... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Wednesday 13 May 2020


I can't take credit for the term. It comes from American self-help blogger Mark Manson, who, for all he's an American self-help blogger, talks a surprising amount of sense. Every now and then I remember he's there, and go and stock up on a bit of positivity and perspective.

And one of the things he's written recently is how important it is to maintain a sense of routine when you're severed from so many of your external parameters and boundaries. This is clearly part of the secret of my success. I love routine. I thrive on it. For me routine is not a prison or a restraint, but a framework; a scaffold that supports me in doing what I want to do. The trouble is that very often someone or some unforeseen event will kick a chunk out of the bottom of that structure, and the whole thing will wobble and collapse, taking me with it.

That is far less likely to happen at the moment. Everything that impinges on me - work wise, at least, which is what I spend most of my time on and where I need routine the most - is filtered through email. It comes at me in linear progression, not assaulting me on all sides at once. It comes at me quietly, tamed and civilised into written form. No one calls across my desk at me; no one pops by with a 'quick question'; I cannot overhear conversations or the ping of the microwave, or smell people's lunches from the kitchen. I do not have to walk past a dozen people, making small talk with all of them (or risking looking curmudgeonly) every time I go to the toilet. Equally, I am not tempted to just get up from my desk and disturb someone else with my own 'quick question' that turns into a ten minute chat, which is perfectly pleasant but by the time I've got back to my desk I've forgotten the answer to the question (and probably the question itself). Every chat is scheduled, planned and prepared for. So much more communication is in writing, even - actually, especially - the most spontaneous chats. I don't have to memorise it whilst making small talk at the same time. I appreciate that was more of a rant about open plan offices than a paean to routine, but bear with me.

Although it might look like it on the surface, going into the office every day was not good for my routine, and sometimes the attempt to preserve one did feel forced. In contrast, my working life now has a really strong and useful routine - and it's not one I've consciously imposed. It has grown very naturally and surprisingly quickly, and it's what I will miss the most when I'm finally dragged back into office life. Because never before in my professional life have I achieved so much, so efficiently, so effectively, to such a high standard, and with so little stress as I am doing now. Never before have I felt so confident in my abilities, or so on top of my workload.

I won't write in detail what my routine is, because that would be exceedingly boring, but it begins with waking at six (just as I used to to go into the office), having a shower, getting dressed in work clothes - top and bottom now. I experimented with just the top half for a bit, but I do feel better if I'm nicely dressed, even if no one's going to see. Then I have my tea/cat/dishes/porridge/book breakfast routine, and if I can be at my desk by seven I'm happy. Everything I have to do is recorded and prioritised in Toodledo, and once a week I'll transfer the week's tasks into my Google calendar, which is colour coded aquamarine for tasks and red for appointments. Once they're in there I can shift them about if they take more or less time than anticipated, or if something unexpected comes up. I'll start with the daunting things that I need to be fresh for, and do more mundane things after lunch. I'll stop for a cup of tea whenever I feel like it (which nearly always adds up to nine or ten a day) and I'll stop for a little snack when I feel like it (which is nearly always about ten o'clock) and when I get to a nautral break around lunchtime I'll have lunch; I'll have a proper break and sit in the garden if it's nice after every video meeting, and when I feel like I've run out of work-type energy I'll stop, which is nearly always around four o'clock. Then I'll change out of my work clothes, and start to think about my tea. It's once I've finished work I can feel at a bit of a loose end, as I really don't feel like reading or sitting in front of a screen for a while, and nor do I want to start anything new. Often I do gravitate back to the computer after tea ... maybe to write a blog post.

1 comment:

  1. As I entered the last phase of my career I found myself either working remotely from my team or completely alone at home. In some ways the absence of interruptions boosted my productivity but, as months went by, I found the reduced spontaneous contact with colleagues old and new whittle away at my effectiveness. I concluded that I really didn't need to work alongside the team all the time, but when I was with them I had to maximise the "informal" contact as a priority. To take that to an extreme - I was responsible for a large unit 200 miles away and when I did a day visit each week I would make it my practice to walk every floor of each building to make myself visible ad to pick up on all the anecdote I could in a short space of time. I guess it comes down to planning the informal as well as the formal. I understood that Churchill was once caught in his study "practicing his ad libs".