Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Attention Span, Part 2


If life was easy, they wouldn't have made a Wendy version of it, I reckon.  Or so I tell myself..

Yesterday, I shared the difficulty I have had getting my attention span back this year.

Today, I am going to talk about my process for doing that...While this process worked for me, I do not claim to have a magic elixir, so buyer beware!

Okay, so once I got up off the coach and decided that

a) I wasn't going to die of exhaustion
b) I wasn't going to die of shame by quitting my job
c) feeling the death of one's last parent keenly and feeling the regret of not pursuing one's passions keenly is in fact, a normal thing, albeit something we are taught to gloss over and "suck up"

I decided that it was time to, as the song says: "pick myself up, wipe myself off, start all over again.." (As a treat I am sharing the song below, sung by a fellow Canuck who has made good):



 One of the things I struggled with in the beginning was how to get the attention span back?

Well I did it through baby steps.  I would set little goals for myself: i.e. I will read 5 pages of this book (this magazine, whatever it was) before I will look at anything online, look out the window, get up and fold laundry, etc.  Everything had a set limit of time.  For me that was the only way to do it, as I would start something, then find myself restlessly wandering around the house dabbling with this, that and the other thing.  I would read a page and say "wonder what's happening on the blog?" or "I should fold laundry", etc.

Gradually, I worked up to ten pages in a sitting.  Or 15 minutes of laundry folding without doing anything else.  It was all about doing one task at a time and doing it well.  I would not allow myself to multitask. 

Once I was able to sit still for awhile and was used to doing it again, I challenged myself.  For example, I read that Stephen King reads upwards of 75 books a year.  He encourages writers to read as much as they write.  So my goal has been to read 52 books by the end of 2013.  I think I am at 41 right now. 

Melissa of the wonderful blog, Shopping with M, has always inspired me with her reading lists, so I decided I needed one as well.  Luckily, I found the GoodReads app, which allows you to track what you read, what you want to read and if you are interested, see others' reviews of books you might want to read.  You can do it online as well via GoodReads.com.


For me, this is a fun way to keep track of it all and it has inspired me to keep going.  For you - it might be 10 books, 20 books - it depends on your own personal circumstance and I can assure you, in my old job, I was lucky if I read 10 books a year. 

My friend Dani BP has gotten me into a book club, and I am pretty sure I am the most nerdy member of that book club, as I get all giddy in advance, keeping notes, highlighting text.  Really, I am quite the goofball about it, but they haven't kicked me out yet.  I can't wait for the next selection!  For those of you who want to read great books, moderated by a smart woman, this is the book club to join!

I am also a fan of reading many different types of books.  So right now I am reading Dickens' David Copperfield, but I am also reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Doll Bones by Holly Black and Forever Chic, by Blogger Tish Jett.  Talk about a disparate list!

 

I like to read literary books, nonfiction books that are "in the news", books in the genres in which I write and books that are plain fun.  So the books I have on the go right now meet all of those categories!

Another thing that has helped me are simple lists.  So today, I made a list of what I wanted to achieve.  I do my best to get it all done, but I don't beat myself up when I am unable to.  Tomorrow is another day and it doesn't help me feel good about myself when I feel I've let myself down. 

I have gotten quite good about doing one thing at a time (except for cooking - I always watch TV when I am cooking!) now and it has made a HUGE difference in my ability focus and get things done.  I try very hard not to leave a task midway, because it makes me feel jittery, just like the old days. 

Finally, what has truly helped me is getting rid of the blackberry.  Yes, I have a smartphone, but honestly, hardly anyone ever texts or emails me.  I check my blog at prescribed times and I check my friend's blogs twice a day.  In my old world I used to get 200-300 emails a day, a quarter of which required some action.  It got to be overwhelming for me and my assistant, and despite our best efforts, it seemed impossible to control.  Now the only people who text me are my kids and I love it.  I feel quite peaceful without the constant vibration of a blackberry going off around the clock.  Even in my old job I tried to limit the impact of the blackberry, but the reality was, I didn't create the culture in which I worked (the politicians did) and they were addicted to their blackberries and instant answers to their questions. 

Not sure if any of this is helpful to anyone, but I did think it was a topic worth discussing.  I would love to hear what you have done to be more focused!

Have a wonderful Tuesday and stay safe out there!

