To do list into the weekly routine.

I am very good at writing to do lists.

I’m also very good at not achieving half of the things I write down.

That is unless I timetable it in.

I’m lucky to have a few projects going on. Some self led, some collaborative amongst my teaching.

Every Sunday I write down things that are specifically scheduled in for the week.

I then decide how I’m going to use the rest of my time and what I specifically focus on.

The process of scheduling in the things I want to achieve has really helped because it psychologically sets me up for engaging with a certain thing at a certain time.

I’m always at risk of saying I’ll do it later when it comes to a to do list. Scheduling the to do list into my week means that later isn’t available to me anymore.

Frustration can be a good thing.

If you are working towards a goal and trying to achieve something, feeling frustration is a natural part of the process.

The frustration of not being able to succeed in what you are doing (yet).

If you are frustrated, you are working towards flow and conscious of the fact that you are making mistakes and not quite where you want to be (yet). It can be a useful motivator, a challenge to overcome and it is very often that moments of frustration also can lead to moments of a high level of learning.

If we can perceive the process of frustration as a good thing and use ‘yet’ as a useful lever to move ourselves forward, we will reap the rewards.

Keep going.

Building technical control

One of the best books I ever used to learn to develop and expand my guitar technique was Troy Stetina’s ‘Speed Mechanics for Guitar’.

He’s a monster guitar player but explained perfectly in the paragraphs amongst the exercises as to why we were doing the exercises and what benefit they had.

An entire section of the book was dedicated to the left hand whilst the other focused on the right. Amongst them were details on finger movement efficiency, dexterity and independence as well as a wide range of different movements that are idiomatic for the electric guitar.

The main idea that was re-enforced throughout the book was that speed is a pointless goal unless you aim for accuracy as well.

As I worked through the book along my metronome as a teenager, there were things gradually improving throughout the entire manner to which I played. I felt more in control, used the required amount of energy but nothing excessive and could play passages I thought were well beyond my ability.

These technical exercises played and still play a vital role in my journey for control on my instrument. Looking at the little details and the small steps you can take to level up is always something worth dedicating the time towards.

A day at a time

Matthew Kelly said in his book ‘The Long View’ that ‘we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year’.

As we progress through each day, a lot of our feelings are driven by the story we tell ourselves and I am really good at telling myself I have not achieved enough in the day. In some ways that can be a good thing, because it is driving me to make forward strides towards my goals and other times it can be not so feel good and leave me feeling tired and defeated.

This is a mini battle of perception and goals can be outlined into longer term, medium term and short term goals. When I start telling myself I am not getting very far I find this writing these down helps me put a perspective on where I am, where I am going and what I can do next.

Sometimes it is important to take the pressure off. Especially now, when there is so much uncertainty and disruption going on. For the struggles many of us are having to go through, it can and should be considered an achievement enough to have gotten out of bed, gotten dressed and taken in the surrounding area or appreciated something like the simple delight of a hot drink.

It is important to monitor our energy levels, accept that what we can do in a day may be enough for today and tomorrow, we can build on it. We may surprise ourselves when reflecting over a longer period of time how these far these little drips of progress got us.

Positive habits for each day

Since the lockdown, my routine has gone flying out of the window. In response to that I have since incorporated habits into my daily routine that would allow me some sense of structure and help me achieve some thing positive each day.

Here are some of the habits I have steadily included in my day:

Drinking water at the start of every day

Doing some form of exercise each day (Running, cycling or full body at home) for at least 20 minutes with one rest day a week.

Going for a walk each day

Eating food and vegetables and cooking most of what I eat from scratch.

Doing some form of creating – time span ranges from half an hour to 8 hours depending on my day.

Writing an article each day

Reading for at least half an hour a day

Allocating specific times to check social media, news feeds, emails etc.

With the exception of creating, which is essentially my vocation, everything listed above are small and incremental. Most things are half an hour long in duration. I can confidently say that these have really helped me maintain a positive outlook during what is an otherwise uncertain time.

* I really recommend ‘Zen Habits’ by Leo Babauta. It is a great little book that offers great insight into making positive transformations. One of the reasons so many people cannot commit to their resolutions at the start of every year is that they are expecting too much change in too short a period of time. What we should be instead looking for is small incremental changes gradually over time.

Clearing out the attic

As a result of the pandemic, we have been staying home more than usual. During the winter, when temperatures have hit 0 degrees centigrade, we have had to have the heating on more regularly throughout the day. As a result, our attic became more damp than usual, because of the more frequent rising heat and the condensation.

We decided to clear out our attic before putting the Christmas decorations back. Small puddles had formed on top of plastic boxes and cardboard boxes had been essentially ruined. Within them all was a myriad of possessions we forgot that we owned. Some of the most interesting things were trinkets, or entertainment items I had as a kid, including Lego and Scalextric sets and my mother’s vinyl collection (the vinyl seems to be okay but some of the covers were a little damaged).

My brother cleared out my Grandfather’s house when he passed away, and he has gotten really good at getting rid of stuff rather objectively. When I moved back to Dubai I minimised what I brought back with me. Moving houses definitely forces you to make decisions as to what you keep and what you get rid of. There has been a therapeutic quality in exploring the nostalgia of the things we own and deciding what needs to go as we fix up the attic. Some things are worth keeping, some worth throwing, and other things that may be suitable for a charity boot sale.

It is always good to do this kind of clear out now and again. I sometimes need to remind myself that in the digital age we are living in, it is worth doing a similar process with our hard drives.

New routes

I live in South Wales U.K. and one of the things I appreciate about being home is how often I can go out and jump on my bike. There are plenty of interconnected national cycle trails and one of the most well known trails is the taff trail that runs all the way from Brecon to Cardiff (55 miles). I have cycled through the trail many times and it runs along woodland, forests and towns. One of the things I am always conscious of is the fact that I am able to appreciate details and points of beauty in a way I simply cannot achieve if I am in the car or train.

When I started cycling more extensively, I discovered so much more about the 50 square miles I live in. I love the sense of adventure allowed to me by being on my bicycle (disregarding the times I have fallen off). I have often decided to cycle with no particular destination in mind and go where ever my instincts take me.

Sometimes I have hit dead ends, and sometimes, I have gotten lost to the point I am fairly disorientated and have to work my way back to find out where I am again. Nevertheless there is many rewards in trying new routes and going beyond what you know.

I think this can apply to a number of things, the way we choose to make decisions, the way we choose to create or work. New routes or choices are always available to you if you are willing to take the chance.

The Pomodoro Technique

Each day, we are deciding what we do with the time that we have. There are pitfalls that are difficult to avoid. If we have too few tasks that are urgent, we can fritter the time away. If we have too many tasks on the go, we can find ourselves overwhelmed.

When I learnt about the Pomodoro technique, I gave it a shot. I really liked how it provides a structure that allows you to keep track of your progress whilst inserting in short breaks. A typical approach with the Pomodor technique looks like this:

1.) Set the timer to 25 minutes – solely focusing on the task you have set out to achieve – no distractions.

2.) Timer – 5 minute break – To stretch your legs, get a cup of tea etc.

3.) Repeat the above process three times.

4.) After the third time, take a longer break – For e.g. 30 minutes.

This has worked wonders. During my Masters and when I have had tight deadlines to meet when working on composition briefs, I have used this method and it is quite remarkable how much more focused and decisive I am.

I recommend adopting this approach for students and working people alike. It does not have to be the exact framework as above and you can adapt it to your schedule.

The fundamental idea is that we are working with time as opposed to working against time.