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I Gets No Sleep*

Getting more sleep was my key goal for 2011. Here’s an update…not so much.

If anything, my sleep deprivation might be worse so far in 2011 because there’s just so much that I want to do. Like I said in my year-end post, I resent the small amount of free time I have so I just steal hours from my sleep. Recently, what’s been worse than the stubborn drive of mine to stay up is the sheer inertia of my exhaustion. I’m not even actively choosing to still be awake anymore, I am just too tired to move from the couch downstairs to the bed upstairs. Listen to how messed up that is–too tired to go to bed.

Part of the problem is the winter running group I joined to help keep me motivated to train for a 10 mile race in April. I did this last year too and I forgot about how much it messed with my sleep schedule. Every Saturday since mid-January, I’ve had to get up earlier than I want to–about as early as I get up for work. Getting up early six days in a row means that I sleep like the dead on Saturday night. Like snooze 4 or 5 times without being aware of it deep.  I get up really late on Sundays and then have trouble getting to sleep on Sunday night and thus start off each week already sleep deprived. You would think after 9 weeks of this (and 16 weeks last year) I would have figured out a way to get a handle on this, but apparently not.

I’m pulling out the big guns on this sleep issue…LENT. While I’m sure the Pope would excommunicate me if he was even aware I existed (I am Satan, you know!), there are certain things that stay with a person after 14 years of Catholic school. One of those things for me is the Lenten promise. I’ve long since passed the time that the fear of God made me do this, but for some reason I have better willpower to do difficult things during Lent.

So a few years ago I decided to take advantage of this situational willpower of mine. Since then I have given up fried foods, TV (!), and dessert (twice!) for Lent, all successfully. Two years ago, I tried sleep for my Lenten promise and not once did I go to bed by the appointed hour of 11pm (or even by midnight). My sleep problem is a pesky little bitch.

But I’ve had enough. I’m so tired lately that my executive functioning is noticeably off. I’m exhausted yet wired all at the same time. I give my best hours to work, so that means it’s really my personal life that is suffering the most and that’s not acceptable.

Given the recent difficulty I have had physically getting myself to the bed from the couch where I’m entrenched with my entertainment, my Lenten plan this year is simple. Each day during Lent my goal is to be in bed at 11pm. I’m not saying lights out, I’m saying physically in the bed. So as long as I am in bed, I can read, screw around on the iPad, or do anything else that can be done in bed (!) after 11pm. If I start getting groggy like I have been, rather than having to forklift my ass off of the couch and go all the way upstairs, I can just close my eyes and drift off to dreamland.

NOTE: I’m finishing this post around 11:10pm, so already you can see how fantastically this is going. Love the irony of breaking my Lenten promise on day one because I was writing a blog post about my Lenten promise. Oy vey!

*title comes from ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless, which ironically came up on my iPod shuffle last night during my run

Do You Have A Minute?

I’ve been meaning to link to this for weeks, but I’ve been steady busy, as my Dad would say. cracks me up, but this (semi) recent entry really spoke to me given my task-timing experiment.

Is the fact that this entry is funny a sign that it would be rude to use my timer to limit office intrusions??? Because my first reaction to this entry was to laugh, and my second reaction was, what a brilliant idea, Elaine…

2010: Year In Review

With just a couple of days left in 2010, I thought I’d summarize my year. I found this year-end quiz years ago at Linda’s and have enjoyed reading her recaps ever since. This is the first year I’m filling out the quiz myself–it seems like a good way to reflect on the past year and kick off the new year.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?

I ran a 10-mile race and came in within my time goal. I finally ran a half marathon after many aborted attempts (most ending without even completing the Couch to 5K first step!). In 2009, I completed all but the final two weeks of training for a half marathon in my hometown (had a flight booked and everything) before injuring my knee and having to bail on running the race. I was devastated. The disappointment colored everything for the last half of 2009. Being able to start running again and complete the race in 2010 was a huge accomplishment and a big relief, quite frankly. The constant paranoia and nagging worry about every little twinge was getting exhausting.

I also started wearing my gorgeous engagement ring regularly after stupidly letting it sit in a drawer for 11 years.

I also started this blog, which was something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Yes, I usually make resolutions. For the first time last year, I set some specific goals rather than more vague resolutions. Here are the goals I set for 2010, along with my assessment of how well I did.

