Small pleasures

I do not know what time sunrise is these days but as I left the house at 6 this morning, it was to face the sun coming over the roofs of the house across from my own.

It was truly beautiful.

I woke at 5 this morning, which might seem awfully early but for someone who regularly wakes with a view to getting up at six (with varying degrees of success), it is only an hour in the difference. I read some, mostly about SpaceX this morning. I realised sometime ago that a lot of what I read in bed in the morning was so utterly meaningless that I had forgotten what it was, by the time I got to breakfast, cursing my tardiness in the morning.

Today, however, I don’t have to be anywhere at 8, but I was still awake, and failed to talk myself out of going for a walk. It wasn’t a long walk, and it took me around the estate I live in. However, it was far more than I tend to get. In an ideal world, those 15 minutes would happen every morning but they haven’t been.

I love the early morning. There’s something utterly peaceful about it and one of the things which has made my life feel very stressful is the disconnect I have had from enjoying the peace of the early morning. The world looks very different and you hear sounds very differently as well. There is not the constant sound track of traffic. This morning, I am not hearing the aircraft taking off either. It is utterly gorgeous as a feeling.

Working in the city has a major downside and that is trying to negotiate the thorny question of “how long will it take me to get to work”. In Dublin this is not a question with a consistent answer.

The thing about it is, if you get up in the morning generally feeling good, it sets a tone for the day. It is not yet 7am and I have been for a walk, I have done some needlework. I have done some reading about SpaceX. I have coffee beside me and shortly, there will be breakfast.

A lot of what comes into my inbox lately is exhorting me to be better. To be more successful. To do this. To do that. I don’t read very much of it, and I cleared down some of the bossier elements of it lately. I sometimes wonder if we know what better and more successful is. Whether we have a superficial view of what life should be like. Much of our discussion in that area is by comparison to someone else.

I am not in favour of exhorting the rest of the world to get up early and go for a walk. The beauty and solitude I enjoyed this morning would be destroyed if 800 people leaving around me all decided to go for a walk at 6am just to get some fresh-ish air. What I am in favour of is people identifying the small pleasures that put some shine on their days. There’s an article somewhere on the web – I did not save the link – but it includes a list of 10 things to make your day better or some such. Maybe 11 because it’s being hip and edgy. The underlying idea, I like. Make small pleasures through your day so that even when things are hard, you have a something small to look forward to. And make them a part of life rather than a reward for life. They do not have to come from a blog list and I’m not in the business of telling anyone else what those small things should be. Some people might call it “being kind to yourself”. If it is something as simple as blocking accounts on twitter whose primary objective is to make you feel outraged about something, so be it. If it is fifteen minutes with a newspaper, so be it.  If it is an early morning walk in the dawnlight, so be it.

For me, the small pleasures are a small cup of coffee in the morning. A non-rushed, non-piecemeal breakfast. Fresh bread from Marks & Spencers. Time to myself. I wrote last week about how I struggled with the fact that I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to. I still don’t. I have to set priorities. And my primary priority is to try and set aside time that is sacrosanct to me and which doesn’t include the remotest possibility that the word “should” in terms of “you’re not good enough and you should…” gets to get in the way.

It seems to be hard, sometimes, to take time out for ourselves. So much so that the world appears to have decided that we need loads of advice to do so.

There is a section of the film Le Vrai Destin d’Amelie Poulain where the narrator talks about how Amelie likes the simple things in life. Skimming stones at the canal, the sound a spoon makes as it cracks through the caramelised sugar on a creme brulée. It is very evisceral as a sequence.

I like getting up early. I like the possibilities the morning gives me. I like the way that sometimes, I might do nothing between 8am and 5pm on a Saturday, but what I did between 7am and 8am has made the day massively more productive than it might have been if I had stayed in bed until 9am. I have never, ever regretted getting up early. I have always regretted getting up late.

And this morning, that bought me a little bit of sunlight that made the world of a north Dublin suburb look beautiful.


