Category Archives: thinky-ness

Organisation, planning, time management

TIL 30: September Learning Challenge


It seems appropriate to end this challenge by looking back over the month and what I’ve learned. Not just the javascript, or voice in writing, or stress management, but overall.

After the initial enthusiasm for the idea, I confess I was dubious about how sensible it was: did I really need the stress? And my ‘need’ to mix it up and do several topics – not sure that was okay (as if it matters!) or the best for me, tbh. Then again, I am a scanner after all 😉

But very quickly I was impressed about what a difference it made to my usual love of but scatter-gun approach to learning. First, there’s that push to keep going and not start skipping days. I’ve done some javascript before, for instance, but never leaving off for more than a few days powered me through the material fast enough that I hadn’t started to forget the beginning 😉 In fact, that speed of moving through things was quite impressive – I’ve covered a lot in the month, more than I would have without the challenge.

The real eye opener, though, was the daily blogging – not my usual thing, but it really focuses the brain when you know you have to explain things! I gained a few new readers, too, which was interesting!

I’ve also had to let go of a bit of perfectionism. Were all the blog posts brilliant? Hah! But they got done – and sometimes that’s the more important thing.

The last week has been tough, since I’ve had a cold and then Inktober starting – definitely know now to stick to one challenge at a time! But I’m really glad to have reached the end, with 30 posts to show that yup, this September I learned some things! 🙂


TIL 25: Stress Management 5


Today’s session was largely about relationships and communication.

The exercise was to pick someone who irritates you – someone close to you, friend or family, who can really press your buttons. This wasn’t just about putting yourself into their shoes, but to really really try to inhabit their skin. How would they sit? What facial expression would be ‘them’? Take a good five to ten minutes to try to feel being that person. Perhaps you’re finding yourself with facial hair, or hips, for the first time! 😉 This isn’t so much about putting yourself in their heads, although interesting to see if the physical leads to the psychological.

Have a moment before you’re done to imagine being them and yourself at the same time. Then, as you come back to being yourself, notice what changes. Do you sit up straighter, etc?

This exercise is all about empathy, of course, but with the slightly different slant of focusing on the physical rather than just the ‘how would they think/see this’.

We also covered the stages of communicating a difficult change to someone, from not belittling your own needs/wants, through compromise and restating the key points to ensure that both parties understand the same thing from the words!

TIL 22: Stress Management 4b


Following on from this post, I realised in my sleepy state I’d forgotten several things we’d covered!

First, the concept of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’, and how much we use these words to beat ourselves up. Try and catch yourself! Even the fun stuff in life is all too often turned into a ‘should’ – I should really go on holiday. I must catch up with the girls, it’s been ages. It might sound minor, silly even, but just the change from ‘should’ to ‘want to’ in talking/thinking about a task can make it easier or more enjoyable. Even chores – not “I have to do the ironing”, but “I want to look after my clothes and feel good about my appearance.” (for example)

We also did a really lovely visualisation exercise, based around that idea of change. We were to imagine ourselves somewhere calm and safe, with a view of a broad swathe of sky. Imagine the warmth of the sun against your skin, and a cool breeze. Now look out and see the shadows start to lengthen, and the birds singing the evening chorus. The air cools a little, and the sky starts to go from blue into the amazing reds, oranges and pinks of sunset, then darker still into indigos and the deep deep blue-black of night. The stars come out – what a view you have of the milky way! Ponder for a moment how far those pinpricks of light have travelled to reach you. Now watch the moon rise, throwing shadows around you, shifting as the orb tracks across the sky before setting. Feel the calm moment of utter stillness, before a hint of light starts to show in the east, gradually brightening through the golden pinks of dawn. A few chirrups start from the birds, building to the full dawn chorus as the sky continues to brighten. You can see the dew on the grass in front of you reflecting the new day’s sunlight.

As well as being relaxing in its own right, this visualisation reminds us that change is a constant. The sun dips below the horizon every night, and rises again every morning. The seasons rotate in the same manner. As a tree loses its leaves in autumn, it doesn’t fret for the loss but rather makes space for the new growth in the spring. Likewise, our own lives will change and cycle, and each time something falls out of our lives it makes room for something new.


TIL 19: Cognitive Bandwidth


Random Fridays, where I waffle about an article I’ve read during the week!

Following on from posts on (not) Doing All the Things and more generally Time Management, I stumbled across an article on Lifehacker about Cognitive Bandwidth. I’d say it’s worth reading the article behind it all, Why You Feel Busy All the Time – and given this is exactly how I was feeling last week, the read couldn’t have been more timely!

“There are always … more things to read, more ideas to follow up… The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed: we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount. We feel a social pressure to “do it all”, at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical impossibility.

For me, it wasn’t that I had an untenable list of things to get through last week, but even when I wasn’t doing I had an ongoing ‘whirr’ of “this next, then that tomorrow, don’t forget about…”. Cognitive bandwidth overload!

busyAnd that quote above – the modern to-do list is never empty. Well, mine never is! There’s always something that can be tidied, made, read, watched – my stack of unread books plus those I’d quite like to read might last out several decades by this point! Can we say overwhelm?!

The article doesn’t really offer solutions, but it does point out the contradiction that the busier we are (or feel), the worse our time management skills get.

My own solution? Rephrase a lot of the ‘I should’s into ‘I want’s (I’ve just spent a massive chunk of the weekend cooking – but it’s been fun!). Be realistic with your to do list – maybe write it and cut it in half. Take time to meditate. Plan downtime – and make it proper downtime! There are reasons why going to the cinema is more relaxing than watching a movie in the house (you’ve paid and made the effort to go there, you’re more likely to concentrate rather than have half a mind to jump up and finish the dishes), for example. Pick your task or leisure and focus on just that – this is what mindfulness is all about.

