productivity

Health, Work, Discipline, and Pandemic 2018

Yeah, hi. Hi! Hello there! I am writing to you live from my living room, which is nothing short of a miracle on several fronts: I am not asleep, I am not buried under a pile of tissues, I am upright and dressed in daytime clothes, I’m even well enough that I feel like I have spare brain cycles and words to spare for a blog post, rather than pursuing any of my more pressing interests or obligations. Whew.

We won’t talk about my coughing fits, though. 

You may correctly surmise from this that I have had the flu. This is true! I had the flu, but the cough stuck around, and something-something bronchitis plus nose and throat inflammation, something something secondary infections, no seriously are you SURE you’re not a smoker...? (I am not a smoker. I have never been a smoker. I had to assure them several times. They didn’t seem to want to believe me?) 

This blog post, then, is made possible by no less than six prescription medications because asthma sucks, and so do secondary infections following influenza. Get your flu shots, kids, wash your hands a lot, and this year, if you get a sore throat and cough three times, get to the doctor ASAP for Tamiflu. Be quick about it. Tamiflu doesn’t do much if you don’t start it within a day or so.

So I haven’t done a lot of work over the last *looks at calendar* wow, three weeks. To be sure I’ve done some work — some few thousands of words of novel-writing and light scheduling — but nothing like the volume I’d set for myself as my January goals. I’d hoped to have almost twice as many words written than I have. I’d hoped to be on top of my email. These things have not happened.

Oh, but I’ve been sick. I can’t possibly expect myself to work when I’m sick, can I? Or... can I?  Health fails us all in the end, and if I don’t find a way to work even when my lungs don’t quite work right, even when my head is full of biowaste, even when I’m tired, surely this means I lack the discipline to pursue my craft and I should...

Shh, shh, stop laughing so hard, you’ll make a scene. People will stare.

There are many true facts underpinning this spectacularly flawed logic. One is that you can’t and shouldn’t wait for everything to feel and be right before you embark in your creative work. There will always be another set of dishes to be washed, another errand you should run, another loose end you really need to tie off before you can focus. And you do have to be disciplined to write. Doing the writing inevitably means not doing something else — maybe that something is a video game, but maybe it’s also laundry.

That other thing you are not doing so you can write should not ever be “resting so that your health improves.” 

It’s also true that one of the not-very-joyful joys of age involves an increasing degree of disability for most of us, and we all eventually need to find ways to work within the framework of our capabilities. I mull over this from time to time, wondering if I’m really feeling so poorly, or if I’m just making excuses to be lazy. But this working-through-the-pain should never happen at the cost of meaningful recovery, or if that’s not the hand you’ve been dealt, at the cost of worsening what level of health you have.

I think a lot about how Jim Henson died of pneumonia. It was a secondary infection after the flu. If he had arrived at a hospital eight hours earlier, he might have lived.

Take care of yourself, blossoms, and rest when you need it, and see a doctor if you possibly can. The future needs you much, much more than right now does.

 


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The Mirage of Free Time

I’ve had a pretty intense year, and I’ll be working up my year-in-review post to tell you about it pretty soon. (Probably next week, since I can’t imagine I’ll publish or ship anything new between now and the New Year.) The one thought that’s pulled me through the most trying spells is a vision, like an oasis on the horizon, of what I will do and how I will structure my day when I finally get a pause to catch my breath. 

Surely, the logic goes, at some point the avalanche of deadlines and publicity and appointments will slow down, and I’ll have a few weeks to rejuvenate myself, or a month, or even two. When that happens, I can spend a week reading. I can focus exclusively on my novel. I can fold all of the laundry. I can make healthy dinners and swim three hours a week (and yoga twice!)

I can do all that. I can get everything under control soon. After this week, I’ve got nothing else coming down the pike. I just need to finish these edits, and pull together that draft. It’s happening. It’s going to be glorious. I just need to get through the next week. The next month. It’s only six weeks away, and then—

It’s inevitable. What happens is that a new set of deadlines pops up, and that beautiful, illusory break never arrives. Or it does, but it’s only a few days and then I’m back to the churn as hard as ever. And in that brief time, I’m so tired, so burned out, that I don’t write a word of my novel, I don’t read any books, nothing. Often I find that week consumed by illness or appointments I’ve been putting off. 

This is a high-quality problem, in that it means I’ve built a robust enough pipeline for work that it doesn’t run completely dry even when I really kind of wish it would. But it points to the challenge I’ve wrestled with for as long as I’ve been a freelancer. How do you balance the long-term big-picture stuff against the short-term requirements of your existing commitments?

