To-Do lists and timers

Maybe I’m late to this party, but a I’ve tried to get more done in my days, I’ve learned to really appreciate the value of a good to-do list and timers on my phone. In fact, they may be the thing I use my phone for most — after photos, perhaps.

Concentration is a mixed blessing

I like to think that I’ve been blessed with pretty good concentration. I can focus on something longer, I think, than most and actually enjoy blocking most of the world out.

When I’m supposed to be doing things in parallel, though, that’s not always a blessing. Food that was boiling on the stove may be burning by the time I remember to check it. A kid who was told “twenty more minutes of Minecraft” may easily get forty minutes if I’m distracted somewhere else. (Though, really, shouldn’t the kid monitor the time on his own?)

I’ve found that, for these situations, teaching myself to set a timer on my phone every time I think “I’ll check that in ten minutes” — and then teaching myself not to turn the phone off until I’m on the way to check — has really made me more effective.

Sticking to something

Similarly, when I realize action isn’t required of me for another week or so… well, a timer won’t work. For that, I’ve found an app that will give me notifications that can’t be brushed away without being marked done or ‘snoozed.’ (It’s called “Tasks: Astrid To-Do list clone“)

Again, it’s been a question of teaching myself to realize “this is something I’ll forget, I’d better add it to my to-do list,” but it’s meant that I get a lot more done… and on time.

Even more, things I want to do often — liking writing postcards once a month the family — can be entered as recurring tasks. Maybe other people just think “hey, I haven’t written a postcard in a while” or “I just did my monthly invoice, that’s a reminder I should write some postcards,” but that doesn’t seem to work for me.

My recurring reminders include fitness, and cleaning the balcony. (I feed birds on the balcony, and don’t want a certain wife I know to think it’s too poop-encrusted.) Every three days, I even get a to-do notification that I should check my calendar for the next three days, so that I don’t get any surprises.

Some things — mostly coding — I keep track of on paper. When it’s time for me to code, I get out the paper I was using to take notes and keep track of things to do and look where I left off. For everything else, though, there’s a timer or a to-do list.

Call me childish

I get that “I only get done what my phone tells me to do” seems a bit childish. Or, maybe, millennial. But, I’m focussed on getting more done with lest frustration and, for now, I’m happy to have found something that works for me.

What do you do? How do you maximize your time?

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Practicing practice

A memory of my dad

I think that the biggest thing that my dad gave me to take into adulthood is my memory of him constantly learning, constantly growing. The kids were often (involuntarily) part of his quest to learn new things. These ranged from reading about the Civil War and visiting battlefields (not my favorite vacation memory) to teaching himself amateur radio and morse code or getting qualified as a physics teacher only a few years before his retirement.

From my dad, I have the idea that I, as a human, am really never finished growing. It’s given me the courage to pick up new skills (such as coding, or piano) as an adult.

And, because I’ve loved it, it’s something I want to give my kids.

Not the kind of thing you can preach

We all know parents who believe in “do as I say, not as I do.” I’m not a big fan of that for several reasons (I’m 38, can you really expect more willpower from a 5-year-old?).

But, this is especially the kind of thing that I can’t preach to my kids. (Which is not to say that I don’t, I won’t be upset if they have “you just have to practice” echoing in their ears as adults.) But, it was watching my dad that brought me to that realization.

So, it seems logical that it’s something they have to see me doing.

And so, I’m practicing practicing

For a while, when I thought about this, I thought ‘well, I code, and the kids can see me learning that.’ But they can’t see me learning that. They just see Papa standing at the computer concentrating. I could be doing anything, as far as they’re concerned.

So, I resolved to get my good example game on.

I’ve started playing piano again. And, in fact, because I’m going to teach myself to practice a skill in the hope that my kids will know it automatically, I’m focusing more on drills and scales and the likes than I did the last time I played.

I draw. Art was always the domain of my little sister, but it’s a free hobby and something the kids can do with me.

I’m still plugging away at Latin. The kids are officially learning with me, but more so that we can talk about it and that they can know I’m working on it than as any kind of test prep. They’re learning individual nouns (arborpuella).

