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Getting things done

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Morning routines

Emerging from a five-week long period of 100% business, I have now entered a much more peaceful part of this semester. That doesn’t mean that I’m not studying or that I have nothing to do (nothing could be further from the truth), but it means that I am, once again, in control of my time and how I spend it.

I’ve learnt before (from several experiments with sleeping, routines and productivity) that going up at the same time everyday (including weekends) is the best thing since sliced bread. It takes roughly two weeks to adjust to a specific time and during this period, it’s really hard, but after that, getting up in the morning ceases to be a problem. The body knows when the alarm is going to sound and waking up becomes as natural as falling asleep when tired. Provided that I go to bed at a reasonable time, that is.

So, what I’ve been doing now for a while is going up at 6:10 every morning. That might sound ridiculously early, but that was how early I had to go up in order to catch the bus and go to Norrköping for my teacher training. Now that I no longer have to go there, I’ve decided to keep the time anyway. Why? Because sometimes I got up at 6:10 even though I could have slept to, say, 7:00, and when I had that extra fifty minutes, I found that I could get an incredible amount of things done. I also like the feeling of being up early, which is weird because I’ve really never thought so before.

Having at least three hours extra in the morning begs the question what to do with the extra time. Thus, I’ve begun to structure the first part of the day, simply because it’s easy to lose momentum otherwise. I’m never too strict with my routine, I do what I feel like, but this is what it generally looks like:

  • 6:10: Alarm sounds, Taiwanese web radio starts playing, I get up
  • 6:10-7:00: Vocabulary work in Anki (including adding new words and drilling deeper into the meaning of old ones)
  • 7:00-8:00: Internet round (mostly related to Hacking Chinese, but also e-mail, social media, newspapers, etc.)
  • 8:00-9:00: Some kind of physical activity (handstand, walking, jogging, unicycling) plus stretching plus shower
  • 9:00: Breakfast

I’m still experimenting with moving things around and playing with the times. For instance, in the beginning, I thought that fifty minutes would be way too long to focus on vocabulary, but if I’m not tired (i.e. if I go to bed around midnight), I can usually keep going with Anki for at least an hour, sometimes even more. Basically, it becomes a matter of doing that until I feel that efficiency is starting to diminish, then it’s time to do something else.

After I’ve checked what’s going on outside my apartment (read: the internet), I sometimes start feeling sleepy. This is when going outside is a good idea. Having finished off with some stretching and a shower, I usually feel quite ravenous. What about after breakfast? That depends on too many factors to even start talking about, but usually try to focus on studying things I should be studying according to the courses I’m taking (none of which is directly related to studying Chinese).

I like this routine simply because it allows me to get a ton of things done immediately and usually before I would otherwise have got out of bed. Even if I don’t touch Anki for the rest of the day, I’m still okay because I’ve usually reduced all queues to zero anyway. Also, I’ve done at least one of the two physical things I try to do everyday (stretching and handstand).

Still, none of these things can be considered to be the main advantage. The reason I’m doing this is because it feels great. Having a shower and then breakfast after this kind of start  is a real treat. It sets the mood for the rest of the day and the positive effects last much longer than the morning routine itself.

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When I launched Snigelism, my intention was to publish small pieces of wisdom I have stumbled upon during my striving to change myself to the better. It seems incredible to me now that I wrote that introductory post more than two years ago, and it is probably a sign that people really overestimate my capacity for self-discipline. I intend to change that.

One of the most important ways to achieve your goals is to gain control over the available amount of time. If you are like me (and I think most people are), you spend way too much time procrastinating and wasting time you would really like to invest in some project or other. Time management should not be thought of as some sort of outside force imposing itself on your life, but is merely a way of doing what you really want to instead of what yields the least resistance at the moment (this is a link to an article I wrote on the purpose of time management).

That being said, I would like to claim that postponement is one of the worst antagonists of living a happy life (no, I do not think that this is an overstatement, but I shall have to write a separate article on that subject). Even if everyone is not ready to go that far, let us at least agree on that postponing tasks is not good. Then let me share with you a realisation which works pretty well for me and, hopefully, others. The idea is that people in general are very confused when they postpone tasks. Say that I have a task which has to be completed Friday (today it is Sunday). Most people think that the choice they make is whether to complete the task today or postpone it to tomorrow.

This is an illusion. The choice is between doing it now or doing it as late as possible, preferably late Thursday night. Why? Because the circumstances leading up to the decision to postpone today will be more or less exactly the same tomorrow as they are today, which will invariably lead to the same conclusion being made, i.e. postponing yet another day. Before you know it, you know it, it will be Thursday evening and you still have not even begun. The reason you will do it on Thursday, rather than on one of the other days, is that then the circumstances have changed.

Like Alan Watts once said: “there is no future, the past never happened” (this is not verbatim and I cannot remember when he said it), i.e. there is only the present and everything else is machinations of the mind. If you want to change something, you can never postpone it to an imaginary future; all action takes place in the present.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this, since the assumption that circumstances do not vary is a very sweeping one. Try to be conscious about why you postpone something. Do you genuinely believe that the circumstances will be different tomorrow, or do you just postpone because you cannot be bothered to complete the task right now? Because if the circumstances are the same, there is no reason whatsoever that you should make a different decision. Realise that postponing a task is sometimes necessary, but be aware of why you are doing it.

I know this is fairly abstract, but the concept has helped me greatly in understanding why I postpone tasks (mostly assignments) until the last possible moment. I know that understanding is not enough to solve a problem, but let us take one step at a time, yes? Combatting ignorance about the ways in which my own mind works is the first step, necessary to take any others that might follow.

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