Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Monday, April 2, 2012

Unplanned Spring Break

or unplanned spring breakdown.

It has become clear to me, after post production ground to a halt last week, that I am suffering an acute case of work exhaustion.  Since everyone else in my household has had or will be having a spring break, I have decided to follow suit.  Instead of feeling guilty about not blogging, I am giving myself the week off.

Back next Monday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Done for the Week: First Things Last?

I'm continuing to fight the good fight--with myself.  And I'm continuing to lose.  I just can't get it all done.  I can't even remember what it all is. 

Despite having read about a zillion books and articles on slowing down, and simplifying, and living at the speed of life, I find myself busier and busier.  New assignments creep in under the door while I'm not looking.  New wrinkles, in time, on my face, and in the form of complications present themselves at every turn.

Things continue to get done, somehow.  Not necessarily the most important things, but . . .

Done for the Week:  Mar. 19-24, 2012

  1. Biked twice
  2. Worked with physical therapist once to restore injured foot
  3. Continued reading Elizabeth George's A Place of Hiding aloud with my husband
  4. Read A Mind to Murder, by P.D. James
  5. Continued reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
  6. Continued to work my two part-time jobs
  7. Published 3 Put it to Bed blog posts
  8. Attended an Altitude Design Summit web class
  9. Continued work on current clients' projects
  10. Contracted with new client
  11. Prepared bid for prospective client
  12. Attended one yoga class
  13. Did laundry
  14. Continued college conversations with youngest son
  15. Meditated 2 times
  16. Met with Communications Team co-chair
  17. Co-chaired Communications Team meeting 
  18. Spent hours mocking up potential newsletter
  19. Helped take my baby granddaughter swimming for the first time
  20. Had lunch date with my husband
  21. Took my dog to the dog park
  22. Spent time digging out the kitchen
  23. Made arrangements to convert stock to IRA
  24. Made changes to the nonprofit website I volunteer manage
  25. Attended church service on e. e. cummings
The most important thing I did last week was. . .   Actually, I have no idea what the most important thing on this long and somewhat exhausting list was. 

Sometimes, I can answer this self-imposed question rather easily.  Something jumps out.  Today, I'm too tired to judge.  And to busy to take the time.  Not good signs.

Last week, I continued to try to focus on meditating and writing daily--or at least regularly.  

But, to my chagrin, "it's still not working."   I'm beginning to think I don't know much about focusing.  Maybe I'm missing the gene for this important human capability. 

If I'm honest, I have to admit that I never really give up trying to do all the other things on my literal and mental lists, so focus goals don't enjoy real primacy. 

For next week, I'm going to experiment with not setting a focus goal.  I wonder if it will make any difference to how I allot my time and energy, and to the results.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hot and Bothered

Yesterday was the first day of spring.  Where I live, the temperature was a record-breaking 83 degrees F.  And today, the record set yesterday was broken when temperatures reached 84.  This comes at the tail of a record-setting string of March days above 70 degrees.

While the unseasonably warm weather has been mostly enjoyable, it is also worrisome.  And I gather, from what I've been reading in the brain science literature, that I am unlikely to be the only one who is "going there" in these unusual circumstances--our brains being wired, as they are, to respond anxiously and to look for the dark side.

So what am I worried about?

Well, of course, there's the whole global warming thing.  As I shed my accustomed layers, I can't help but think of Al Gore's friend, the boiling frog.  Having taking my share of science classes, I get that we shouldn't freak out about a strong trend that may prove to be insignificant in the long run.  But still . . .

And then there is my immediate concern with the flora in my region, my neighborhood, and my yard.  On NPR's All Things Considered last week, in a segment entitled "What's the Impact of Early Blooms?," Melissa Block interviewed Jake Weltzin, an ecologist and the executive director of the USA National Phenology Network.  Phenology, Block informed her listeners, is the the study of the effect of climate on the life cycles of plants and animals.  Phenologist Weltzin told us that
We are seeing strong trends almost wherever we look.  In the last decade, we're actually now starting to be able to say OK, well, we see patterns of plants and animals coming earlier.  And we have better and better climatological records, temperature records, and we can start to link those together.  And there's a paper coming out it seems every week now that's saying OK, here's a trend in bees coming out 10 days earlier over the last 130 years, and we can attribute that to warming temperatures.