Time budgets

This morning was wonderful. I have no idea what the weather outside actually looked like, but it sounded wonderful. It has since calmed down to be a stunning May bank holiday Monday. I won’t complain about that although the sound of the rain this morning was just wonderful.


Today, I did a time budget. How much time do I have and what do I want to do it. This is one of those items that has been on my to do list for an age now but I didn’t have much time to do it. A day of work is useful in that respect. I have discovered that the time I need for the things I want or need to do each day exceeds 24 hours. It is as simple as that.

Part of it is that for reasons of health I’d like to get 8 hours sleep per night. And unfortunately I lose the guts of a couple of hours to commuting per day, and then there’s work plus lunch.

The last time I went to a gym, some insufferable idiot who doesn’t have an office job made noise about how the schedule he was offering me to do was only like about an hour. This is so totally dishonest that it doesn’t bear thinking about. The actual routine itself might be directly only an hour but the mere act of going to a gym and doing it far exceeds an hour between transport time and showers and changing clothes and all that. I estimated once than an hour long swim accounted for two hours in an evening. And I liked swimming. It is easier for me to go do something I like for an hour (like swimming) than it is for me to do something I utterly despise (like using gym equipment).

You see the same argument about continuing professional development. All those MOOCs and they are all free. You really have no excuse.

These comments, I find, tend to be made by people who don’t have full time office jobs, don’t commute and on top of it all are probably not doing one of those free MOOCs themselves.

Lots of things take time and although there’s a healthy enough planning community so that people get organised, one of the things that none of them appear to push very hard is a question of “Do you actually have time for all this at all?”

There are 24 hours in a day. Some drawing floating around my facebook  talks about 8 hours to work, 8 hours to sleep and 8 hours for yourself. But it doesn’t work like that, it really doesn’t. That 8 hours for myself includes an indeterminate amount of time spent in traffic in Dublin, whether I drive, or get the bus, I don’t get much change out of 2 hours for that (and I consider myself one of the lucky ones, some people don’t get change out of 4 hours for that). Then there are things like three meals a day, and getting up, having a shower. It might only take 15 minutes to eat breakfast, but either side of it is prep and clean up time. Getting stuff ready to leave the house to go to work.

The eight hours of “me time”, I established this morning, was not adequate for all the other stuff I wanted to do. Most of it was benign stuff like hobby related and household related. Because my head is full of stuff I want to do, and because I never seemed to have time to do much of it, I’ve felt very stressed about it all.

This is why I sat down and made a list of all the things I wanted to just find half an hour for each day. Just half an hour. I mean that’s less than insufferable gym twerp wanted from me for the gym equipment. None of this even involves leaving the house much. It added up to well over 24 hours when you took work and sleep and commuting and the basic stuff you can’t avoid each day. I simply don’t have enough time to do all the stuff I want to do. Which means that priorities have to be set and some stuff has to happen not every day and when you take all that into account there’s still something seriously wrong. I have to plan my day, including my leisure time, down to the nth minute.

Is that what it’s all about? Mad l33t time management skills? I didn’t include listening to the radio or reading a newspaper. I’m not even trying to fit in a MOOC for crying out loud. As for the two or three years I spent doing Open University modules part time…I have no idea whatsoever how I managed it. When did I find time to crochet?

I mean, I have outsourced most of the cooking lately so that I don’t have to do too much in the way of clearing up of ware and washing dishes and pots and stuff.

One of the items on my list – because it’s a car crash of a failure in my life right now – is trying to shoehorn exercise or walking of some description into my day. I want it to happen automatically and every day, or at least 6 out of the 7 days. I want it to be as routine as that shower I take every morning just after I get up. Like brushing my teeth.

To get it in in the morning means I have to get up at 5.30. I wouldn’t mind getting up at that hour if I wasn’t actually trying to schedule every minute as efficiently as possible because I Just Don’t Have Time.

I don’t know any more.