You’d think a decade would be long enough to solve that problem. 

It’s easy to say “Silly girl, you should be working on your big-picture items little by little, some every day, as you go along.” But that assumes that you have extra time and creative power that you’re squandering right now; and the truth is, sometimes putting energy into spinning a new plate, even slowly, means letting another one fall down. 

And so here I am, staring at a week where I’m somehow planning to get through three distinct sets of edits, two promo pieces, an AMA, a Bookburners draft, three two-hour appointments, and all of my holiday shopping, cleaning, and wrapping.

It’s going to be tough, but I think maybe I can get through it all. And then next week, my plate will be completely clear, and then I can focus on my novel. Or maybe read a book. Or... 


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Out of Sight...

Back in August, I made the switch to an iPad Pro as my primary working device. No laptop. No desktop. Nothing but me and iOS in this thing together. It’s unsurprisingly had a huge impact on how my life and work both operate, and this week I’m going to write about that in some detail.

To warm up, though, I want to talk about a problem I’ve been having lately that I only rarely encountered on a laptop. Friends, I am finding myself bored on the internet. 

This isn’t a new problem; rather a cyclical one, found mostly in the spaces when internet use as a whole is shifting. In the early 90s, browsing Yahoo’s hand-curated index of the World Wide Web and chatting with friends on IRC was enough to occupy as many hours as I had to spare, and more, until it wasn’t. Later, groups and forums filled my time, until they didn’t. Then social media was born, and we all know what happened then.

My RSS reader is light on updates these days. Twitter, at least, seems to be drying up as people tire of Nazis and bad news, and accordingly seek out sunnier digital climates. But none of that is new since August. So why am I feeling listless and bored now?

There’s a piece of diet advice that goes around: put your healthy snacks at eye level, and hide away your cookies so you don’t spot them when you’re hungry.  Well! Apparently I’ve put myself on a very serious media diet. Because I still in theory have access to near-infinite content on Medium, Wikipedia, YouTube. There are podcasts and videos galore I have not yet even dreamt of, and enough art and snark on Tumblr to fuel a galaxy.

But I put those apps in a folder, and so they might as well not exist.

This is an astonishing and true fact, and bears repeating: once I put an app in a folder, I might as well not have it, because I will not think of it unless a specific need arises (and how often do you have a specific need for Tumblr or YouTube, truly?) I theorize that hiding the icon from easy and habitual view allows me to subconsciously forget about the app as a category of activity I can participate in. Even where it used to be a habit! Where once I spent a lot of time visiting Google News, now I forget to open any of my half-dozen news apps. Likewise I forget about my RSS reader. I forget about the lesser social sites that didn’t make it into my dock. I forget about Duolingo, and the thought of playing games hardly crosses my mind on the iPad. 

The same goes for browser tabs. Where once I always had dozens open, now I keep it down to a manageable four or five, excepting specific research periods. iOS handles clicked links in such a way that you’re subtly nudged to finish reading an article before returning to the app that sent you there. Which means when I pop into my browser to see if there’s something I meant to read later, there’s... nothing. I did it already. 

Being bored on the internet sounds kind of terrible, but it is in fact a true and perfect blessing. It means nothing less than that I am reclaiming time that I had spent on the laptop idly clicking from one tab to another, trying to find something to do, or trying to trigger the memory of what I’d intended to get done. 

And the apps that almost haphazardly wound up in my dock or on my home screen, unfoldered, are the ones I’m spending more time in. Example: I do a lot of idle sketching now, a habit I’m pleased to come back to, since ProCreate is just... always right there, looking at me. Shockingly, my email inbox is the leanest it’s consistently been in... gosh, it must be a decade. I’m reorganizing my Dropbox folder structure, not because it’s any worse than it was in July, but because I’m in and out of the Dropbox app all day long.

That leads into a hypothesis that I’m testing now. Can I intentionally shape my days simply by rearranging my flipping home screen? Or a more specific test: If I put the Kindle app on my home screen, right there prominently in the corner, will I remember more often that reading is a thing to do, and accordingly read more books?

I can’t know for sure just yet, but since I moved the app into the light, I’ve read 50 pages more in a day than I did any other day in the last month. Signs point to yes.

Sooooooo in turn, the question becomes: what version of myself do I want to be? How do I wish my time usually looked? Which self do I want to be? Because all I need to do to become that person, it seems, is put the healthy apps a little closer to eye level.


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