Re-railing

This was my 750 words blather this morning –

I need some strategies for re-railing myself. We talk a lot about getting derailed but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent concept of ‘re-railing’. Considering the quantity and frequency of distractions that can come from so many directions, it’s strange that there don’t have the conceptual pair. You get derailed and that’s the end of it. You’d think that someone would’ve thought about this a bit more and considered that people need re-railing techniques – and even the language – to get back on track after the inevitable distractions pop up. Shutting the distractions out so they don’t occur in the first place only works so far and sometimes simply can’t be applied due to location, other demands on time and attention. Sometimes there are random things such as the library notice I received this morning that turn up in the course of your usual daily pattern that derail the morning’s trajectory. Sure, one strategy is to seek to prevent or minimise the distractions in the first place. Don’t read email first thing. Don’t go online where the rate of potential distractions increase exponentially. That doesn’t address the problem of how to manage once derailed.

The temptation is to throw one’s hands up in the air, announce (even if just to oneself) that one has been derailed and then continue to be derailed for the rest of the morning/day/week. Easy to do. Can also be satisfying with an accompanying dose of righteous indignation at the incursion. However, that doesn’t actually help. All the advice about how to avoid them also doesn’t help retrieve a previously established or desired focus and plan either. Such things tend to serve to remind how much you’ve let yourself down by getting derailed in the first place. Feeling like you’ve failed is another good way to give in to staying derailed. The thing is, none of us are perfect. Even the best systems don’t work all the time. I don’t need systems that implicitly nag me about avoiding distractions. They happen. I need ways to flop, be derailed and get my focus back.

Habit is a strong factor, and I suspect some of my abiding struggle is associated with some lack of habit or routine. I don’t have a much of daily or weekly schedule at the moment. I still treat this as my job, come into work at uni in the mornings in a similar daily pattern as you’d do for a regular work week. However, what I’m thinking of is more the schedule while I am here at work. There are some regular activities but plenty more irregular ones. I had tried out planning some regular activities last year but they’ve not persisted. I think I had tried too strict a schedule and that didn’t work so well. Maybe I need to consider a slightly elastic or pliable one that retains enough pull to snap me back into place and has enough give to accommodate things don’t work to a fixed timetable. Reinstating 750 words is a good start. I did find that helped focus my day last year so I’m getting this back into swing as a ‘first thing’ I do in my day. I’m back in training for my next run, and I know that getting my exercise in first thing in the day works really well for me too. I got slack in the  mornings and have spent too many recently waking up in bed reading the news, Facebook and emails instead of waking up while I’m out for a run or crosstraining. That can be a weekend thing, not an ‘every day’ thing. It has been hard to get much to work well while I’ve been feeling stuffed in the sinuses and sleep deprived. I know that home habits help work habits and that sleep is arguably the most help of all. I know I tend to write better in the afternoons, and so I need to plan that into my day as well. A general outline of 750 words, reading and annotating in the mornings and then drafting in the afternoons could be a good start.

That’s a big picture kind of thing. I think I also need small scale tricks to get me back into it when the annoying or demanding email, phone call, office conversation or some other distraction pops up. This goes especially for the ones I can’t control or influence, but also the ones that I can. The moments of thoughts wandering into checking personal emails, flicking through blog posts, looking at the news again and so on. My liking for the sandbox games may be enlisted as a useful activity here instead of being yet another distraction. The current one includes a timed activity that can work very well as a timer for the Pomodoro principle. It can also prompt for starting or restarting a period of working focus, more as in ‘oh look, time I got back into it’ and not another nag. Nagging and reminders that end up as nags are a strong turn-off for me and I have found I need to be really careful about this. I need some additions to stand as intermittent rewards for  getting a chunk of work done, whether that is a time chunk or a volume chunk.

Believing that I can re-rail myself is another notion that deserves some attention and may help counter some of the defeatism that follows a moment of derailment. What do you do when a train gets derailed from its tracks? You put it back on. So this should be the same for thinking, reading and writing.

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