 

52 comments:

  1. I hate to admit this, but I am feeling discouraged while facing this problem. Almost like I want to give up. I have worked really really hard up to this summer, even days that I felt at half steam, and after I met a big deadline, I keep telling myself I need the rest. It's been about 4 1/2 months and I can't seem to get my groove back. There are 4 constructions on my block, all demolitions that were built from the ground up, and I find them so distracting with the clanking and banging and screaming of workers who violate the early end of the noise ordinance. Probably not what you asked, but man it feels good to vent!

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    1. Anthro Blogger, any kind of noise form men working sets me on edge, it's all that shouting that they do, I find it really aggressive.

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    2. ab - I am really noise sensitive (the book about quiet people and introverts has a whole section on this) so I can completely relate! At one point thus summer, I thought about moving over to the library for the same reason - now that I have my office that isn't required, but wonder if that would be possible? Tabs - I am in complete agreement!

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    3. Anthro Blogger, I live in a city that is essentially under construction all around me, so at least know you are not the only one steam venting. Can you make a break for a peaceful place? Anything from an art gallery to a good reading room, a hot shower (our baths are not on the street side) or a transit trip to a park helps me. Also consider noise cancelling headphones. Bose has some good in-ear ones now and while they are not a good habitual solution, can help for the really clattery days.

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    4. I am really sensitive to noise too. Tree cutting, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, even the coffee bean grinder, it all kind of sets me on edge. WMM, I've got to read that book, maybe it's the one I should start with.

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    5. I can't grind beans in the AM b/o the noise, very slow to wake up.

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  2. Thanks for sharing those tips Wendy... I am addicted to my smartphone. Would I let it home before going to work, I would drive back to pick it... Yes I am checking my personal emails numerous times during the days, same for my IG, and twitter account... As well for my FB account... And then I am so often on Pinterest... And I check many times a day if anyone would let a comment on my blog... And yet I complain that I don't have enough time during a day... I feel less lonely if there is any activity on my social network, while I am perfectly aware that this is fake and I am still " lonely" in real life... And even I admit all this, I do not change my behavior... How lame is that???

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    1. I would tell you that this IS real life. I know what you mean about virtual vs physically close, but the friendships and connections are real. To me anyway.

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    2. Steph just wrote my answer, I do feel everything that she does and I know it's not healthy but it feels like a big major addiction.

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    3. Steph, I think it is only unhealthy if you find it stressful to do (like my blackberry messages, where people were often yelling at me in text!) or it makes you feel bad. I love my Pinterest time - I actually consider a creative pursuit as I am such a visual person! And I am with Jennifer - I feel that I am often more open and truthful about who I am in my blog than I can be in real life, except with my very closest of friends, so I would say that blog friends nourish me and inspire me and they become as real as anything! The one thing I do NOT do now is make myself feel bad about stuff! I spent so long beating myself up that now if I do anything mindless I assume I "need" to do it! And chatting with friends is never mindless!

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    4. I agree with you and Jennifer on many points: I have made some good "friends" in the virtual world, I even have met a couple of them in real life... Yet those friends are not people I could call in case of distress or real hard time in my life and speak with them about it over the phone and I don't have any of those in real life neither, hence the "loneliness" factor... Then yes, I find it stressful in the way I think it distract me from many other things... Now I now why I act like this, I have just not yet been able to break the pattern (I am working on it girls!)
      Thanks Tabitha, you made me feel not alone in this case...

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    5. Steph - I hear you. One of the things that they had us do in that Brene Brown ecourse that I am taking, it take a VERY small piece of paper and identify those (very) few people we would call if we were in distress - people that we trust. Besides my very immediate family, the number of people whom I really trust is very small. Most of us have lots of aquaintances, some of us have lots of friends, but even amongst that number, there are only a few people that usually get us. Brene says you only need 1 or 2 of those people in your life to be really content! I am sending you love that you find them soon! I don't know if you've read the Gifts of Imperfection, but boy, is it good!

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    6. Gah! I just spent ages typing a reply on the silly iPad and it crashed and I lost it!
      Anyway, Steph, I am the same as you with my phone. It's a terrible addiction and the more addicted I become, the less books I read. This year has been truly pathetic on the reading front.

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    7. Ruth - I feel your pain!