TIL 18: Stress Management 4


Today’s main topic was change. Change is inevitable, but also stressful. Some of the changes we make voluntarily rank amongst life’s most stressful events: moving house, getting married, even going on holiday, etc, and yet we still do these things. Other changes are not voluntary: illness, death of those close to us, divorce, etc.

Events such as these might be thought of as gateways, or thresholds: points in life where we have the chance to see things differently, or opportunities to change our beliefs. These doorways are usually accompanied by fear, and may reoccur throughout life.

The first doorway is the fear of separation, or aloneness. This starts when we are babies and must separate our ‘self’ from that of our mother, and then throughout life as we develop our individuality and difference from the groups we are part of. The inability to communicate perfectly the thoughts that are unique to us can fuel this sense of isolation.

The second doorway is the fear of loss of meaning and/or purpose in life. We build a sense of who we are through our habits and routines – generally, the way we spend our lives. When these are disrupted, the sense of self can also be impacted. This can be through events as natural as moving on from school, or more disruptive such as being made redundant.

The third doorway is the fear of death. Western culture is not good at acknowledging this certainty: we will all die. Eventually we are faced with our own mortality, and this can affect people in different ways.

The fourth doorway is a fear of freedom. When things change, when we have an abundance of choice, that can be overwhelming and many people will run away from change and try to stay the same – even if that is not the best course of action. However, consciously choosing change can be empowering – the opportunity to recreate your self/life.

The change-related mindfulness exercise we tried involved a deep examination of your own hand. Looking at it, seeing what you notice. Thinking about how much it has changed over the years. Then letting go of the thoughts, and looking with curiosity – perhaps as a painter would view a subject, focusing on colour or shading. We’re very critical of our own bodies, but perhaps we can think less about how awful our nails look, and more about how amazing our hands, etc are – all the things they let us do!

TIL 15: Failing is good for the soul


Mondays are ‘headology’ day in my TIL curriculum – for me that means psychology-type topics, sort of.

Today’s article is courtesy of Psychologies magazine, which I used to read a lot – it’s much better, imo, than the usual ‘women’s’ magazine obsessed with make up and dieting (although it did start to have articles about those kind of things, with a bit of psychological slant!). Anyway. A recent online article which caught my eye was titled, “Why failing is good for the soul.”

The article’s author tells of a yoga class she’s terrible at – but also that freeing feeling of being able to be bad at something, and no one caring. She celebrates ‘surviving’ each class, not mastering the perfect headstand.

The modern world is driven by achievement. Do well at school, pass those exams, get to the top of your career field, be slim, be muscular, be a perfect spouse, parent, child, be a master of time and mindfulness… urk!! o_O

As well as the stress, this constant ‘must be excellent’ mantra is hugely limiting – how can you grow if you’re too afraid to try anything new, in case you’re rubbish at it? Indeed, it’s almost a guarantee that you will be rubbish at it – I’ve noted before that the only way to become good at something is to work through being bad at it.

The other benefit of being willing to fail at something is that it teaches you to be brave at failing at other things. Life needs a few risks – and by starting small, you can learn that the risk of failure isn’t always that awful.

TIL 12: Doing All the Things


… or rather, not! Read this article on Zen Habits, and from the title onwards I was thinking “This is me all over!” Signed up to the gym, a class (online), and not gone; stacks of eBooks unread, guitar unplayed, art and craft supplies untouched…! Argh!! All those good intentions never materialise – as the article asks, what’s wrong with me?!

The answer, apparently, is an over-abundance of optimism: we think we can do more than we can (2-5 times more, and I suspect I’m at the 5!) and that the things we do will take less time than they actually do. We forget about all the little things in life that take up time – chores, eating, etc. And we end up doing ‘comfortable’ busy work as it’s easier to do than focusing on getting over the resistance of the Project.

Leo suggests blocking out exactly what ‘important’ tasks you’ll do in the (at most) 3-4 hours of time you really have in a day – and then cut it in half, as everything will be taking longer than you think! Sure, you can cut out TV etc, but that’s not going to free up as much time as you think – and you DO need some downtime unless you really fancy hitting burn out!

timetableSo I guess it’s a case of being less vague. Not “I’ll do a, b, c, d,… tomorrow evening” but a more realistic, “I’d do this between 8-8:30pm”. Hmm. Sensible, but a bit restrictive for me, maybe? Still… merit in that. And yes, it does stop the out of control to do lists if you have to put actual time slots against things – you soon discover that you’ll have about 20 seconds to do each task unless you stay up to 4am! Plus, you can start monitoring expected vs. actual duration, and get better at estimating how long certain things will take.

The other tips include setting up a good environment – although that to me doesn’t mean the same as the suggested finding an accountability partner. I know in myself that the quickest way to make me not want to do something is to turn it into a ‘must’ – I need to know I can wiggle out, guilt-free (ish). But hey, at least I know that about myself!

And the final point is to acknowledge that you’re going to want to shy away from doing the stuff that you’ve otherwise flagged as important for yourself and make excuses like, “Oh, but I really really have to do the dishes and reorganise the DVDs.” Hmm! But that’s where the Unprocrastination Challenge came in, I guess – maybe it’s time I stopped using that for getting chores done (as important as sorting the insurance was!) and use it for the things I swerve despite really wanting to do them, be that building an exercise habit or something crafty.