Habituation

By | January 11, 2012

At the end of last semester, I was coming apart at the seams. I managed to scrape by with my usual good grades and my social and professional obligations didn’t really suffer, but the quality and productivity of my personal time shot to hell. I wasn’t reading, or writing, or exercising. I wasn’t even devoting the time to watching movies or playing games that I would have liked to. Even a week’s leisurely vacation over the holidays didn’t help me to recover. The harsh truth is that poor time management is a cycle, and the more you let it slip, the harder it becomes to get it back under control. The good news is that cycle works in reverse too, and each positive improvement can make the next one easier. I’ve never been one for new year’s resolutions, but with a new semester and thus a new schedule starting for me next week, now is a natural time to work at resuming some positive habits that I’d like to make a regular part of my week again:

1. Sleep

Over the past few months, whether I’d start the day operating on 3, 5, 6, 8 or 10 hours’ sleep was anyone’s guess. I didn’t have the restriction of having to get up early for school when I was a young man, so left to my own devices I developed into something of a night owl. My first several jobs all consisted of evening shifts, which only reinforced my nocturnal ways. My current job is the first one I’ve had that has forced me to be up at the crack of dawn (7 AM), and I’ve struggled through it to varying degrees of success. School really ratcheted up the pressure on me last year however, and the combination of late nights up writing papers and early office hours began to take their toll on me. I think this is where my decline in productivity really began, because no matter how many plans you make, it’s impossible to execute on them if you’re chronically exhausted. Thus it’s fitting that I begin my new habits here. It will be the cornerstone of my new schedule, the rock that I will build my church upon. The church, you know, being greater productivity. The metaphor may need some work; I’m going to need you to extend me some credit on that one for now.

So how do I start? I did a little research on ways to help encourage quality sleep and reset the circadian rhythms. There are lots of minor changes that I’m making to help, but the main one is setting myself an earlier bed time. I’m shooting for 10-11 PM now, a big change from my 12-3 AM norm. This should allow me a good 8-9 hours sleep, the maximum a healthy adult normally needs (different people can get by healthily on anywhere from 6 to 9, depending on their body chemistry.) In order to help me keep these hours, I’m also going to start trying to get away from all computer and TV usage at 9 PM. It turns out that all that blue light mimics daylight, playing hell with the body’s internal clock. I’ll now be devoting the last hour of my day exclusively to reading or writing (by hand), things I need to make more time for in any case. I’m still adjusting to the new system but so far the results have been promising!

2. Food

Once my sleep schedule started getting out of whack, my eating wasn’t far behind. I’ve been spending more and more on it, eating worse foods and at more erratic times. I’m going to start keeping some snacks on hand in the car to help get me past those impulse fast food stops when I’m out and about, and I’m working on doing more cooking. I got a slow cooker late last year and I’ve been trying it out here and there on a few different recipes. Anyone who has one knows how awesome they can be, especially if you’re single. One meal prepared overnight with minimal work can go on to feed you for the rest of the week! I don’t prepare many dishes but I’ve always found fun in it, so I’m looking forward to a little more culinary exploration. I might even find some new foods to enjoy.

3. Fitness

I was hitting the gym pretty regularly a year ago, usually for about 40 minutes of cardio followed by 10-15 on the weight machine. The main reason was that I was smack in the middle of my first Buffy viewing, and anyone who’s seen the series can tell you how engrossing that is. I only allowed myself to watch that and Angel on my iPhone when I was at the gym, and consequently I ended up going pretty regularly. But I finished the shows, and then school got busy. It didn’t help that my apartment complex’s gym has gotten steadily worse as equipment has broken and not been replaced. So I ultimately stopped going, and consequently I’m not in the same shape that I was. I’ve decided to start working out at home, which has the advantages of both being more accessible and allowing me to use my nice big TV. I purchased a good jump rope today and some heavier weights, and I intend to get a few other things once some funds I’m expecting come through. As for my workout viewing? I’m a few episodes into Dr Who now, and after that I’m considering Eureka. My friend Jason also hooked me up with an invite to Fitocracy, so I’m trying that out as a new way of tracking my exercise routine.

4. Activities

I’ve made more productive time for TV watching and reading, but I need to go further. For one thing, I’m going to need to schedule in time for schoolwork, and actually stick to it. Otherwise I’m going to fall back into doing assignments at the last minute, which will mess with my sleep, and then the whole damn system falls apart. I’m also going to start using my idle time more meaningfully, which means more gaming, reading and watching films, and less time zoning out online. To that end, I’ve installed the Leechblock browser extension, and have it restricting my use of Facebook, Twitter, TVTropes and other notable time sinks to a mere 6 minutes an hour. It turns out that’s plenty of time to actually use those sites productively, and the rest is just waste. In addition, I really want to get back into the habit of daily writing. The creative juices tend to flow freer when you’re using them regularly, and mine have been sorely missed.

5. Cash

I never seem to have cash when I need it. I’m going to start carrying two dollar bills, because I want to be that guy. It turns out you can still just go get those at the bank! This is considered equal in importance to all my other initiatives.

-Tim


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