The concentration situation didn’t improve. It was a fight all afternoon to get anything done. Then I did my absolute classic – at about five pm I just drifted off onto the internet, reading about the financial crisis. I didn’t leave work till 8pm, having not achieved about an hour of serious work since lunchtime.
How can it be this hard to concentrate? And why is it so hard to concentrate on something that you’re not supposed to be working on, even if it’s quite hard going, rather than something you’re supposed to be looking at? It’s like the most boring task in the world immediately becomes attractive just because it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing.
Like, AT ALL. In the morning, I am basically quite productive. In the afternoon, it’s like I’m drunk. It’s a constant battle to get focussed and to stay focussed. My job isn’t fascinating, but it’s not boring enough to justify it being a complete struggle to stay awake from 2-6pm every day.
I’ve tried having lunch later, and that reduces the damage. But I can’t stop for lunch at the end of the day or I’d collapse. Maybe it’s what I’m doing at lunchtime – usually running around doing errands. Maybe I should do what other people do, and do that stuff on Saturday. Spend my lunchtime just sitting somewhere eating lunch (I know – radical) and resting my brain.
I’ll try that for the next few days and see if it improves things.
Doesn’t that title just make you want to cry into your soup.
It’s not as boring as it sounds, really. I just wanted to update you, the internet, about my ongoing battle to get more stuff done at work and not have to work all evening to catch up.
The problem, natch, is the internet. A knee-jerk reaction often sees me opening up a blog or news site almost without realising; then it’s comments and blog posts and before I know it an hour has gone past. The hours I spent in 2008 I spent re-desiging my main blog, even though no-one reads it!
I’ve spent some time and effort (see the “productivity” category) working to improve this. I’ve used PC timers to plan my breaks, I’ve set myself goals and offered myself expensive prizes.
Last week, I opened up a new front in the war against procrastination. I bought a mobile broadband thingy and took an old laptop into work. Now if I want to do some personal-internet stuff at work, I have to do it on the laptop. So I write it down, and I do it all in one go when I take a break.
That’s the theory. And it kind of works. Or rather, it worked for the first few says of the week. I’m conscious when I’m using the laptop that everyone can see I’m not working, so that helps keep those breaks down to a sensible length. But it also disincentivizes me from using the laptop, and not just doing things on my work computer, where it’s harder to control.
So when, as I have been the last couple of days, I’m tired and finding it hard to concentrate, it’s still tempting to disappear off to internetland when I’m supposed to be working. So tonight, for example, I’m supposed to be visiting my mother, but I didn’t finish catching up all the work I didn’t do this afternoon, until 8pm, so now I’m not going until tomorrow morning.
I keep mentioning being tired. I’ve had a full time job for ove four years, and I still find it incredibly hard to go out even some weekday evenings and not be an exhausted wreck at work by Thursday. This usally means I get up later and later, and get into work later and later, as the week wears on. If I don’t arrive till 10.45, over an hour later, I’m not exactly going to be out by six, am I?
I did think the answer might be to deliberately, in a planned way, work later. So today I didn’t get in till 10.45, and I resolved from the start to work till 7. I took my breaks, my lunch, and everything an hour later. If I could pull this off, I figured, I could not get to bed till 1am weeknights, and still be OK.
But in truth, it doesn’t work. Why? I know it sounds silly, but it’s antisocial. If I have to be anywhere in the evening before about 7.45, it doesn’t work. If I want to have lunch with someone at 1, it doesn’t work. If someone I need to interview wants to speak to me at 10, it doesn’t work.
This stuff matters. I think I’m realising that in some of the things where I prize myself on thinking independently, the concensus is actually right. I used to think working 9-5.30, as opposed to about 10.30-7, was crazy and old-fashioned. And I suppose, if your social life means meeting people for a drink and being out till 11.30, it is. But there’s a reason for it: kids. Society is structured by people with kids, and for them you want to be up early and out early. Coming to terms with this is part of taking my place in a society, not of isolated individuals, not even of funky twentysomethings, but of families. And that’s something I’m learning to do.
So. I need to get into work by 10. I need to work till a break at 11.45, get back to work at 12, stop for lunch at 1.30, start again at 3, stop for a break at 4.30, start again at 4.45, and stop at six. That still leaves plenty of break time, you notice. But when I’m working, I need to work.
The truth is, I don’t have to be tired. To do this only requires me to wake up at 7.30. If I ‘m in bed with the lights out at midnight, I’ll be fine. And most nights out still see me back home by a quarter to midnight. The trouble is, I’m not happy with a night out with friends. I always seem to need some time alone in front of the TV too. So I stay up till one watching TV – and smoking, which I also need to stop doing.
So that’s the battle so far. I’ll kep you updated on how I do.
Ok. Let me try and explain a little bit about my life, right now.
I’ve just found out the 8 button is broken on my keyboard.
I’m in a transitional phase of my life, i think it’s fair to say. For the last three years, I’ve lived a vaguely crappy existence: in a demanding job where there’s a lot to do but it’s far too easy to waste time, I’ve spent afternoons mindlessly browsing the internet and evenings working late to catch up. I’m gay, and single. I’ve had short, abortive relationships, but nothing more. The sex in my life has been – well, not more than glorified foreplay, really. I’m intelligent, but my job can be brainless at times. Basically I’ve been living half a life.