2010 Resolutions

Get back into running without injury

This one is a resounding yes, thank jug of milk. In addition to the two races mentioned above, I also ran a 5K in September (missing my 30 minute time goal by less than 30 seconds) and the 10K associated with the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I’m also pretty proud of running throughout the year, even in some pretty horrific winter weather. The winter running group I joined helped motivate me to get those long runs in during January through March, when I really just wanted to burrow into my bed and hibernate.

Get more sleep

I’ve always had trouble falling asleep and there is no amount of sleep that satisfies me. I have the absolute wrong internal body clock for normal work schedules, to which my employer unfortunately expects me to adhere. Going to bed at a reasonable hour is something I have less willpower to do than abstaining from dessert (this is saying something). No matter how exhausted I am the next morning, I stay up late that night. This is some deep-seated shit–I resent the hell out of what I consider to be inadequate free time, particularly on weekday evenings, so I just take the free time from my sleep. You might think, just go to bed earlier, what the hell is your problem? I sort of agree, but since I’ve been unsuccessfully working on this for about 20 years, I have to acknowledge the depth of the issue. If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about myself, it would be this. Because I am tired. Last year I had concrete plans for meeting my goal of getting to bed earlier and getting more sleep, which I won’t detail here because this is going to be long enough already and because I didn’t really successfully do any of them. I failed at this one pretty miserably.

Reduce time wasting activities

As I’ve written about in the explanation of this blog, I’d like to be more productive. I’ve done pretty well on this one, although there’s always room for improvement. Using the timer, which I’m sure sounds crazy to most people, has really been helpful for me. If I’m not very intentional about how I use my time, I can end up watching five hours of Law and Order reruns without blinking an eye.

Read a book per month

This one’s really embarrassing, especially given that the friend who gave me the final push and encouragement to start this blog is a voracious reader whose own blog is focused on books. In 2010, I read a grand total of four books. Oops.

Go off birth control

Birth control is certainly effective and convenient, but after 17 years it just felt like the right thing to take a break. Why it was so hard to commit to doing this is now a mystery to me. My doctor insisted it was fine to stay on and we bantered about it for several years. 2010 was finally the year I stopped listening to her and decided to just give stopping a go. While having more frequent (the key thing I miss about Seasonale was being gloriously period-free for 8 months out of the year) and less predictable periods is annoying, I can’t imagine going back now. This decision was a slam dunk.

2011 Resolutions

My goals for 2011 follow. With the exception of the critical sleep goal being first, they aren’t in any particular order.

-Get more sleep (no, seriously)

-Exercise in the morning rather than the evening

-Keep running:  run a 30 minute 5K, join winter running group, run the Cherry Blossom in April, run a 10K or longer race in fall

-Get stronger:  strength train at least twice per week, work up to Cathe Friedrich’s STS by September (and complete STS September through November)

-Be more productive: schedule someday tasks (like closet cleaning, photo organizing) for specific days, write blog posts twice a week, keep using the timer to stay on track and schedule daily tasks

-Become a better photographer: learn how to use my 6-year old camera already (rather than point and hope), finish culling and organizing digital photos, make prints and/or books of good shots, frame a good picture of each place I’ve lived

-Take a French class: I studied French all through high school, minored in it in college, and studied abroad in a French-speaking country, but have almost completely lost it. When we went to Belgium for our tenth anniversary in 2009, I couldn’t really communicate noticeably better than Dave (who studied Latin). So pissed at myself for letting this go.

-Be more social: I’ve been coasting friendship-wise for years and haven’t made much effort to meet new people or reach out to friends. This year, I plan to host at least a couple of get-togethers and just generally make more of an effort to reach out to people.

-Eat dinner in the dining room and not in front of the TV

-Walk Chuck in the evenings: it’s pretty lame that I have to make this an explicit goal, since this is actually supposed to be my job, but I’ve slipped to evening exercise recently and Dave’s been taking up the evening dog walk slack. It’s not fair to him.

-Fucking chill: don’t over schedule, make time for relaxation and Dave, take a real vacation with Dave (even if it’s just a long weekend), leave work on time, do not check work email from home, think/take deep breath before you react in anger

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friend Erin had her second son about 6 months ago. He’s rolly polly and super cute. I hope I’m not forgetting anyone else, because that would be embarrassing.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Holy crap, none.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
I’ve been scratching my head over this one long enough that I’m going to go with the only thing that keeps popping up–I’d like to have more peace and clarity of thought.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Snowpocalypse and the associated snow days in February,  running the Cherry Blossom in April (and being beaten by a juggler) and having brunch with Dave after, finally finishing the Presque Isle half marathon in July and seeing Dave, Chuck, and my nephews Ned and Sam at the finish line, Mom’s back surgery in July, getting all dressed up for our fancy anniversary dinner in October, the Rally to blah, blah, blah, and seeing Dave perform at his first gig (he’s not in any of the currently-posted videos) and the group “Wonderwall” sing-along.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Completing the half marathon

