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.

Dumb

Todays’ inspiration comes from the excellent post by Shawn Blanc from several months ago – Dumb – a post by Shawn Blanc.

I am fortunate enough to own a decent watch – a Tag Heuer, given to me by my father when I turned forty years old (nearly four years ago, now). The watch tells the time, and gives me the current date in a little window. That’s it. It’s waterproof, shockproof and looks beautiful. It also cost more than my iPhone – in fact, it cost twice as much as my first car.

If I were to be offered such limited functionality in anything other than a watch then I would be horribly disappointed and wouldn’t buy it. Yet I put up with this in a watch simply because it has two functions – to tell me the time, and to act as the only piece of jewellery I wear (apart from my wedding ring, of course). I have seen the pebble on another mans’ wrist and it looks like a ridiculous piece of cheap plastic.

Perhaps this is me being a snob – no, I take that back, this <strong>is</strong> me being a snob. I love my expensive watch for the sense of pleasure it gives me when I look at it, the heavy sense of solidity I get when I snap it onto my wrist, and the feeling of value I have in this adornment – it carries value and will do for years, and in years to come I’ll be able to hand it down to my son as a family heirloom.

My phone provides me all the notifications I need and it sits in my pocket. If I need to check my twitter feed, or email, or anything else, then I pull the phone out of my pocket and I check it. It’s that conscious action that makes me mindful of the time I am spending on it, and as such it stays at the front of mind. By slightly pulling up my shirt cuff and glancing at my watch I find out what time it is – I don’t need to interact with my phone and I don’t get distracted as a result.

I know that this level of interaction is not the norm for a lot of geeky people; especially if they use their devices to handle their daily interaction. I use a desk phone at work, and a company laptop, so I only rely on my phone for personal stuff and so I can afford to put it in my pocket and ignore it. I am fortunate in this regard. I can understand the need for notifications if it is work related, but do we really need every facet of our social interactions to be pushed in front of our eyes at the moment it is received? I get enough of that on my phone when I do occasionally look at it; having that information in front of me at all times would be a special kind of torture.

In the future, when I earn more money and have more disposable income, I’ll upgrade my watch to something more expensive and equally jewel like. It will still just tell the time.

Progress

I may have used that title before.

At 80% through the current 100 day cycle, 90% through the 200 day cycle, I thought I’d pause for a moment and reflect on my progress so far. This is helped by the lazy Sunday morning feeling I have right now.

So far, I haven’t skipped a day in my 500 word journey, and neither do I intend to. Bloodycomplaining.com got this far before I shut it down as I had nothing to say; I’m clearly better at sticking to some things now.

Public posting takes its toll on the writing – as I expected, I now write more slowly and am less open. That’s absolutely where I expected to be and I’m fine with that.

Looking back at projects doesn’t show a lot of progress so far. This isn’t a great surprise, but I did wonder the other day if I’ll ever be as productive as I think I want to be. It’s a strange set of circumstances that causes me to have loads of project ideas but fail to achieve anything with any of them; most of them struggled to even get started.

I didn’t write today’s post to start remonstrating with myself about a lack of progress on projects which were never going to get done. They all share the same characteristics, which was an overwhelming enthusiasm which lasted all of three days, followed by a slow decline into mediocrity, procrastination and ultimately realising that they are never going to happen. I’ve killed a lot of projects that barely even got off the ground.

I’ve also done the self analysis thing endlessly and that hasn’t turned up any answers either. I don’t know why I don’t continue with the projects, but lack of motivation obviously is a huge factor. Browbeating myself into working doesn’t work either.

I would like to come to the conclusion that acceptance of my current position is the best way forward. I am the sort of person who had a lot of ideas and doesn’t make any (yet) work. That doesn’t mean I should give up – far from it, I would rather have all these ideas and build up experience than just sit and do nothing – but more that I will have to be happier with the lack of progress until one of two things happen:

  1. a project comes along that galvanises me so much I have to do it at all costs
  2. I manage to pick a project to work on that I can keep pushing through the pain of procrastination and turn it into a success.

My definition of success is not that it’s popular – just that I have completed a project and can say it’s finished. It’s popularity after that will be unimportant as it’s progress that matters here.