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  3. Still being a work in progress I find my IPad to be my biggest time consumer. I love the idea of building up the amount of reading time at each sitting! Great idea Wendy. I'll try that. Reading is tough because my mind wanders all over the place. It even does with audio books! Of course I'm usually knitting while listening. Multitasking is the devils work for my peace of mind. I keep trying to wipe things off my lists, but they keep growing. I'm reading several books on leading a simpler life and wonder if I should just read one at a time, from beginning to end. Great topic here!
    xo Jennifer

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    1. I also think the thing is to be kinder to ourselves about our true natures - some folks thrive on hustle and bustle. I like to visit hustle and bustle, but I can't live there! I am quite behind this week given our sudden makeover of the kitchen, but I am trying not to worry about that. I think listening to audio books while knitting is brilliant - I usually do it (when I do it) during TV watching with my kids.

      When I was decompressing I watched a lot of "safe" TV - HGTV, Steven and Chris, Holmes on Homes, Sarah Richardson - it was all I had an attention span for. I watch a lot less TV now and never during the day, as my nature is that I get sucked in easily. On the other hand, if it is a weekend day, especially Sunday, I revel in watching old movies while I bake or cook. I finally got to see Magnificent Obsession last weekend with Rock Hudson - it was so over-the-top it was brilliant!

      Oh and I am incapable of reading one book at a time. The only time I don't do that is when one is amazing. David Copperfield is much tougher going than Tish's book or Gladwell's, but you can dip in and out of the latter ones, whereas I have to read a whole chapter at a time when I am reading fiction.

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  4. I think in many ways, I pride myself in being really good at multitasking. I've done two meetings (teleconference) at the same time while answering emails and IMs, eek. However, that doesn't help for being better at focusing. Like some, I tend to buckle down only when the fire is nipping at my behind. When I absolutely have to deliver, I do the following: surround myself with reference material, shut the door, put on my "thinking beads" (pools of light necklace), spritz on some holy basil hydrosol and play Mozart's violin concertos. Could be the placebo effect could be I'm trained like Pavlov's dogs but it don't matter if it works, right?

    Oh the Blackberry ... I resisted for years but now I'm addicted and tethered to work almost all my waking hours.

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    1. TR - I always tried to multitask during teleconferences - they were often so boring, so I am with you there! I need thinking beads (they sound amazing) and the holy basil hydrosol - have to look for that!!!

      Oh the Blackberry - I think it is horrible, I have to say - the expectation where I worked was that you were on call 24-7 and that if your boss wanted to send you a snotty or stressful email at nine o'clock at night, there was nothing you could do..

      Have you ever read Elizabeth Barrett Brown's Aurora Leigh? I just did last spring and when I came across the following passage I thought she was writing directly to me:

      Earth's crammed with heaven,
      And every common bush afire with God;
      But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
      The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
      And daub their natural faces unaware.

      I think Elizabeth may have been on to something! ;-)

      I love your pavolov dog solution! I may need to steal it!

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  5. Hmm, I have both a blackberry and an iPhone and they live on my nightstand while I sleep. I find that I thrive on hecticness -- my attention span is longer and more focused when I am under water than when I have a lot but not a ton to do. Not sure if that makes sense but I have certainly found it to be the case over and over again. I absolutely love Goodreads -- will see if I can find you over there and ping you to be my buddy. Although you may giggle at my reading list ....

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    1. M - I think it probably really depends on whether you are a natural extrovert or introvert. If something energizes you, and you still have the ability to focus, I do no think it is a bad thing. It was more me (see my response to Tiffany Rose above), but that could well be my temperament!

      Yay - just found you on GoodReads! God - I hope you haven't read that many books just this year (hangs head in shame!)

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    2. Not hardly!! I counted up and am at about 66 this year. One of my law school friends does seriously read 150-200 books a year (and has 3 kids, a legal job, etc.). It is mind-boggling.

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  6. Well, the book I would like to read has at least made it to my nightstand. I also like the idea of setting goals and writing them down...five pages should be doable. I shall begin with that.

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    1. BB - slow and steady, girl!

      Now that I am reading it feels like I am drinking from a garden hose - I am desperate to read, read, read, and I only have so much time to do that, so I am trying to take it slow!

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  7. I'm like you, I live by lists and it's so nice to put a check once it's done. Also putting a time limit on each task helps. I have yet to join goodreads but I like it from what I've seen. Just wanted to share what I've read lately and loved. A Tale for a Time Being I think will be up your alley (fresh, whimsical, buddhism + quantum physics). It was my favorite for the Man Booker this year but did not win, Cuckoo's Calling (Rowling's fantastic new series in a different genre), Empty Mansions (a riveting true story of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark), and The Signature of All Things (from Eat, Pray, Love author). On order are The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and We are Water by Wally Lamb.