9. What was your biggest failure?
Allowing myself to be overtired all the damn time, and cranky behavior when tired, and/or frustrated, and/or overwhelmed.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Babied my knee all year like it was fine china, but didn’t re-injure it. No illnesses, not even a cold (knocking on wood as it’s not 2011 yet). I can’t recommend hand washing strongly enough.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My Garmin GPS running watch. I don’t have to spend runs trying to calculate my own pace anymore. The best thing someone else bought for me was the iPad.

12. Where did most of your money go?
Our single biggest expense is and presumably always will be our mortgage. We also carpeted the stairs to make them easier for Chuck to navigate and put super cool iridescent green tiles in the kitchen.

13. What did you get really excited about?
Running, starting a blog

14. What song will always remind you of 2010?
Interpol’s Success and the Bed Intruder Song

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?  YES! I actually had changing moods this year. Given that my highs were pretty high, my lows (which were, uh, shall we say monthly) were a little more noticeable
b) thinner or fatter? frustratingly the same, on the bright side I’ve kept the weight I lost in 2009 off
c) richer or poorer? financially a little better off

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Read, go to movies, sit on my porch, sleep (I should be in bed right now.)

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying, getting bent out of shape, checking work email when not there

18. How did you spend Christmas?
We spent Christmas in Erie with my Mom.

19. What was your favorite TV program?
InfoMania, because it’s one of the few that Dave and I both enjoy watching. In terms of what I looked forward to most, I’d have to say In Treatment and Parenthood (I know, WTF, Tracy? I got sucked into watching the relationships among the adult siblings, not so much the parent/child stuff, but that’s actually kind of compelling too, go figure).

20. What were your favorite books of the year?
I guess I could list all four that I read? Quite frankly, I don’t think any of them really rise to favorite level. Happiness: the Science behind Your Smile was a pretty cool book. I can see how some people could find the research evidence on happiness depressing, but I actually found it helpful, in a ‘you just need to get a grip’ kind of way.

21. What was your favorite music from this year?
It’s been harder to discover new music that I like as I’ve gotten older. This year, we went to several shows and that was fun. I went with Dave to see some of his favorite bands, which is only fair given the number of times he had to go see the Police with me in 2007-8. I discovered that the Wedding Present (one of Dave’s favorite bands) was doing a ‘Bizarro’ anniversary tour. When I emailed Dave to tell him, his response was “What would I do without you?” Saving that email forever.

Dave’s never seen Rush before, so I got tickets for their show for his birthday. I didn’t get tickets earlier because I worried they’d play a lot of newer stuff, and I love Rush, but I don’t love them that much. Then I heard that they were playing Moving Pictures in its entirety on this tour and I felt like a moron for not getting tickets sooner because we were on the lawn.

We also saw Interpol. I don’t like to see shows when I’m not familiar with most of the songs. I thought I only liked a handful of Interpol songs. Surprisingly and happily, in preparing for the concert, I discovered that I like their music a lot. You have to let the songs sneak up on you.

We also saw Dave’s guitar teacher’s band, The Grand Candy, a couple of times. He encouraged us to flip him the bird during his song ‘Birds Are Not Free,” which was the most cathartic concert audience participation experience ever.

22. What were your favorite films of the year?
I have to say Inception since it was the only movie I saw in the theater. Dave and I watched Up on cable and thought it was pretty good, although we both pretty much cried throughout a good deal of it (hello, unwelcome look into my possible future).

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
We went out for a nice dinner and to see my one movie of the year (see above). Dave also made me Harvey Wallbanger cake from scratch this year and it turned out that the doctored-up box version is better. I turned 37.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More weekday free time

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
This question kills me. How about ‘not naked?’ Not sure what the question is getting at. Is ‘closet full of clothes that don’t fit right and no initiative to remedy it’ an appropriate answer? If so, then that.

26. What kept you sane?
Running and Dave (and by Dave, I mean sex)

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
I sort of woke up a little this year. This is it, this is my life, and I’m only going to get out of it what I put in (cue ‘The End’). I have to own this thing and I don’t have to agree to do everything that people ask me to do.

