Tag: time management

The Irony of Four Thousand Weeks

Sometimes I don’t recognize the problem that is right in front of me. Take, for instance, the book I am currently reading, and nearly finished with, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I started this book just after finishing The Big Roads by Earl Swift. Sometimes I finish a book in the middle of the day and immediately start the next one, but this was one of those times when I finished the book later in the day, and didn’t start Four Thousand Weeks until the following morning. I set out on my 6 am walk, and began listening to the audiobook edition.

Four Thousand Weeks is a book I needed to read. It has a lot to say about how we perceive time, how we perceive busyness, and the many, many traps that lie between the two. For instance, the more books I read, the more books I feel I need to read (butterfly effect of reading, folks). Knocking one book of my list adds three or four more to that list. It’s no different with tasks. The quicker you get through your to-do list, the more you find you have to add to it until you realize that you’ll never have an empty list and I’ll never read all of the books ever written.

So there I am on the bike path at 6:10 am listening to Four Thousand Weeks. For the last several years, I’ve tried to read at least 100 books each year. Audiobooks help greatly in this regard because I can multitask and I’ve gradually worked my way up to listening to most books at 1.8x. That’s the speed at which I’d listened to The Big Roads, and it was the speed I was listening to Four Thousand Weeks as I walked up the one steep hill on the bike path. At the top of the hill, I paused to jot down a note, and a few steps later, I paused again, and then again. And it was there, jotting down the third note that the irony of the situation dawned on me: here I was, multitasking, getting in my morning exercise while tearing my way through another book at 1.8x speed–a book that happened to be about how on average we live four thousand weeks, and maybe we should rethink the pace of our lives and all we are trying to accomplish in that time.

I slowed the speed of the audiobook down to 1.5x.

Often when I read nonfiction, I’ll have either a paper or e-book edition along with the audiobook so that I can more readily highlight passages or jot notes in the margins. Indeed, I have the e-book for Four Thousand Weeks in addition to the audiobook, and later that morning, using notes I’d jotted on my walk, I went back and highlighted passages. But circumstances were such that I mostly listened to the audiobook without following along in the e-book. And as I hit the last chapter, I realized that this book was too important, had too much good things to say, things I needed to hear, to rush through it.

So I am doing something I have done only once before1 since starting my list of books that I’ve read since 1996: I am re-reading Four Thousand Week immediately after I finish it. This second reading will be without the audiobook. It will be me sitting with the e-book, thinking carefully about what I am reading, and being more thoughtful about it. When I have finished it a second time, you can be sure I’ll share my thoughts with you. There are things that I have sensed in Four Thousand Weeks that warrant this closer reading.

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  1. I loved Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born to Run so much that I started it over as soon as I finished it the first time.

Full time job, full time dad, part time writer

Someone asked today that given my full time job, and the fact that I am a full time dad, how did I find the time to make 3 blog posts in a single day and when do I get my real writing done. The question demands a better answer than I gave in the comments and so here it is:

By gradually increasing my workload over time.

During the week, I will typically try to do my “real writing” (which means the writing which I hope to sell) between 5-7am. I have no problem getting up early because this is more or less incorporated into my way of life. Of course, there are occasions when I will sleep in, but I usually try to find time to fit in some writing-related task. I try to keep most of my writing related work boxed into those two hours because it is pretty much the only two hours I can have during the day when my parental-, spousal-,  or job-related duties are not needed. On a good day, I can write 2,000 words in 2 hours, first draft quality.

For roughly the next 10 hours, my day is consumed by my day job, with one exception: lunch. I always try to spend my lunch hour reading. There are only two exceptions to this practice: an unavoidable lunch meeting–and I made it clear to my coworkers that I’d prefer to avoid these. Or writing: if I didn’t manage to get my writing work done between 5-7am, I’ll do my best to make up at least some of that time during lunch. In fact, I’ve done this very thing over the last few days this week because I’ve had a few rough nights and decided to sleep in.

The evenings between 5-7pm are family time. Spending time playing with the Little Man, cooking and eating dinner, hanging out. At 7pm I read him 3 books and sing him 3 Bing Crosby songs (all he’ll tolerate) and then he goes off to bed. The rest of the evening is open. Sometimes Kelly and I will watch TV, sometimes I’l read, or do some chores. I am rarely up late because I have to be up so early.

That explains the part time writer, full time dad and the day job, but what about the blogging?

Well, I must admit there are some smoke and mirrors, not all is as it seems. I keep a list of ideas for topics I want to write about and generally, I’ll write one or two posts in the evening before I go to bed–but use the “scheduled post” feature in WordPress to scheduled them for the following morning. Thus, my first post of the day will usually appear at exactly 7am and my second post at exactly 9am. In fact, this post was written at 9:30pm on Friday evening, but you won’t see it for nearly twelve hours. I will likely be doing something completely unrelated to blogging when this post appears. A few times a week, something will strike me that I feel I must write about immediately and so those things are posted as soon as I write them. These days, however, the scheduled posts outweigh the spontaneous posts by about 2-to-1. That’s just a result of my limited supply of time.

There are things I give up. A lot of television for one thing, which may not be a big loss. I don’t read as much as I used to either. I don’t work out as much as I should. But I want to be a science fiction writer and some sacrifices have to be made. I just try (not always successfully, I’m afraid) not to sacrifice things that are really important, like time with family.

This schedule generally works well for me but as I said, it has evolved over many years. Blogging is just a part of my life now, like breathing. This is my 3,812th post. Do that many and it will be a reflex for you, as well.

Inbox overflow

Remember the game you’d play as a kid, where you couldn’t step on certain parts of the floor because there was lava there? That’s how I tend to treat my email inboxes: I process the stuff in there as quickly as possible and get it out. I am a big believer in the “Inbox Zero” philosophy. An empty inbox is satisfying and tells me that I am staying on top of things.

My personal email inbox currently has 24 items in it. Not terrible all things considered. There’s a lot of wedding-related stuff I haven’t refiled yet, for instance. It will be empty by the end of the day.

My work email inbox currently has 383 items in it, which is a personal record. On good days, my work inbox usually doesn’t have more than 10 items and I stay on top of it. But 383! It is a sign of how busy I am, how much I am slipping, that my inbox has nearly 400 items in it, dating all the way back to June 2. I wonder if I will ever catch up?