All of this is in my future. I promise myself I won’t let progress tail off on writing, and I’ll just keep on going when it comes to turning ideas into projects that at least get started. One of them will eventually turn a corner, I know.

mixed feelings

Today I have a couple of things on my mind. As I write this, it’s Friday and I’m not working today. I have started to think about the project I mentioned a couple of days ago in the motivation piece and I’ve realised that the initial surge of enthusiasm has started to wear off and has been replaced with only a couple of points of concern for me about how I should continue.

One of them is copyright. The material I am working from is highly subject to copyright issues and as such, I may well be incredibly restricted to use or refer to it. While I am still driven to create the content I want to create, the impending problem of having it struck from the internet at a stroke is not very helpful when it comes to the idea of making a living from this sort of thing. Yes, I have an ulterior motive – I want to be able to make money doing hard work – is that so bad?

The other issue is my lack of note gathering experience. I never went to university, and as such, I never really built up the skill of gathering notes on content as an addendum to learning. I will have to build the skill as I go which means I may well end up redrafting early content as I go and the skills improve.

As I started with, the initial enthusiasm has worn off, but not so much that I consider abandoning the project altogether. By going through this, I will pick up a number of valuable skills and a qualification with the potential to earn money so I have an opportunity that I can’t really turn down.

Even as I typed that, I had a sinking feeling that I will abandon the project as fast as I start it. That is not something I want to do – obviously – and as such, this is the sort of test I want to build up my mental endurance. The way to achieve success in this type of thing is to simply stick at it. I’ve managed 277 days of writing 500 words a day – irrespective of the quality – and I want to be able to draw a parallel between that and achieving other tasks. I wrote several months ago that the difference was that the writing I did then was not public, so it could be as poor quality as I liked and I wouldn’t have to think about it. Now that it is public, I’m not terribly sure that the quality has improved measurably (although I am thinking about it more), but I am no more convinced that it is linked to continuous productivity elsewhere.

I’m getting my messages mixed up here. I am trying to create that ‘stick to it’ skill, and writing publicly, I thought, would be a stepping stone. I’m not very sure that this is the case.

I will soldier on. I have an inkling of interest in this project, still, and I have the tools I need to take notes. I have identified a step where something can go wrong – the actual condensing of notes into a publishable form, rather than putting them to one side and telling myself I’ll do them later – and if I can maintain progress and keep on doing all the tasks I need to do to make this work in parallel, then I’ll be good.

Ageing

In less than a weeks’ time I turn 44 years old. I’d like to point out right now that this is not an impassioned plea for presents. I’m not going to put a link to my ~~Amazon Wishlist~~ here.

Over the last few years, I’ve started to realise that getting old is a real thing, and the body changes. I make noises when I sit down. I’m always looking for a place to sit down. My knees hurt sometimes. I have ringing in my ears occasionally. I am beginning to reminisce about the way things were. I was never particularly nostalgic, but I catch myself occasionally donning the rose tinted spectacles and thinking back to days gone by when things were simpler and easier. I’m not in any hurry to rush back to those days, mind you – a distinct lack of internet would make it a tad difficult for me to keep myself entertained.

I am, I think, firmly approaching the territory of middle age. I suppose I would never want to admit I am actually middle aged, but I suppose at some point I just have to give in to inevitability. When I was younger, middle aged was when a person reached their forties; now I am pushing that definition back to the fifties, but that milestone is still only six years away. Never mind, I’ll be well on my way to millionairehood by then.

It’s funny how the feeling of getting old changes dramatically depending on your perspective. My sense of oncoming age is brought about more by the physical differences – the hearing, knees, hair in ears syndrome – rather than an internal sense of ageing. If you were to ask my subconscious, it would swear blind that I was about eighteen but had a massive amount of experience and memories to draw from. Nevertheless, my subconscious can’t ignore the fact that the eighteen year old it thinks it is, has a spare tyre and can’t jog up stairs as easily as it expects to be able to.

In a post like this, where I address productivity issues, or getting better after an illness, or being more determined to do better at a thing (hence the mini torrent of writing every day), I’d look to come up with a plan for improvement, but of course I can’t do that with old age, I just have to grin and bear the wispy hair and crinkling skin, the irritability and temporary deafness, the creaking knees and expanding waistline, the failing eyes and the ability to simply sit and stare into the distance for ages. I also get cold easily.

The benefits of being middle aged is that one is expected to have disposable income at this point; If I were like some friends, I would be in the position that my children would be grown up by now and ready to fly the nest, and I would have a life of a paid off mortgage, cruises, and a mercedes benz parked in the garage. But, because I like to do things differently, I am a father to a newborn, and I am discovering that life as a 44 year old new dad is pushing my energy levels to new lows every day.