Thanksgiving To Do List

Timing my tasks and scheduling tasks to days based on estimated time (to avoid over booking) has been going really well at work. This time management scheme has helped me stay more focused and be more productive.

Following this scheme is more difficult on the weekend. On work days, it’s clear that my planned tasks shouldn’t add to more than 8 hours. It’s harder to know what figure I should use for a day off. Last Saturday, the buckeyes consumed my day so I just wanted to relax on Sunday. And I hadn’t taken any time to prioritize my to do list for Sunday so I ended up spending too long troubleshooting a problem with my Flip camera which wasn’t even on my to do list.

So I’m trying to be more explicit about plans for my Thanksgiving vacation time. I have four days off (plus travel days) and would really love to tackle the following tasks (not to mention enjoy the time off!):

The screenshot of my to do list above shows how I’ve been assigning estimated completion times to tasks so that I can assign tasks to days. When I finish a task, I add the actual completion time to the end of the task. Some of the tasks on the list are very quick errands while others are long-standing “someday” to dos that I want to get some traction (not to be confused with Sal’s definition of traction) on during my time off.

Tomorrow I plan to assign these tasks to days. One of the things I am thankful for: that cooking Thanksgiving dinner isn’t on my to do list. My lovely and talented husband is the chef in the family. My assistance will involve taking the dog on a long walk while Dave cooks, stopping at the store in the morning to pick up the required yet somehow forgotten item (you forgot cranberries too??), and refereeing the bickering between Dave and my Mom about the kind of turkey she bought.  Happy Thanksgiving!

No Time This Time

Several time management books I’ve consulted recommend comparing estimates of how long tasks will take with actual times. Last night I estimated how long I thought each task on my list for today would take and then prioritized them and ensured that the work-related tasks didn’t total more than eight hours. Then today at work I timed how long I spent on my tasks. I brought in a timer that counts down as well as up and that I could wear around my neck so that I could look like a moron if anyone saw me (actually so that I wouldn’t forget about my experiment during the day). I was pretty pleased with the experiment, and think I’ll keep doing it for a while, until I have a better sense of how long my usual tasks take to complete.  However, I think the clock app on my iPod Touch will sound less like I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner in my office than the timer I used today, so I’ll try that tomorrow.

My key goal for today was to limit e-mail management time to 30 minutes, which was completely ridiculous given that I’d just had a 4-day weekend. I planned on checking e-mail three times and spending 10 minutes on it each time. Yeah, not so much. The check I did first thing this morning ended up taking 2 hours.  In total, I spent almost 3 hours dealing with e-mail. Also, I checked e-mail more than the three times I had planned to, but on the plus side, I didn’t obsessively check it all day long like I usually do.

Although the actual amounts of time I spent on each task didn’t equal my estimates, some of my estimates weren’t too far off and getting better at estimating is the point of this exercise. Part of this exercise seems worth continuing indefinitely — adding my time estimate to each task on my to do list. Today I added my time estimates right to the front of each task and seeing that (accurate or not) helped me immensely in prioritizing tasks for today and the rest of the week.

So now all I need to figure out is where the hell those two hours I can’t account for went today…

Good Todo

Good Todo is an online to do list that I use. It is a vast improvement over my old paper-based system that involved me writing tasks on whatever slip of paper I could find (often post-it notes) and constantly having to consolidate and re-write the list. I’ve been using Good Todo since August 2007 and now I don’t see how I would get along without it.

About three years ago, my e-mail situation at work got so out of hand that I was reaching the storage limit daily. Just to send a simple e-mail or respond to one, I spent demoralizing amounts of time frantically searching for e-mails to delete while cursing more loudly than I should at work. Somewhere I heard about a book on increasing productivity by letting your “bits” go called “Bit Literacy.” I ordered the book for e-mail management help, but the key thing I gained from the book was learning about Good Todo.

Good Todo is a “bit-literate” online to do list created by the author of “Bit Literacy.” The key feature of Good Todo is its compatibility with e-mail, which is critical in helping with e-mail management. Emptying your inbox and keeping it empty is easier using Good Todo because you can forward e-mails that are tasks directly to your to do list. With your task safely on your to do list, you can delete the e-mail. Since each task is associated with a specific day, you no longer have to use an overflowing inbox as a to do list. You can also create your own tasks via e-mail or on the Good Todo website. Each task has a brief title and the program also allows you to add a longer description or instructions for the task (analogous to the subject and body of an e-mail).

