Question Everything / Nullius in verba / by dullhunk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  dullhunk 

In my last post, I talked about a lot of things, but one thing I said was that it was time for me to decide what’s important to me.

Last Friday at work, I was almost by myself for most of the day, and I had very little to do. So I made myself a time matrix so I could map out how long I spend doing various things that are required so I could see what was left for me to apportion to the things I want to do with my copious free time.

It turns out that my free time is actually kind of copious, when looked at from a certain perspective.

When left to my own devices — in other words, no alarms and without being sick — I will sleep right at seven hours per night. It seems to be what my body requires in order to be fully rested. I can function at a decent level on five. Below that, and I’m firing on too few cylinders to be useful for much of anything that requires concentration. Even reading or listening to podcasts. If I get more than seven — unless I’m sick — I feel tired and logy and worn out.

So I started by marking off seven full hours per day for sleep. And I arbitrarily set those hours between midnight and 07:00. Why? Because if I go to bed before midnight, I somehow feel like I’m missing something. Don’t ask me why, I just do. (The brain weirds psychology.)

Time Commitments

Time Commitments

And because I don’t spring from bed perfectly clean, coiffed (I shave my head), and ready to go, I will add another hour five days per week of ‘getting ready,’ which includes all of the above plus having breakfast, checking my email, etc.

Then for another forty hours, I must work, at least if I want to eat, have a house and a car, and be (relatively) sane. And because I live and work in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area, that means another two hours of commuting, to work and back. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more; it averages out to about one and a half hours.

By the way, don’t take this as me grousing. :) I enjoy my job. It doesn’t just “pay the bills”; it is fulfilling on most days. But it is, for the most part, doing things that other people value, and which I would not do if they didn’t pay me. Ideally, I’d be rich and able to do whatever I wanted.1

Now, there are a few other “required” items I have marked off. They’re all writing-related, so that’s good. Two weekly critique groups and one biweekly critique group. I also marked off time to read for the biweekly group, because the submissions can add up to 40,000 words, and that takes a while.

What that leaves me is a surprising fifty hours per week (fifty-nine on alternate weeks) that are basically free and clear.

Now, what do I currently do with all that free time?

My housemate and I are currently working our way through Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Doctor Who, and Jonathan Creek. This is what little TV we actually watch: catching up on shows via NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, and whatever other sources we can find.

I subscribe to . . . an embarrassing number of channels on YouTube. Musicians, vloggers, comedians, scientists, and others. I spend an embarrassing amount of time watching these videos. I mean, it probably takes up almost the entirety of the remaining hours.

Then there’s Facebook. Ah, Facebook. I spend too much time on it, as well. I’ve been easing off on that, reading it for a few minutes here and there during the day, and for the most part not obsessing over it. I don’t, as it turns out, have to know every aspect of every one of my friends’ lives for every minute of their day. Nor do they need or want to know mine.

I also subscribe to quite a few podcasts2, resulting in many hours of content per week, but I find that I can do this while working or driving, so there is generally ample time that isn’t devoted solely to podcasts.

Here are the categories of things I would like to spend time on, with the most important ones underscored for emphasis.

Health: sleep, exercise, lose weight

Writing: writing, reading, blogging, critiquing, Codex, submitting

Work: advancement/learning, projects to which I’ve been assigned, proactive projects

Social: spending time with friends, watching TV, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook (yeah, it gets in there), Twitter, whatever (Yes, I’m aware that a lot of what I’m putting under “social” are, on the face of it, solitary pursuits. But there’s a reason it’s called ‘social’ media.)

Family: mom-visits, other family

So there are my five big buckets of time to apportion. As I said above, I put almost all of my uncommitted time, at the moment, into the Social bucket, neglecting everything else. That needs to change.

I get zero exercise. So I figure one of the big things that has to change is setting aside some time each week dedicated to exercise. Just walking, at first. For various reasons I won’t go into, lifting weights or doing any serious training is right out for the foreseeable future, so if I can just walk a few times per week, that might go a long way toward increasing my stamina, health, and fitness. I might even lose weight, if I can also curtail some calories while I’m at it. (My housemate is a personal chef who specializes in people with special dietary needs. She can definitely help on that front, and has been.)

So, let’s say 3 hours per week of walking, briskly. I could do it at work on breaks (one does need breaks away from the computer). I could take the stairs during the day when I’m not having to drag my rolling computer bag with me. The while-at-work stuff is free, because it still counts as work time. So that doesn’t require me to “give up” any of my uncommitted time. I figure I can stop at a nearby mall for an hour-long walk around the inside three days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, perhaps).