When Ms. Block asked "If a plant or tree does bloom or leaf out early, does that affect its seasonal cycle for the rest of the year?," Dr. Weltzin answered, it seems to me ominously, that
We don't really know for a lot of plants. And we're just starting to get that information organized. Some plants do, indeed, have a deterministic life cycle, which means that if they come up early they will shut down early. Others are indeterministic and they'll grow and grow and grow all season long.
He was clearer about bugs, asserting that early bug growth is correlated with early plant growth, and that scientists are concerned about more problems from "bad bugs" this summer--like the mosquitoes who carry West Nile virus, for example.

On Monday, I opened the local paper to learn that "Wisconsin maple producers endure worst year in memory," answering Friday's question from a Yahoo contributor "Will an Early Spring Ruin Your Pancakes?  Yes, apparently.

On top of global warming, plants and bugs running amok, and the end of breakfast as we knew it, there is my fear of a blisteringly hot summer.  Again, I am not alone, as readers and callers, columnists and bloggers and weather analysts have expressed this apprehension.  And again, "scientific" study yields little in the way of clarity or prediction.  All seem agreed.  This summer may be hotter than usual.  And it may not be.

So to review.  We are probably experiencing global warming, but we kind of knew that, right?  The plants and trees are all screwed up, and we're in for a swarm of bugs, which were already in evidence in my grandchildren's backyard yesterday--several weeks ahead of schedule.  And it may or may not be extra hot this summer.

All of this should probably not stop me from enjoying the blooming violets and primroses encountered on my walk today; or the reprieve from wearing the heavy winter coat I'm entirely sick of after six months; or the opportunity to sit in the grass with my summer clad grandkids this afternoon.  Indeed, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom advises us to soak up such positive sensations and experiences to counteract that negativity that is our brain's natural state. 

So I guess I'll just have to suck it up and deal with the balminess, the sunshine, and the gift of this crazy unseasonal season.  And anyway, it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Procrastinating 101: Catching Up to the Can We Kicked

This week's Procrastinating 101 deals with Chapter 7 of Dr. Timothy Pychyl's book, The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.  Chapter 7 is entitled "Why Getting Started Isn't the Whole Solution."

At this over-halfway mark, Dr. Pychyl warns that "just getting started," as he advised in the previous chapter, engenders positive feelings.  Wait.  Warns?  Positive feelings?  All good, right?

Wrong.  Because those positive feelings can come back to bite us, setting us up for another round with those "biases in planning and thinking" that we know so well.  You might say (if you want to ring an over-used chime in this seemingly endless political season) we've "kicked the can down the road."

And so, says Pychyl,
we have to recognize other points at which we typically abandon our goal pursuit.  We have to be prepared to address each of these as they arise, otherwise we will fall back into habitual ways of responding. . . . [because] [p]rocrastination is not just a failure to get started.
And specifically
We have to be prepared to deal with changes in our mood related to setbacks and disappointments.  We have to be prepared to deal with distractions.  We have to be prepared to overcome obstacles.

Pychyl puts forth two main strategies to deal with this "delayed onset procrastination."  (As a runner who has suffered DOMS--delayed onset muscle soreness--I contributed this term.)  Here again, predecisions and implementation intentions are key.

The first approach is to "predecide" to eliminate/limit distractions--proactively.  The second is to formulate "if/then" implementation intentions to deal with distractions, obstacles and setbacks.  Ala this chapter's mantra--"I need to be prepared to deal with distractions, obstacles and setbacks."

Pychyl provides the following table to help us identify the distractions, obstacles and setbacks we typically experience with respect to or main procrastinated task(s); and to formulate a strategy to head them off proactively, or to resist the urge to procrastinate when they occur.

Distraction, Obstacle or Setback
Remove Proactively?
Implementation Intention

Example:  Email

Yes, shut it off before I work.

Example:  Friends’ Invitations

IF my friends call to invite me out this weekend, THEN I will immediately say “thanks but no, I’m committed to finishing my work.”

Example:  Stuck on my work and don’t know what to do

IF I get stuck, confused and worried because I don’t know what to do, THEN I will stay put and list what I do know to be sure what it is I don’t know.  Once I know this, I can seek help if needed.  I won’t give up.

Next week, willpower.  In the meantime you're missing some great cartoons, and lots more detail if you don't read the book.