    Wanted to share some disappointments, too. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland (felt flat to me). Gave up on The Luminaries (Booker winner) halfway through the 800+ pages, too many characters that did not connect with me, not worth the cramp in my arms reading that very heavy tome. Biggest downer was Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I waited seven years for her sophomore effort, alas, maybe I was expecting too much. Just a fair warning, once you get published, the pressure is greater from your fans!

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    1. Marie, thanks, I was debating the Lahiri (she was on BBC Talking Books recently) and am eager for the Tartt. Somehow I think WMM's sophomore title will be something of a surprise...

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    2. Hi Marie!

      Great things to add to my list of "to reads"! I just downloaded the Luminaries to the kindle, because I cannot hold an 800 page book!

      GF - not sure my sophomore will be a surprise, as it is 2nd in the series, but my 3rd will sure be a departure!!

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    3. Thanks, Marie, I'm going to look fo that first book. St.King loved the new Tartt. I have Alice Munro's latest going along with Michael Lewis The Big Short about the 2008 crash; and lots of Inca/Galapagos stuff.

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    4. Marie, I ordered the Goldfinch this morning. You probably know that the painting is on view at the Frick as part of the "Masterpieces of Ducth painting" that opens today! Both the publisher and the curator say it is coincidental, but what a coincidence! Anyway I haven't been this excited for a book in ages. The secret history is one my favorite books even if I read it in French years ago.

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    5. "Girl with a Pearl Earring" will be there, too. I feel a trip to NYC coming on...

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    6. Lane, yes, thanks for pointing it out, I was so focused on the Tartt coincidence that I firgot to mention it!

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    7. HOw long is the show on Ema?

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  8. Thanks for the shout-out Wendy. :) I think all of your steps are smart and thoughtful and are better than trying to go cold-turkey anything.

    In my entire life, I never had a problem with letting everything go so I could read and read and read. Just this year, with my iphone, I have noticed that I get so easily distracted and want to check it more and more, even when reading. At first I thought, well, maybe the books aren't all that great. But I finally realized, no, I'm just letting myself get way too distracted by the phone! So I'm going to put myself on a mission to ensure that phone stays far away from me when I'm reading or trying to get something done that needs focus. Thanks for the inspiration as always!

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    1. shopwithm Good to know I am not the only one that sometimes creates physical distance with my phones - out of sight out of mind does help with concentration. Not fixated by the "new message" red light flash etc.

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    2. I think stepping away and not having it nearby is a great idea! WHen I am reading on my ipad (kindle app or ibooks) I make a pact that I will not check internet or email for at least 20-30 minutes and I stick to it. It does make a difference doesn't it>?

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  9. THE WENDY VERSION Another deep dive today at the clubhouse. Can so relate to AnthroBlogger and the construction distraction, FunkySteph's quest for "real" in-the-soup friends, MontyDD's hectic makes it happen.
    Two take-aways for today, how to really shut off the mental racetrack when it is time to put aside the phones? (I was at a wedding couple of weeks ago and although the homily was lovely, the use of a particular phrase had me mental wrestling with a work problem in my pew.) And how to use lists to foster commitment, accomplishment and more calm instead of "never get shorter." I struggle with taking the down or sanity time I need when there is chronically so much to do. And then once every so many weeks, I have a total wasted day (not the good kind) just because I get sick of check marks/ reminders and fall prey to a crippling case of avoidance, which of course leaves me scrambling.

    Must check out GoodReads tonight, one less list to keep track of ;-)

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    1. GF - I think what you have said above is so important - we schedule ourselves and make to-do lists up the wazoo, but we do not build in enough "me" time and then we are completely out of whack. For me, that meant I wasn;t exercising or reading enough or just sitting. Now I got for vigorous walks out here in the woods and I feel so much better when I get home. The one thing I also do is no longer check the retail sites. I may go once a week or when I see there is a good deal, but mostly, I just let them be - they cost me money and they waste my time unless I am looking for something!

