Building routines in solitude

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

The past five weeks or so have been hectic, to say the least. Routines are either strengthened in such circumstances or fall apart.

Personally, I’m only now coming into a routine I’m getting happy with. And mostly I’m stealing it from other suggestions, or I choose to fall back on old habits.

Every morning I write my morning pages (MP), a la Julie Cameron. I’ve been doing this on and off since Nov. 2015, and this year I’ve been fairly dedicated to it. In quarantine, it’s been no problem.

The challenge I’ve had is actually waking up and doing the pages first thing. I’ve unconsciously built up a routine of checking my phone first thing in the morning. Well, that had to stop.

In Dalio’s Principles, he says it takes about eighteen months to change a habit. I’d always heard it was twenty-eight days, before reading Dalio. While a little research may enlighten my understanding, I’m going to wait a bit before running down that rabbit hole.

Following my MP, I do a morning meditation. I either use my Insight Timer app, or I’ll use one of the guided meditations I have from the CDM Spiritual Center.

Then I sit down to write. That pretty much makes up my morning, other than coffee and something to eat for breakfast. Coffee actually comes first once I shamble out of bed. The food comes in at about 11 am.

I’ve actually set this out on the calendar app, and try to follow it as closely as I can. The afternoon routine will come in a later post. I’m still tweaking that one.

Making decisions

Choice can be the most difficult thing sometimes. When faced with two options, it’s usually easy to see the cost and benefits associated with each. When more options are piled on, the results can become muddied.

Picking and choosing when faced with a bevy of possibilities can lead not only to indecision but stagnation. That’s why many of the most successful producers attempt to limit not only their focus but the things that may come their way to detract from their focus.

It’s not easy. I constantly struggle with over-extension. And I routinely try to reduce the amount of commitments I have. There are times when it’s not received well.

But being honest in those situations, with yourself and with others, is the best way forward. Don’t be cruel, but don’t be misled into giving of yourself when it will cause your work, and your mental health, to suffer. Again, it’s about taking that time for yourself.

Increased output necessitates decreased input

Increasing output by decreasing inputs may seem contradictory. But if you read yesterday’s post, you’d know that given diminishing returns we may already be reducing our potential productivity. In nearly every case, we are. We lump so much into our lives that it’s impossible to create as we should be creating. Barely getting enough done.

So, if our productivity suffers from too many inputs, we must reduce them to reach peak productivity. Hence entire movements on time management and minimalism.

Maybe peak productivity isn’t the goal. Maybe it’s a simpler life. Or fewer bills, less stress, less to clean. Maybe it’s just the search for more happiness.

Whatever it is, it can’t be found by throwing more and more at it. It’s better to try and remove one or two things at a time until you can find some breathing room.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Defend your schedule

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

We all have a list of things that we want to accomplish. And probably a bigger list of things that require our attention. And, if we’re honest, an even longer list of items that others need from us.

When we make time, we take time from other items that could be consuming our attention. The economic principle of opportunity costs. What we are giving up.

Remember: The most successful people are generally those who eliminate the unnecessary from their lives.

Weekly Rundown

What I’m Reading: The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Picked it back up, and am just reading a chapter a night. Being a dog lover, it’s nice to read from the dog’s point of view, but also a bit sad given the context.

What I’m listening to: Camp Red Moon on Audible, from RL Stine and other authors. Fun fireside ghost stories, geared towards a younger audience. But I did grow up reading Goosebumps, so I don’t mind it at all.

What I’m spending time with: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt on Nintendo Switch. Started down the deep dive of the Witcher franchise last week, and wanted to give the game a go. Pretty good so far. I like the open-world environment, as well as multiple quests to accomplish. A little glitchy at times, which I heard is a flaw in the Nintendo conversion. But otherwise, a grade of A- so far.

What I’ve shared:

Making time to create

More often than not, when pressed for time we give up our own ambitions or creative work to make room for other things. The challenge, then, is to not push aside our creative work. Make time. Chisel it in stone into your calendar.

This is my time, for my creative work. It will not be altered.

