Obligations

We all have obligations. Some are to ourselves, some to others. Most are justified, and some are not. Our opinions on these obligations change with the ebb and flow of our emotions and in the face of other obligations that may compete.

I’m prompted to write about this because at 7.15 this morning, my son woke me up as he was crying for food. I should have been a good father and whisked him away for a nappy change and got him ready for my wife to feed him, but instead I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

It’s not that I had a written obligation to be a good father and husband (although Lisa might disagree with me on that) – simply that I have a moral obligation, a contract with myself, to be there for them both. I hold myself to high standards, and some times those standards slip. I regularly berate myself for not holding up those high standards, but in a lot of ways those standards are entirely of my own making, and in trying to follow them all I end up in a quandary; the closest analogy I can use to illustrate this is the film Robocop 2, when he is given so many competing directives that he ends up incredibly constricted.

In addition to this I try to lower the expectations of the obligations others have to me. As another example, after rolling over this morning, I decided to check my feeds to see if anything new and interesting had sprung up on the internet. Unfortunately I couldn’t as feedly.com was down, but instead of setting my phone to one side I became distinctly unhappy that a service that I pay nothing for was not available to me the moment I wanted it. That’s an example of an obligation I perceived to be held by others for the benefit of their ‘customers’ (i.e. me, and other entitled types like me), but of course was not quite the case. Well, at least my expectation of a faultless delivery of that obligation was unreasonable.

In a way we balance a series of these all day, every day. I have an obligation to go to work and perform to the best of my abilities. Several outcomes hinge on how important I consider that obligation to be – not least my continued employment. When I take into account the obligations I place on myself to perform on the projects I set myself, however, things change quite dramatically.

I’ve set my expectation that I will write 500 words a day, and the further into this I get, the stronger the perception of that obligation becomes. I imagine dire consequences should I miss a day. But, I also have five other projects I want to progress on, and they all have different sets of competing obligations, which shift as my mood for doing them changes.

Piece by piece I hope to get them all done. There’s a crucial point to consider in this, and that is thatno-one else knows or cares about them. All obligation to deliver on these projects is a contract between myself and myself, and I’m remarkably adept at letting myself down.

All of this is to say that I am not quite as happy with my project performance as I could be, and so I will be putting aside some time this afternoon to rectify that.

Sleepless

I started writing this at 2am when my child was awake and unhappy. I only got as far as the title before I decided that typing something on a phone at 2am would render me incapable of generating any sense and I would spend as much time correcting it as I did writing it.

I have a strange relationship with sleep. I don’t nearly get enough. I manage on average six and a half hours of sleep a night when I should be getting eight but this is not a function of my job or the life I lead – it’s more that I have different bursts of energy during the day. Despite the fact that I tend to be exhausted in the afternoon, I manage to gain more energy in the evening and I’m not ready for bed, so I stay up late and end up even more tired the next day.

I wrote in a post several years ago that I love to find a warm spot and curl up and go to sleep. I rarely manage this now because I simply give myself too much to do. Even though I have failed to deliver several other personal projects, I have at the last count set myself up for five new projects, all of which I try to handle all at the same time. Expect to see another post in a few months when I decry my ability to ship on projects.

I suppose setting myself up for failure nice and early is a trait that does me no favours when it comes to making projects work. This is not another round of moaning about it as I already have the understanding of what is necessary to make a project happen – I just have to do the work and keep doing it when it gets hard and boring; this is the mark of someone who ships projects – the person who can keep going when it gets too much to bear.

I have my second wind in the evening and that is the time when I should be concentrating on getting my projects shipped. Of course, I should be getting some sleep. There is a balance to be struck between the three demands – going to sleep and getting rest, learning more things to ship my projects, or simply winding down and relaxing to make the most of the time I have to myself.

Today is a friday. I am at least assured that I will get sufficient sleep tonight, before the weekend kicks in and all the inevitable obligations start to make their own demands on my time. I make the effort to track my sleep every night on an app on my phone and that tells me what I need to do – go to bed earlier, make the most of the chance of sleep and become a happier and more relaxed person. I look forward to the chance to sleep more, especially when my son manages to sleep through the night.

Self help

Many many months ago, I jotted down a note to myself to write about the phrase ‘I’m addicted to self help, and everyone is a dealer’. I stand by that phrase, by the way; in fact, I quite like it. I am addicted to self help – after all, who isn’t constantly trying to improve themselves – but equally matched with that desire for self improvement or self help, depending on what is trying to be fixed or completed, is a huge raft of people and companies who will be only too happy to sell you the cure to all your ills.

Sadly, they are unable to cure my desire for long sentences and semicolons. That needs me to commit to an editor. (Not happening).

My desire for self improvement has been around for quite some time, but it’s only in the last ten or so years that I really hopped on the bandwagon. It started, as many of these addictions do, with  Getting Things Done by David Allen. That book is crack for those who look to inject a bit of efficiency into their lives, and once read cannot be un-read. You will be better for reading it, I promise.

As time moved on, I took advantage of many an airport and service station book store and stocked up on as many books as I could find on anything that ailed me – often not realised until I read the cover and discovered the malady that had lain uncured. At it’s peak, I managed to consume an awful lot of these books every month – I still remember the three foot high pile of them at home, most of which were only partly read.