The idea is that these are activities I can do a little bit every day (or, most days) rather than standing at the computer not really accomplishing much because the kids are distracting me. They’re activities (maybe not Latin) where the kids can appreciate what is good and bad and realize that it took me a long time to learn a new song on the piano and hopefully understand that they can learn new skills through practice.

I can’t say it will work. But, on the other hand, I don’t think I’m responsible to make them into the kind of adult that I am. I think I’m responsible to be the best adult I can be, and to make sure they know the tools I used to get there.

Consequences… and diabetes

discussion that my wife and I have often is that our kids don’t really ever suffer consequences. Partly, that’s my fault. I’m as much a sucker as the next guy for “it won’t happen again” (spoiler alert: it always happens again).

And, partly, that’s a part of us understanding how uncomfortable some things are, and wanting — for good reasons — to spare our kids that. After all, we ‘only’ have three kids and their lives aren’t yet so complicated that we can’t offer a lot of support.

Day to day manifestations

It can be simple things: “Did you do your homework? Show me?” I — the one who never liked school and sees the teachers as ‘the enemy’ — rationalize the teachers should use up their patience getting the kids to do homework. Not us. After all, we barely see the kids during the week, why waste valuable family time on activities that very clearly fall under the heading of ‘school’?

Because my wife — who is German and ‘from’ the German system my kids are in — sees each homework activity as a brick in a set of stairs that will eventually carry my kids to success. And she sees dire consequences if the homework isn’t done.

I’m not German. I’m ‘from’ the American system where the teacher is frustrated and maybe humiliates you in front of your classmates and that’s it. I figure that, if that kind of responsibility is important to the teacher, they should set up their own system of consequences.

Right?

After all, if I say “clean your room” and it isn’t cleaned, then it’s on me to be the heavy and to establish consequences. I certainly don’t get help for the teacher on that.

The thing is: my wife and I don’t completely agree on what’s important, and the kids know which parent to ask for what. That’s not unusual, but I worry that it means my kids live a generally consequence-free life.

Add diabetes to the mix

And now, with diabetes part of the oldest child’s life, things have gotten… More difficult. Plans that I had to send him out on his own (he’s nine — and never unsupervised) with his bike to make a map of the neighborhood now seem riskier.

Even more, I’m realizing he’s trying less and less hard to manage his diabetes calculations, because he only has to guess at the correct injection to give himself for a meal and then his mom barks at him and then gives him the correct calculation. She, of course, thinks that it would take too long to make him do the calculation two or three times while we’re waiting to eat. I — the strict father, I guess — don’t see a problem with saying “are you sure?” and then letting him undercorrect. After all, the doctors made it clear that nothing terrible would happen.

Mom, though, is a diabetic and knows that high blood sugar is no fun. And she’s not willing to subject him to that.

So, she basically does the calculations for him when she’s home.

Why it matters

I’m a big fan of the idea that there aren’t any ‘normal’ childhoods and that, as long as the kids aren’t abused, reality will eventually file off all their rough edges sooner or later. I don’t worry about making an ‘ideal’ childhood for my kid.

But, as a spectator of the world around me, I see parents belittling twelve and thirteen-year-old children for being so helpless. We all know that that is too old to depend on parents. However, the parents belittling their children don’t seem to realize that they’re responsible for training their kids.

And it’s harder to learn new habits with thirteen than with nine.

That’s why I’m a bit frustrated that my plans to introduce consequences — or, rather, to allow my kids to start suffering the natural consequences of their (in)actions — seem to have been set back by this stupid disease.

Stupid diabetes.

How do you manage it?

If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, how do you manage these things? What consequences do you insulate your kids from? What do you do when a diabetic child makes a mathematical error? How do you and your partner negotiate these discussions?

A Short Update

Life throws us curveballs. But, you now know that I strive to be ‘mentally tight’ and ‘revert to myself.’ That’s why I wanted to take a minute to reflect — more for myself than for you, my mysterious reader — on my plans for getting back to being me.

Two websites? Why not four?

I’d been blogging here, and working on my django-powered EFL worksheet generator. That seemed like plenty of activity, right? However, as the worksheet generator gets closer to counting as ‘finished,’ I wanted people to use it. And, ideally, to pay for it.