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  10. That was helpful! I used to read a lot and lately (last 5-10 years) I hardly read at all. I can't get myself started, mostly because I know I'll get pulled away soon so why bother or because I can think of 100 other things to do. I love your idea of just reading 5 pages uninterrupted, it will be a great way for me to start. I already do the simple list every morning and although I usually lose it by day's end, I usually check most things off the list before it's lost. If I don't, tomorrow is another day and another list.

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    1. I think the small steps are best and frankly, if it takes you a month to read your book, what is the big deal, right? At least you have read it!

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  11. Brilliant strategy, WMM! Many many things are a matter of degree/quantity, just like deciding to read 5 pages vs. a whole book. Starting an exercise regimen; no, you don't need a gym, just sneaks and a watch; march out the door for 10 minutes, turn around, march home and feel triumphant.

    I am a sociable introvert and don;t tend to check my phone much. This could be generational. Much rather go without phone than chocolate, for instance.

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    1. Oh me too! It drives Barry crazy - he LOVES his phone...

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    2. Sociable Introvert! Love that Lane, I think that's what I am too. And I hate the phone, I almost never answer it, I carry an iphone for emergency since my youngest developed health problems years ago but I almost never give out the number and when it rings I practically have a heart attack.

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  12. I honestly don't know where my days go. I set goals for the day but I barely achieve a third. I am one of those persons who deliver under stress and life as a stay at home mom is the opposite of stressful. The less I have to do the less I do (I mean even the little that I have to do). I go from distraction to distraction. Like right now, I had a goal of ironing a pile of things and then declutter my closet abd here I am checking on my blog friends posts. I definitely need some discipline. Even the reading has taken a halt, I haven't finished a book since the summer vacation. I could start by your 5 pages rules, especially that the Goldfinger is 800 pages...
    Sorry for not commenging as much as before Wendy, I always read but commenging is difficult these days (off to iron)

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    1. Ema - I say that all the time - how did I have time to do things when I worked 60-80 hours a week? The truth is, I didn't!

      On the other hand, I work at my writing and editing every day and that does take time and discipline. I think being busy is like money - you spend up to what you earn; you always find a way to spend your time, too!

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  13. I like your idea of setting a specific amount of time for something. I'm notorious for allocating time slots in my calendar for specific tasks. Often though, something will come up and I find myself rescheduling. I have a smartphone but do not use the push email service so if I'm not logged onto my laptop I don't see any work emails and I love that. I do not ever want to be answering work emails on my personal time.

    I don't watch a lot of television or movies so usually read during the evenings when I'm not working on some fun project or out visiting friends. Television is really a huge time-waster and I get bored with it quickly anyway. I'd much rather read.

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    1. xoxo - good for you! My TV watching is very limited; I usually watch from 9 to 10 when my kids are watching so I can sit with them and hang out. Often I am reading while I am sitting there! I used to a bad TV watcher years ago, but no at all now! Now I tape what I like and watch on the weekends. Good for you about not letting work emails encroach on personal time. I think people (and I am thinking of me here) do not treat their personal time as their real time...

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  14. I am still having trouble with the "I got rid of my blackberry" statement. :D Unfortunately, companies require you to have them and then bosses expect an almost immediate reply to their e-mails.

    What I recall worked for me when I was taking an essay writing class, and also still helps my writer friend is focusing on an item for several minutes, then writing down anything that crosses your mind that is related to that item.

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    1. Rose you made me laugh out loud! I love your methodology - very smart!

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  15. I have struggled with this problem for years, and it has just gotten worse with having small children to run after. I find what helps is to make a very short list of things to do (maximum 4 things) the night before, and make sure that the first two, most important things get done the next day. That way, I feel like I have at least accomplished something, and I can't beat myself up too hard about not doing anything.

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    1. Oh I like this - only the important stuff!

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  16. Wendy thanks for the kind mention of the MopPhil book club! Speaking of which I need to announce the next title this week. Where has the time gone this week is my question, yup I get distracted too and the computer makes it worse. I have days when I have to say to myself: all real work no 'puter today, and then I get stuff done. Of course if the stuff I have to do is on the computer I'm in trouble, that's where I do my admin work so you can see the problem. At least I don't watch much tv, though I find the football attractive, especially if I have a Vogue magazine!
    I like your disciplined approach to this... you embrace Purpose like no-one's business, I really admire that about you!

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    1. Oh I embrace something - usually wine, sometimes, clothing, often reading and writing! I am an inveterate putterer - it is a struggle!

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Kindness is a virtue...