Force yourself to work, and hold yourself accountable. That’s how to make meaningful projects come to life.

Find your focus

With so many things on your plate, it’s easy to try and take it all at once. But figuring out where to place your focus will pay dividends in getting things done.

But how? Which items to take your attention, and which to postpone?

Those questions are similar, but the answers are unique to each individual. But regardless of what you have lined up to do, make sure you’re spending time on real work – work that you find motivating and important. Otherwise, nothing else you do will matter.

Are you being productive, or are you just keeping busy?

When I was directing fundraising programs, this question was written on a sticky note and attached above my desk so that I could keep my attention focused. If I felt myself straying, I could look up and ask myself that question. Was I just sending emails, or was I working on something with more purpose?

Since that development contract ended back in April, I’ve seen that sticky note float around every now and then. I hadn’t thought about it much until recently since I’ve been working an extra gig. Now, I find my calendar full most days, and that’s great!

But, am I making time for the deep work? For my creative endeavors? Am I writing for the blog, for instance? Working on some of my other projects, whether in writing, publication, or film/tv/stage? Sadly, the answer more often than not was no…

Now in the new year, and maybe with a six-month contract for work, I have to remember to keep my attention focused. Yes, the jobs I do must be done, and done well. But also, don’t neglect the deep work. The nourishment for the soul. That thing I get to leave behind me.

So again I get to ask myself: “Am I being productive? Or merely keeping busy?”

The High Cost of Education

(I started this post before doing a monthly reading list, of which I am tardy on this month. But I left this sitting in drafts. My goal over the next month is to complete every draft that I’ve started and get it published on the blog. What you’ll see is that I have a problem with spending money on books, I have a lack of space with which to house all of my books, and I have a lack of time with which to read all of my books. So, about the same as any other book-lover all over the world.)

I’ve paid for an education on credit. No, not the degrees that I’ve eared (though the debt I’ve accrued in earning those is substantial), but I specifically speak about my love of books, or bibliophilia. And what an education. I can’t help but peruse the stacks at Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or the countless used bookstores that I frequent. The musty smell, a fragrance that only holds a hint of the words of thousands-upon-thousands of women and men, just waiting to be re-released into the world.


So I stack books on shelves, on top of each other, on the floor. I try and read as many as I can, though I usually only finish one per week, though if it’s particularly gripping I’ll get through it in a little less time. The point I’m making, though, is that I find it difficult to leave a bookstore without some acquisition (or two or three, etc). My collection on philosophy, metaphysics, logic and esoterica is growing just over the past year (2017 – I was contemplating enrolling in a PhD Philosophy program, but have set that on the back burner for now).

I keep one bookshelf in my room, just to store the current interests. I’ve got books from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Alan Watts, Neil Gaiman, and Joseph Campbell. There are books on writing, time management, chakras, meditation, and philosophy. An entire shelf is made up of journals and notebooks – some blank, some partially written in, and others full of my scribblings. And every day, multiple times, I find myself just looking at the book shelf.

It may be impossible to read through everything I’ve purchased, but as John Waters said, “Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

Where’d you go?

Took a few extra days (false start) after my trip. There was a lot going on, and some things I’ve been thinking about. 

For instance, why posting every day is a silly strategy. Now I’m not necessarily using this blog to drive traffic or strum up business, but the thought did occur to me – what am I writing for?

The answer I came up with is I write because I have to. So if no one reads it, or doesn’t follow the latest post, it’s not really a big deal. When I started writing, it was about being accountable. Going to the daily (until the Alaska trip) postings, that was about accountability and productivity.

Getting back into the swing of being productive hasn’t been easy. I realize that everything I say in defense of not writing daily becomes just an excuse. That I could find time to sit and post. I could make time.

The truth is, though, sometimes you need to step back. It’s impossible to just keep moving along, everyday. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “Always do your best… Your best is going to change from moment to moment, it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self judgment, self- abuse, and regret.”

So I can start each morning stating I will do my best.

I can end each night asking Have I done my best?

And that’s all anyone can ever really do.