I’ve been getting way less sleep. That’s how much time the ‘social’ category takes up. I just have to watch one more YouTube video or see one more page of statuses on Facebook . . . I think my average sleep time has been closer to five hours than seven for . . . years? And that’s just sad, really. These raccoon eyes aren’t because I’m a goth. :)

When I was going to physical therapy for a shoulder injury late last year, I was able to get up at 5, be at work by 6:30 or 7:00, and then leave at 14:00 or 15:00, giving me ample time to get to my physical therapy between 16:00 and 16:45, depending on the day. That proved to me, briefly, that I can rearrange my work day if need be, and no one raises too much of a fuss. Most meetings take place between 10 and 3 precisely because people have varied schedules.

If I can get a replacement power cord for my work laptop, I could even work from home on Tuesdays, which would obviate the need for me to wrestle traffic for that one day per week, and the only thing for which I’d have to leave the house would be the critique group. I could get back two whole hours of “uncommitted time” for doing things like laundry.

So, what’s my point in all this? My point is that I have a crap-ton of time that I could spend writing, reading, critiquing, and generally improving myself as a writer. But instead, I squander almost all of it doing things that have no relevance to me, or any of my long-term goals.

It’s time to man up, in other words, and take the reins. Do what needs to be done. Quit wasting my time and start spending it.

Unfortunately, my inner child (who, by the way, is a four-year-old brat named Bradford; it’s a very long story) is right now stamping his feet and shouting “NO! NO NO NO NO NO!” and refusing to do anything he sees as not fun. He has even been known to hold his breath until he turns blue, and no one wants that, believe me.

So, how can I make exercise fun? How can I make improving my skills at work fun? How can I make giving up — or at least severely curtailing — YouTube fun?

How can I make writing fun?

Step one: Gamify it. More on that in the next post. :) (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

  1. Well, if I’m being 100% truthful, ideally, I’d have a skull-shaped, volcanic island lair with fast internet and a helipad. And to which all of my friends could freely come as a writing retreat or whatever. But that’s never going to happen. Probably.
  2. This is what we like to call ‘understatement.’ At last count, it would take me 109.8 continuous days — meaning no sleeping — to listen to everything I have downloaded.


Hello, Old Friend

The Orion constellation by mensatic at MorgueFile.com

Orion, The Hunter

Last night, I was driving home very late. I stayed late at work to finish up a project. Atlanta is pretty badly light-polluted, so the only “stars” you see in our sky are mostly aircraft lights as they approach or depart Hartsfield International Airport south of town. I work downtown, so to get home, I drive out of the heavily light-polluted area into the slightly darker suburbs northeast of the city.

There is one thing that tells me it’s autumn, whether the pecan trees agree or not: Orion. That’s him pictured at the top of this post. When he starts climbing higher into the sky, I know autumn is starting, and winter is soon to follow.

I live in a darker suburb, so as I pulled into my subdivision last night, I happened to look up, and I saw him, high in the sky, making his slow march up the celestial dome, followed by his faithful dog Sirius. And I couldn’t help it. I said, “Hello, old friend!” aloud to him as I turned. Seeing him in the sky means autumn is finally here. It cheered me up and gave me a smile even though it was after midnight and I was tired.

Orion is easily my favorite constellation, and not just because of his signature shape. Those three stars in his belt — Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka — are one of the most recognizable patterns in the sky. And although they look like they’re close together, Alnitak is ~800 light years from Earth, Alnilam is ~1340 light years away, and Mintaka is ~915 light years away. Mintaka is actually a double star, although you can’t tell without a telescope.

His upper left shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant so gigantic, that if it were in our own solar system, it would engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the asteroids, and maybe graze Jupiter.

His lower right foot is Rigel, a trinary system consisting of a single blue-white supergiant star orbited by a much smaller blue-white binary system. The big primary is also a variable star, meaning that it pulsates over time.

Rigel and Betelgeuse are two of the ten brightest stars in our sky.

His upper right shoulder is Bellatrix, another blue-white giant star.

Of course, I can’t leave out the crowning glory of the Orion contellation: The Orion Nebula, one of the most stunning objects in the night sky, by telescope. To the naked eye, it’s a blurry spot below his belt, and makes up part of his sword. You can’t make out much; you keep wanting to just . . . force your eyes to focus. Google images of the Orion Nebula as seen by telescope. It’ll take your breath away.

But do you know what else autumn means? NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. And to it, too, I must say, “Hello, old friend!”

I haven’t given much thought to what I’m going to write, this year. I still have almost three weeks to make up my mind. That’s plenty of time.



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