Reading the above-mentioned articles for half an hour is nice and dandy but probably not the most productive.
Hence I started a second talk list that contain smaller and not very important items. Some cleanup tasks, small experiments, things that are not related closely to my deliverables, and mostly things that nobody asked for. If I have some time to kill, I pick something from there.
I’ve been setting daily/weekly/monthly goals for a long time and now I (re)started to do it also at work. I close each day by setting the goals for the next and trying to make sure that at least one of the 3 items I hit already before lunch. It helps me stay focused and also to be more confident.
I wanted to write this article to share a bit about my struggles and the experiments, and solutions I’ve come up with and I’m more than happy if you also share how you manage to keep up with life. I’m lucky because I don’t have to work at a second job and that I can get up in the morning and work on some personal projects and that I can leave the apartment in the evening, the kids are not sleeping alone. I find the idea of only working and taking care of the family and chores without almost no personal time terrifying… I’m lucky. You need something else, something personal to fulfil you.
We all have only so much time. It might not be up to us to decide on our responsibilities, but it’s completely up to us, how we manage the time we have and we better do it well, as time is the only resource that we cannot get back if we waste it.
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