I could pay for ads. (And I might, yet.) But, my first plan is to try something cheaper: make more websites that are free, and sort of ‘sponsor’ them with the worksheet generator.

A blog for EFL/EAL teachers

I’ve started a blog about teaching — both a how-to out of my ten years of experience and reflections on my attempts to improve — which seems like a good place to find people who are still forming their own teaching habits. (My basic target group: why try to sell yourself to people who already have routines? Let their colleagues convince them my product is great.)

As it takes shape, I’ll mention more here. (I seem to benefit from writing about the things I’m doing.)

My free EFL resource website

For a time, I had a page on this blog that hosted PDF files of reading/business activities I’d made. However, as long as it was all ‘one site’ I felt like I had to have my ‘teacher face’ on, and not just my rambly-self face. And I wanted this to be a place where I sort of reflected and rambled about all the projects, not just the classroom ones.

So, I moved the New Spork City worksheets to another site. The idea is that I can promote it a bit (the plan now is just to upload worksheets to resource trading sites — maybe post answers on Quora) and it can showcase both my great stories (I’m proud of them independently from any kind of self-promotion) and the worksheets that I make.

More work… Only maybe

The thing is, I’m not sure I’m working harder now. I mean, I’m spending more time typing at a computer. That’s for sure. And I’m a bit tighter stretched for time (family drama contributes to that — but the O’Malley family can benefit from my own family drama — you’ll eventually read it there.)

But, reflecting in writing is good for me. Maybe I’d be just as well off with a Google Doc or a journal. But, this is what I’m doing and I hope it all takes a direction.

Finishing

I’m pushing hard on the Obstacle is the Way. And, I want to ‘finish up’ Dynamic EFL. (I have a list of things to do to consider it ‘finished,’ as well as a list of things that I want to learn — and then include — for version 2.0)

I even have a cigar already bought, which I’m going to smoke when both things are done. (You’ll know, because I’m looking forward to celebrating becoming a ‘finisher‘ here.) I hope that there will be an extra burst of energy that comes with completing a task and turning to face the next task. (In coding, that probably means the fantasy pilgrimage. In teaching, that probably means everything but vocab review.)

Balance

The things I write about here are all secondary to my goal of being a great dad and at least an average husband. (The wife doesn’t read this, it’s okay.) And, while these things give me a focus and a direction — and help me in my professional life — they aren’t everything.

I’ve been trying to be more active about adding balance to my life, including working out every day, reading more, putting my phone down, and even drawing when I had time in the summer. (I’d like to do more — I’m convinced that it’s as close to meditation as I’ve come, yet.)

Ideally, I’ll write a little about those things, too.

Writing is, after all, good for me.

The slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip

It’s been hot here. Really, really hot.

I’m not complaining — I’ll take heat over cold any day — but it’s been the kind of weather that makes all movement a sweat-soaked enterprise.

But, I ran. I’m a runner, and runners run. (In addition to me prioritizing exercise as a superpower.) But I didn’t run fast.

The Wednesday speedwork was just a slow run with burpees in the shade. Friday’s mid-distance run was just a simple 5k with more burpees.

But, I ran.

I’m a big believer that the perfect is the enemy of the good. And, as an extrapolation of that, the slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip.

There is sugar everywhere!

kidneybeans

The sugar fast update

Of course, I planned to be able to write that I didn’t cheat at all in my sugar fast. After beginning a day earlier than I planned — I didn’t eat the chocolate I had planned to eat — I thought it would be a pretty simple experiment for me.

After all, I don’t eat that much sugar.

That’s a joke.

“I’m not feeling so great”

On Wednesday and Thursday, three and four days after beginning the fast, I felt crappy. I couldn’t place what my exact complaint was, but it was there. I found it hard to get myself started on anything and did a lot of sitting and staring at walls until deadlines made me move.

I had a headache, and a pain I used to have in my neck, shoulder, and arm came back. (I still have it. I thought doing planks had helped.) I complained a lot to my wife, who observed that she didn’t think I had eaten so much sugar that I should have withdrawal symptoms, did I quit anything else?