So why are things changing? Well. I’ve been in my current job – working on a magazine – almost two years, and it’s time to move on. I think – I certainly hope – that after years of maneouvring I’m now in a position to get a real journalism job, on a real magazine about things that matter to people. But I haven’t the slightest idea how to get started on getting that next job, and I’m vaguely terrified to try.
I’ve spent much of the last three years paying off debts accrued while at University and soon after. Not my actual student loans, but additional bank debt – overdraft, credit card – built up mostly by wasting a ton of money on junk food. Oh yes, I’m a compulsive eater. After a lot of hard work I’ve nearly finished paying it off – my last loan payment is on Feb 1. After that I’ll have almost half again as much disposable income each month. This might not sound important, but it’s going to make a real difference to my life – it means I can go out, go to galleries, have dinner with friends, and live a full city life in a way that’s very hard on the cheap.
And, my mother has terminal cancer. If it seems that should come first on a list of salient facts, well, I guess it’s sufficiently new that I haven’t worked out where it fits into the larger scheme of my life yet. I don’t even know what that last sentence means.
We’ve known for two years she had cancer, but it was always under control. We found out over Christmas that it’s spread from her tongue to her chest, and is basically unstoppable. We’re hoping chemotherapy will slow it down. But the doctor says, given the aggressiveness of the cancer and the difficulties of treatment, her life expectancy is probably measurable in months, not years.
My father, who left when I was nine, died ten years ago. When mum goes, I’ll be parentless.
Did I mention I’m 28?
I do have two siblings, thank goodness: a wonderful if somewhat maddening older sister, and a supportive if often hard to relate to older brother. They have kids, wonderfully, and my sister’s baby boy in particular just melts my heart. He came along just a few days before we got the news about mum, so as you can imagine it was an odd little Christmas.
So where does mum being sick fit into the transition in my life? Basically, it’s a cliche but it’s spurred me on to fix the things in my life that aren’t as they should me. I badly need to start living life more fully. Above all, I need to find love. Not, I stress, to “complete me” or some such crap. I spent a long time telling myself it was OK to be single. And it is, morally speaking. But that doesn’t mean it makes you happy.
I think there are a few reasons I’ve never been in love:
- Men are shits. The worst thing about being a gay man is that you have to seek love from other men. And men are cold, destructive and dishonest – sometimes. Of course, women have to put up with this stuff too, but they have other women to help them get through it. I’ve always been the kind of gay man who has mostly straight male friends. Between that and the men I’ve dated, I’ve always been in the zone of emotional distance, or some such jargon.
- I’m terrified of anal sex. I’ve never done it, and to be frank, it looks painful and unpleasant. The one time I tried – with my best friend, would you believe, when I was 16 – it was painful and unpleasant. Deep down I realise that, with preparation and care, it must be nice. But now I’m scared of telling any boyfriend that I’ve never done it before (again, I’m 28). I’m sure some of my fizzled relationships fizzled because I wasn’t responding to signals to do it.
- I’m terrified of getting hurt. This, more than anything, is the realisation that I’ve had since we got the news about mum. I used to imagine being hurt, crying, feeling heartache and I just couldn’t bear the thought of it. Of course, I’ve been through it, with my father’s leaving and so on. But it had become a haunting memory. But since December, I’ve cried more than in the preceding ten years. And I’m not so afraid of it any more.
The other thing that’s changed is that I realise just how much I’m going to miss the love that mum represents in my life. I’ve always wanted, and recently, mercifully, got much love and support from friends and my brothers and sisters – when I asked for it, at least. But only mum has ever really known me well enough to see through it when I’ve been putting up barriers, to see I’m unhappy when even I haven’t realised. Since I began contemplating life without her, I’ve been seized for the first time since I was about fifteen by a strong desire to find a loving, mutually supportive boyfriend. And ultimately, to marry one and raise children together. I need that love – that total, unquestionable love – in my life. I have it, from mum, now, but that won’t be true for long. And for the first time I think the desire for it outweighs my terror of being rejected, being hurt, or being laughed at.
This is, I suppose, a blog about self-improvement. And what better ritual of self-improvement is there than the good old New Year’s Resolution? Seeing as I had life-changing news over Christmas, it seems especially appropriate to see the new year as a new start.
- No eating between meals. This is the “main” one. The hope is that, while this won’t immediately mean I eat less, it’ll make my relationship with food much more controlled and healthy.
- No smoking. I mean, this is a non-brainer really: my mother is dying of cancer of the throat.
- No pissing about at work (see “productivity” posts)
- Get a boyfriend. Or, at least, try to get a boyfriend.
- Get a new job. Or, at least, try to get a new job.
- Always get the stairs at work.
- Weigh myself every day.
After a bit of a truce, I’m taking up the war against timewasting once again. I’ve found that it’s at the start of my magazine’s ludicrous three-month production cycle (ie, now) that I get furthest behind.
One change I’ve made is to set up a second screen with a large-font task list constantly visible. This makes it a little easier to stay focused. But I’m having trouble keeping it up to date as tasks morph and priorities change.
In the last few days I’ve noticed something else. It’s getting settled down to work that’s most problematic – in the morning, and again after lunch. Often I don’t get a think done before 11, after an hour in the office; then the first hour or so is a battle to concentrate. Then after lunch, again I can find myself surfing the internet again till three or even four. By contrast, in the hour before lunch and late in the day I’ve usually hit my groove, only to have it interrupted by lunchtime and/or hometime (or worse, I stay late).
Not sure what the solution is yet.