Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cheating my inner productivity-drill-sergeant

I intended to sit down and write an entry about habits, but I got so sidetracked elaborating on the first one I wanted to discuss - reading - that I guess I need to resign this entry to being solely about that. I'm all right with that.

Reading has been huge for me this year! I'm thrilled, because I struggled for a long time with giving myself permission to read. Curling up with a book often felt like too much of an indulgence. It still does, sometimes, but I've found a few ways to cheat my inner productivity-drill-sergeant and allow myself the indulgence anyway.
  1. Track books I read on GoodReads. That way, even when I'm snuggled up in my papasan chair with my cat, a mug of tea, and a ratty paperback, I can feel like I'm making progress toward a goal - and I'll have something to show for it at the end.
  2. Read while "hiking" on the treadmill. In training for the White River 50 this year, I was advised by the wise White River veteran Major Shark to get myself on the treadmill to train my legs for steady, steady climbing. Prior to this, I'd never done anything but run on the treadmill...mile repeats, check; 16-mile runs, check; Yasso 800's, check. But crank it up to a 15% grade and walk briskly for 6 uphill miles? Never before. Lo and behold, it's been great. Not only have I gotten in great shape, I can easily read half a book in one workout.
  3. Vanpool! James and I got a new vanpool off the ground that runs from Seattle to Kent. (One of these days, I will devote an entire blog entry to the amazing vanpool program in King County.) We share driving duties, but when I'm not driving, it's a great opportunity to read. What better way to start the morning than being immersed in a fabulous novel for half an hour before even checking my email?
  4. God bless the iPhone. After reading The Shallows a couple years ago and being quite sure I'd never find a place in my heart for ebooks...well, I've gone and done it anyway. Mostly because I can log on to the Seattle Public library's website on my phone and within 30 seconds, download a complete book - for free - onto my phone. Then, best of all, unlike regular books or even a Kindle, it's literally in my pocket all day long, ready to be pulled out and read while I'm waiting in lines, riding the bus, eating lunch, etc. I find all sorts of ways throughout my day to sneak reading a page here, a page there. I love it!
Did all that type-A stuff just spoil the romanticism of my bibliophilia? I hope not. I love books all the same - which is to say, very, very much.

It's just that...young adulthood has a way of making time accelerate, and that acceleration prompts a kind of nostalgia for the languid summers of childhood, swaths of unscheduled, uninterrupted free time to pursue whatever creative pursuits struck your fancy. Then you grow up, and time doesn't come around like that anymore. At some point, the question is no longer the presumptuous 'When shall I do this thing I really want to do?', but rather, an urgent, half-desperate 'Will I ever do this thing I really want to do?'
I believed, at twelve, that I could be a scientist. I believed I could be a writer, an actress, a professor of English in Rome, an acrobat in a purple spangled outfit. Days opened for me like the pulling apart of curtains at a play you've been dying to see. I had a microscope on my desk, shelves full of books and treasures that I found outside: rocks, wood, abandoned nests of hornets and birds, notes to myself for things to do tomorrow because I hadn't had the time today. I believed the way to ride bareback was to get on and go, the rising heat of the horse against your bare legs the only instruction you'd need. The how of everything was simply in the doing of it. - From The Pull of the Moon, by Elizabeth Berg
I miss having the time to pursue all the how's that pique my interest - to write a novel in my afternoons, to design my own board game for the heck of it, to teach myself to juggle in front of a mirror in my basement with hand towels and plastic bowling pins. I miss the limitless ambitions of the young imagination.

But I also recognize that simply missing free time doesn't make it magically appear. So instead of going around mumbling all the time about how I wished I had more time to read, I'm reading on treadmills and in vans and on my fancy phone. Pardon the pragmatism of growing up in the modern world.

Of course, there are limits to the number of things that you can "make time for", no matter how passionate and committed you may be to them. What I have learned so far, though, is that it's no good to throw your hands up in the air about it all. You can set new priorities, small ones, one by one, and eventually (I'm talking years here) they weasel their way into your daily life and eek out a little bit of room for new ones.

So. Reading, juicing, running, career building, today. Social life, PHP wrangling, banjo playing, new blog launch, book proposal, sleeping, traveling, tomorrow*. Ah life!

*figuratively speaking


  1. The title of this post really caught my eye- especially since the last two years of grad school have given me an odd conceptualization of "free time." One good example is last weekend, where I had a couple solid days off where I did very little that was productive (slept/went to the pool/snuggled kitties/etc.). However at the end of the second day I found myself in this weird tailspin where I started moping about, asking myself questions like "where is my life going?!?"

    It made me start to wonder what I *did* do with all of the extra time of my youth- and how I was able to cope. One of the largest pitfalls that I seem to wander into concerning free time and a large variety of interest is how to choose what to focus on when that time is available. Instead of just napping. :p

    1. Whew, talk about some things I could relate to! I find myself constantly trying to carve out little pockets of total free time to be not-productive - and I get dizzy-happy with the anticipation of that time...but more often than not, I wind up in the same mopey tailspin. I think it's probably because, like you, I can't figure out which of the hundred projects I have in the back of my mind to pursue. And it's entirely possible to make yourself crazy trying to choose! Oi vey.

      I wish I could evaluate all possible projects in the same way that I did when I was younger...which, I think, was not so much an evaluation at all, no cost/benefits analysis of each, just a brazen diving in and doing it.

  2. Great post, Yitka. I can totally relate. I often neglect reading because I feel that rather than sitting on the couch with a good book I need to be working out, running errands, climbing a mountain, cleaning my house, or completing any number of projects I've been meaning to get to. Can I really just sit down and read for a few hours? Is that really OK??? It used to be OK. I think I'll try to cheat my inner productivity-drill-sergeant with some of your tips.

    I especially like where you write, " ... young adulthood has a way of making time accelerate, and that acceleration prompts a kind of nostalgia for the languid summers of childhood, swaths of unscheduled, uninterrupted free time to pursue whatever creative pursuits struck your fancy. Then you grow up, and time doesn't come around like that anymore."

    1. Thanks for the comment, Joe! And for what it's worth, IT'S OK! :) Not that you need my permission to read; I think the challenge is almost always in granting ourselves permission, rather than obtaining anyone else's.

      For what it's worth, tracking books on GoodReads has probably been the best solution for me of caters to the list-nerd in me. If you ever track your reading there, you should friend me! Many of the best books I've read recently I've found through my friends' GoodReads pages.