Yes, I quit alcohol along with sugar (because it’s basically good-feeling sugar water, right?). But, even less than I liked having withdrawal symptoms from sugar, I didn’t like the idea that I had withdrawal symptoms from alcohol.

By Friday, though, I was happily buying a Granny Smith apple to eat in a meeting where I knew that my boss would be bringing cake. I wanted to have something to put in my mouth to avoid the temptation.

“What can you eat?”

When I talk to people about this, they have ask the obvious question. And it’s both more and less than you might think. First, I’m not trying to be strictly plant-based doing this… though that’s where I’d want to end up again.

Secondly, I’m not avoiding all carbs — or even all sugars — just the refined ones that have been added to something. Snacking on blueberries? Acceptable. Eating apples? You betcha. Pasta? Yes, please.

But, I took the photo at the top of the post to send to friends in protest. After I’d made my ‘healthy’ lunch (and I’m enjoying the minimalist element of my life right now), I saw on the back of the can that kidney beans have added sugar.

What?!

That was today’s lunch, and it wasn’t my first time ‘cheating.’ Last Tuesday, my wife cooked some pre-marinated chicken that we’d bought for a barbecue and didn’t grill. There’s a good chance there was sugar in the marinade. (And I still felt like crap on Wednesday!)

On Sunday, we had a really great pan-fried pasta-and-sausage thing. Delicious. But there was dextrose in the sausage. And, yesterday, my wife thought she was doing me a favor by buying me one of those sushi-to-go things. It was great to come home to after teaching until nine thirty.

After I ate the sushi, though, I turned the package over out of curiosity and… there was sugar in the rice.

Results

I can report that my energy is getting back to usual. I don’t know if that’s a result of the sun coming out, or the end of some mythical “withdrawal.” And, I feel good and mentally sharp. What’s more, I feel mentally sharp later in the day.

The mental sharpness could be an artifact of the placebo effect, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues.

My weight is slowly but steadily dropping. I’m down about a half kilo since I started this, but that could just as easily be the result of quitting alcohol as of anything else.

Lastly, I’m finding it easier to stick with fitness goals, like the ones I set in January. (I should get back to writing up those plans/reflections). That could be because I’m generally more motivated to see a return on my ‘investment,’ or it could be because my overall energy/motivation level isn’t changing as much.

I’ll keep you posted.

Do your job, do it right

Continuing my tradition of writing on each chapter in The Obstacle is the Way, and following my last post on this, continuing in my tradition of disagreeing slightly with Ryan Holiday.

This chapter begins with a story of Andrew Johnson being proud of his working-class origins, not as a link to the mythical ‘common man,’ but because he was a good tailor and continued to be proud of excelling even in humble work.

Then, it goes on to talk about James Garfield:

… paid his way through college in 1851 by persuading his school, the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, to let him be the janitor in exchange for tuition. He did the job every day smiling and without a hint of shame. Each morning, he’d ring the university’s bell tower to start the classes–his day already having long begun–and stomp to class with cheer and eagerness.

Within just one year of starting at the school he was a professor–teaching a full course load in addition to his studies. By his twenty-sixth birthday he was the dean.

This is what happens when you do your job–whatever it is–and do it well.

I take objection to the last line. I could take objection because “hard work is its own reward” precludes doing hard work only because you expect returns of the sort that James Garfield got. But that’s not why. I think it’s ridiculous to hold up such a rags-to-riches story as an example of “what happens when you do your job” in 2018.

It’s not that I agree with the value of doing hard work. I believe that you are what you do, and if you consistently do sloppy work, you’ll be a sloppy person. The idea of “I can do it right when I have to” has proven itself wrong in my experience. (Naturally, I’m thinking of others when I say this, but I can think of at least one instance recently when I wasn’t able to perform like I should have on a job because I’d consistently slacked off with that company.)

In talking about this, Ryan Holiday eventually moves away from the idea of “you’ll get your just rewards in due time,” which sounds to me like something you’d say to someone who is being exploited, and gives better reasons for working hard:

The great psychologist Viktor Frankl, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is somene else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.

In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well.

I think that’s a better argument for doing the right thing, often, even when nobody is looking. However, I think that, if life is asking you “what is the meaning of life?” you’re welcome to answer: “not this.”