Wednesday, 14 November 2012


I moan and wail all the time about sitting at home doing nothing.

Now, there's a lot of truth to that: I certainly don't spend 40hrs of week getting paid, nor do I actually really produce anything obviously tangible at the end of any given day, usually.

On the other hand, I've been using Workflowy to write a series of task lists. This list is the list that combines what I do, what needs to be done, and what I want to be doing. Without having a job, it comes to somewhere between 4 and 10 hours a day of stuff in the do daily section. Okay, some of what's on the list is pretty optional, and I certainly don't get all that done every day.

I do need to make a list which differentiates between what I am doing and what I want to be doing. Which is actually a task on that list.

The time estimates in there derive from how long it takes for me to do those tasks, by the way. I do time myself doing things fairly frequently. It's a bit weird, but I've been doing it since I was a child, and it's fairly firmly ingrained.

One of the things that Steve of Nerd Fitness talks about with managing to establish habits is reducing the willpower needed to perform the habit. My internalisation of this concept has a lot to do with my experience doing automated testing and with having my nose rubbed in the barriers to doing anything at all on any given day.

My daily tasks are a lot of overhead to try and automate. To be honest, I'm not sure how to automate most of it, short of having a minder. I outsource the majority of the house cleaning by getting a house cleaner to come in once a week for two hours. Several of the daily tasks are there because doing something small once a day is easier than doing something huge once a week. Partially because I'll remember to do it if it's habitual, and partially because small things require small amounts of energy.

Little things help with this. I leave tabs in firefox open so that I don't have to remember to finalise my grocery orders, check my inbox, write a new blog post, check facebook, or where the clarinet repair place is. This does result in a lot of tabs open at any given time, but on the other hand, if I close all those tabs, it takes me a lot of energy to find and reopen them. The usual result of that is me not writing here, not reading my email, not doing my groceries until the last minute (which screws things up because then I usually don't get a good delivery slot), not interacting with people on facebook, and just losing the long running tasks.

Somehow, I also do the other things, the things that need to be done weekly or monthly or at longer intervals. Well, some of them.

And I have a growing backlog of one-off things to do.

There was a time in my life where I did most of the listed activities, had a full time job, and an active social life. That was around 5 years ago. A lot of what I do, or think about, is trying to get me back into a state where that kind of thing is possible for me again.

A lot of the rest is the mundane maintain the status quo activities. Personally, I don't find them inspiring, which is probably easy to see from the word choices I make when talking or writing about them. Being a housewife has never struck me as an emotionally fulfilling or satisfactory lifestyle for me. Being a systems administrator falls into the same emotional band. Nothing against sysadmins or house spouses, but I'm a progress bar kind of girl.

On the other hand, without routine, I very quickly come apart at the seams. A set daily, weekly, monthly routine frees up a lot of effort that would otherwise be spent on decision making. Or at least transfers to to times where it's manageable to set up, review, and debug.

The problem with routine is that when things change, they don't. Not by themselves. They're brittle under change. For me, it usually takes some weeks at least to settle after a change, or after an event which causes routine to be broken for more than a few days. Enough flexibility to cope with this kind of thing and it's usually not firm enough for in to be useful on a day to day basis. Or I just don't have the skills to design resilient routines that suit me and my life. Of course, when the proverbial hits the fan, what usually happens to me is out-of-control sleep - so I'm either unconscious or a zombie, barely capable of basic self care, much less anything else. Especially not if I'm emotionally exhausted, and I don't have the spare willpower to force myself to do things.

Part of my coping strategy is the quite large number of tasks on my list; doing these tasks helps minimise the collateral impact that occurs when my routine stops happening, and gives me slack time in which to recover. This helps in minimising anxiety during recovery, but does impose a burden of anxiety at other times.

Another aspect is what I like to call 'proactive laziness'. That essentially means doing a tiny extra thing now so I have less to do later. Things like having all the recipes I use regularly printed out and kept in a display folder in the kitchen, so I don't spend half an hour or so wandering around the internet going 'I know I had the link somewhere...', which is a waste of my time and effort. I'll note I've been pretty slack with this lately, which is my first thing to tackle in this challenge cycle.

I really wish I had a program I could fill out with my various tasklists, put in a few parameters, which would serve me up a nice page where I could tick things off, postpone things, etc etc. Remember the Milk is the least worst of this kind of thing that I've found. Its reminders, however, were simultaneously too irritating and too easy to ignore. I might give it another go again. Setup is a bit of a pain in the ass. I'll give it another go again anyway.

With such aids to memory, the difficult thing I find is figuring out what to put in, and what to leave out. Do I really need a reminder to empty, restack, and run the dishwasher? Probably not. Do I need a reminder with an irritating noise to tell me to shower? Probably, yes. Do I need an absolutely-impossible-to-ignore reminder to tell me to take my pills, but only when I'm awake? Definitely.

It's the conditional nature of things that's almost impossible to automate. I don't know, in advance, what kind of day I'm going to have tomorrow; whether it'll be one of those days where I'll take my meds, feel reasonably positive, get out of the house, and do things, or whether it'll be one of those days where I'll drag myself out of bed, to the couch, and desperately try to maintain some sort of grip on consciousness. Or if I'll be awake, but spend the day in one long frustrated scream inside my skull, because this isn't how I wanted my life to be.

At this point, I don't know what causes the ultra low energy days (except when it's obvious, like Monday when I was really ill). I'm working on finding patterns by filling out my daily symptoms, and keeping my activity logs so I have at least some correlation to what's happening in my life, and where my energy limits actually are. Once I have this information, I hope to be able to work exercise into my life again, and smooth out my energy level swings a bit. That, and manage my other energy sinks better.

This has turned into a bit of a ramble, but eh. It's my blog. So there.