Please note that despite all this, I cannot complain. I have a good life, the experiences that mean I am unlikely to make catastrophic mistakes, and the love of a beautiful woman and our beautiful little boy. I may be old, and getting older, but I am a happy man.

Motivation

It’s funny how motivation can strike you in different ways. I am suddenly taken with a burst of motivation for a new project, and at the moment the motivation is bleeding off into other things too – not that it’s diminishing the optimism I have about the new project, but it seems to be growing. I can give myself a few minutes every now and then to research an aspect of the new project, or record a series of (organised) notes about the new project, and it spurs me on to get going on my other things and daily work too.

This is a good feeling.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt motivated about a personal project, over and above the initial surge of enthusiasm. I hope that this feeling stays, but based on previous experience I have to be mindful of the potential for this enthusiasm to fade away after a couple of days once the project starts to grip and the workload starts to bite. I think this one helps because I actually have a reason to do it that is associated with the adoption of a skill, the skill will benefit me throughout my life, and the acquisition of the skill is not one that is trivial. I also understand the principles of the skill and so am more confident that I can build a solid platform for disseminating what I learn to other people.

I’m trying not to break into details about this project because I’m mindful of not overcommitting. There is a balance to be struck between going on about something and overcommitting myself into revealing too much and getting carried away about what I am capable of delivering. I want to be able to ship this project. I want to be able to make sure that this is something that happens and I make sue I make the most of my enthusiasm and have enough grit and determination to actually deliver the thing when it turns from a fun idea into a hard project. The skill that I am learning is one that I have wanted to learn for several years – almost a decade, in fact – and as such I well know that I have started several times over and abandoned the idea when it turned into something too hard to learn.

There are multiple ways of dealing with this – I fervently believe at this point that the process of not only learning, but building a set of tutorials around what I learn, will help me fix the knowledge more firmly in my mind – thus ensuring that I maintain the level of knowledge without losing interest because I forget things as fast as I learn them – and by building tutorials I will actually be able to teach others and help them, so building a useful resource in the future. It essentially hinges on the fact that I want to learn this anyway, and I’ll be able to maintain this momentum when the going gets tough.

Small business

A few years ago I owned a small business. Well, I say I owned it, what I actually did was register a company name, have business cards printed, set up a website, print flyers, and attend a couple of local networking events, but do you know what arose from that?

Unsurprisingly, not much.

I learnt a lot about myself over those three months – a time when I was between jobs, having been made redundant thanks to the crash of a Building Schools for the Future marketplace and yet to be offered a job at an IT company. I had decided that I should tap into all that lucrative consultant moolah just at the worst point, when the market was suddenly flooded with thousands of people with exactly the same skill set as me. Sadly, I had also decided that my animal magnetism was sufficient to draw in all the customers like magic and I could simply spend a little time pretending I was working on finding business, when in fact, I was kidding myself.

I managed to get up early and go to networking breakfasts, and even had a couple of conversations with people who were all desperately trying to sell me services I neither wanted or could afford, and the arrival of another unconnected newbie in their midst did not do much for their prospect of raising business. In fact, as I write this, I recall two different networking meetings – one which was tiny and clearly trying to get itself started, and the other a massive monopoly that shut me out after three sessions for being in direct conflict with another on the group.

Looking back, they were probably right. I wasn’t prepared for that life at all.

The lesson I learned from that little episode in my life was that preparing to strike out on your own takes a lot more than getting business cards printed. I still have those business cards, and they are very nice. I never earned enough to cover those, never mind all the other bits I had acquired. I still have a box of leaflets in the attic that I haven’t thrown away yet. No, the life of a self driven consultant is one of being constantly hungry for new business and being able to dive right out without a safety net, something I was never all that good at. I have a friend who is, and as a result he is constantly turning new opportunities down, and earns considerably more than I suspect I ever will.

Still, I have learnt that my place in life is surrounded by others. As much as I do want to do something productive with my life besides the day job, I must reluctantly admit that the execution of my many ideas has absolutely non existent, and I can’t claim to be the type who doesn’t have ideas. This blogging experiment – the 30 days of posts – is to get me more comfortable with the feeling of public writing and the need to create something every day. If it sparks an idea in me, then great – but right now, it’s simply a healthy distraction from the feeling that I should really be doing something else.