I use Good Todo to store all my tasks: work and home, recurring, errands, and big projects and ideas. I look at Good Todo each day to remind me what tasks to do. I try to forward all tasks that enter my e-mail inbox to Good Todo right away if I’m not going to work on them immediately. You can also use Good Todo to make it appear that you never forget anything, which is fun. Just include Good Todo on any e-mails you send to assign a task to another person (for example 7 days from today). This adds a task to the future date you specify so you remember to follow up on that date.

It’s not free, but the cost is reasonable ($18/6 months) and the customer service is impressive. After I signed up, they asked for my feedback and they actually make changes based on user suggestions. Most of the things that concerned me about using Good Todo have been remedied. For example, I think categorizing is critical for keeping those “someday” tasks from taking over your to do list. Good Todo didn’t allow any categorization of tasks at the beginning but now does. Also, there used to be only one option for prioritizing tasks within a day–clicking on up and down arrows allowed you to move a task up or down one spot at a time or to the top or bottom of the list. The arrows were cumbersome and drove me crazy. Now you can drag and drop tasks to re-organize their order, which is much better. While you could always search for a specific task and click on any future date to see if there were any tasks planned, originally there was no week or month view, which is important for longer-range planning. They recently updated to allow viewing tasks for the next 7 or 30 days, or all tasks in a category.

Some nit picks remain. Creating recurring tasks is now possible, but the available frequencies are limited. Good Todo won’t create tasks that recur biweekly (time sheets at work, changing bed linens…what? you do that more often?) or yearly (sending birthday cards, etc…), which are two of my most used frequencies. Something else that I’d like to see is automatic tracking of the date a task was added. For logy procrastinators like me, I think the shame of seeing just how long some tasks have been on the list uncompleted might help light a fire under my ass.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have a lot of tasks.  Each task assigned to a day that is not completed by midnight automatically moves to the next day. This means that on Fridays, I spend a good amount of time moving uncompleted work-related tasks to the next week so that I don’t have to look at them on the weekend. Weekend days often have so many tasks listed that I have to scroll to view them all, which is not conducive to prioritization. Creating a “someday” category to dump things that I want to do but aren’t going to happen anytime soon has helped.

Overall, Good Todo includes all of the features I think are most important in a to do list, the price is right, and the customer service is excellent.  I highly recommend Good Todo to anyone looking for an online to do list.

Welcome to Logy Express!

One of the main topics I will write about here is my attempt to be more productive.

Here is an earthy summary of my thoughts on productivity. I have a lot of shit to do and it’s taken about 15 adult years of not getting as much of the shit done as I would like to reach the following “you don’t say?” realization. There is no gadget (love you iPad, but sorry not even you) or tool (even the fabulous Good Todo online to do list that I use) that can substitute for good old-fashioned time management skills. My key issues seem to be getting my head out of my ass about estimating how long tasks will take to complete, and then actually scheduling my days with a reasonable number of tasks. Shall I even mention the difficulty of staying focused on tasks that aren’t very intellectually stimulating in the era of instant entertainment gratification?

I wish I could say that some gadget or tool has totally revolutionized my life and drastically increased my productivity, but I can’t. In my case, too many tasks clog up my to do list to the point of distraction. Here is a screenshot of my to do list for today (my review of Good Todo is forthcoming). You don’t have to be familiar with Good Todo or my specific tasks to know there’s no way I’m going to get all that stuff done today. This isn’t even today’s original list, which contained 41 tasks when I woke up. Since only about 30 tasks fit on the screen without having to scroll to view them all, I postponed some tasks before making the screenshot.

I’m having some difficulty deciding what the appropriate scope of individual tasks should be. Some tasks are pretty simple like making a grooming appointment for my dog, but others are multi-faceted tasks that are quite time-consuming to complete. The “clean house” task makes me laugh every time it pops up, which is every Saturday because I keep moving it from one weekend to the next. Tasks that involved usually aren’t going to get crossed off my list in one day, so they just keep moving forward again and again. Breaking up larger tasks into smaller pieces is somewhat helpful, but also adds to my list’s clutter.

My next step for increasing productivity is to be more critical in my assessment of how long tasks will take me to complete and then to limit each day’s tasks to a set I can reasonably complete that day. I also need to schedule my time more explicitly (assign tasks to specific days and times). A few years ago, I was surprised to receive a package from my mother-in-law. She had seen Julie Morgenstern on Oprah and was impressed enough to order her time management book for me. At the time I remember my thoughts included WTF?, but now my main thought is hopefully there are some words of wisdom in this book that will resonate with me. We’ll see…