The main issue with these books is that they are often focused around a single subject or point to make. Want to get better at something? Repeat a single phrase or action over and over until you get better at it. Pick the next phrase and move on. Practice makes perfect. Losing weight is moving around and eating less. Being productive is about stopping endless and pointless web surfing and instead spending time doing stuff to improve yourself (not reading books about it). Being better at something is invariably about not doing other things, relentlessly practicing, and keeping going even through the hard stuff.

There. I’ve virtually written a book myself. As I was saying, the single subject makes it difficult to write a book without continually repeating different variants of the same theme and this gets very tiring when condensed into book form. Procrastination ones were always the worst – jokes aside, I believe that I never actually managed to finish a procrastination book. Let’s face it, the heart of procrastination is that the practitioners of such a dread habit are unable to concentrate on something that helps them and if it gets hard to do, it gets dropped. Yet for some reason every book I read on procrastination was multiple hundreds of pages long.

As time went on, I gradually saw these books for what they were – some helped, if considered carefully (GTD was one), but most were rubbish peddled by snake oil salesmen. To this day, I am still slightly addicted to self help books, but I spend a lot more time considering if they will actually help me before I buy them, and I never buy books from airport or service station bookshops any more.

Being public

I’d not often describe myself as introverted, in fact most people I know might not do so. Even so, every day I have a slight pulse of anxiety when I consider talking to new people. I have no idea why, and I thought writing out the reasons and challenging them as I go would be a good exercise in understanding myself a bit better.

Some background – I work in a field where meeting new people is a regular occurrence, and occasionally I have to deliver presentations too. I’ve always experienced some anxiety when giving presentations but that’s entirely normal. Show me a person who doesn’t experience that dab of fear before a public speaking engagement and I’ll show you someone who is hiding it very well. I also write content for technical proposal responses that requires me to summarise facts from a wide range of people into a summary and set of documents that can lead my professional skills and knowledge to be challenged. I have very rarely been challenged or found myself wanting.

When I have to meet clients, I invariably have a great time and get on well with them. I like to think of myself as a people person. In all these instances, I’m talking about something that I know well – my job and my field of expertise. I’m even generally happy to admit when I don’t know something and then I’ll move heaven and earth to find out the answer; it benefits me as well as the person who has asked the question.

Before this comes across as a puff piece that’s designed to blow up my overstretched ego, I’m just setting the tone here. I’m considerably more nervous when meeting people socially.

The underlying reasons are clearer to me now I’m writing it out. In work, I am on solid ground of professional ability. Socially, I am more hampered. I don’t drink, smoke, or follow football, so three easy start topics for conversation are gone straight away. As I’ve written before, I’m not very good with my memory especially when it comes to peoples’ names, so that is a difficult starting point. I often resort to calling people ‘mate’ rather than going through the mental leaps required to recall their name.

As I sit here and write this, I’ve realised that the majority of social situations I find myself in end up very well. I can’t really recall a situation where a social faux pas was committed. As with other things I do, I suspect that the fear of the problem is greater than the impact of the problem itself. Is this, perhaps, the normal consideration for a lot of people?

There we go – exercise done. Writing things out is a way for me to understand how my head works, rationalise my way of thinking, and set out all the worries in a single place to understand how they work in context. For me, it’s clear that the worry is greater than the actual situation and I’m better when I talk about work than when I talk about football. Perhaps I need to find something else to talk about.

44

Today I turn 44 years old. I have a lot to be thankful for. Today I’m going to simply write off the top of my head, so please forgive me if this turns into a rambling monologue about something entirely unrelated to the title – I have a habit of doing that these days.

I lay awake at ten minutes past midnight last night / this morning, cradling my son who was having difficulty sleeping. As I gently rubbed his back and listened to his tiny snores, I was quietly grateful for being in the position I am in. I have a job that I enjoy, a wife who I love dearly, and a child; I am truly a happy man. Sure, I suffer some existential angst every now and then when the outcome of a desired project is less than I expected, but even then I am grateful to be in the position where I can spend some time (and money) on bringing projects to life, even if they don’t get beyond the planning stage in 95% of cases.

And, as I woke this morning to further cuddles from Freddie – now grumbling in the mornings, too – I lay in bed again, with my wife sleeping beside me, and that feeling of happiness was concreted into place. I may have occasional grumbles myself, and I can sometimes slip into ‘moaning old man’ mode but these are fleeting.

I have friends and family around me who are happy for me and only gently take the piss out of my impending age, too. I have the chance to go and play golf – badly – occasionally, I have a little office in the garden which is an oasis in beautiful weather, even if it still needs external and internal finishing, and I have the chance to simply relax now and then.

I’ve expressed all my thanks, I think. Doubtless there are others I’ve missed who are no less appreciated for my not being able to immediately recall them. I am writing this off the top of my head, remember, and in line with the 500 words a day motto I don’t edit, I just hit publish and move on to the next day. This exercise is to encourage me to write publicly every day and ensure that what I write is at least considered, if not perfect english.

How do I move on from here? What goals will I set myself to achieve between now and my next birthday?

Well, I’d like to get at least one of my projects off the ground and in some sort of public state. I’d like to be able to point to something on the internet that receives more than passing interest and say that I made it. I have a wealth of projects currently on the go – some of which are on the back burner for the moment but still pop up in my weekly review in Omnifocus – and so I have the freedom of choice as to which way I go. One project in particular looks promising but I can’t talk about it yet until it’s at least underway.

Anyway, Happy birthday to me.