Need Some Help with Self-Control? Try Leechblock

A friend of mine on LJ1 turned me on to a Firefox plugin of epic usefulness – Leechblock.  It prevents you from accessing sites that, in your judgement, are timewasters during specified periods of time.  It’s not like a nanny software that blocks sites forever, but gives you the option of limiting time on a specific site or banning those sites from being accessed during certain hours.  If you’re really worried about self control, you can also choose to set it to prevent you from accessing options until the banned time is over.

Now part of my job really kind of is to screw around on the net.  Most of my clients want me to write for the web, so I have to be aware of web trends, understand what makes a good blog post or not, and other things of that nature.  Not only that, but I do use the Internet for research.2 However, when you’ve hit refresh for the fiftieth time in an hour on Livejournal, are grinding your teeth at the stupidity Facebook’s latest TOS fiasco, or have posted that you’re clipping your toenails on Twitter, things have gone a bit far.

I consider myself reasonably self-disciplined.  I meet deadlines.  I finish my to-do list for work.  I manage to scrounge enough money to keep me from having to get a “real job” and that really does take some self-motivation.  But I’m going to try an experiment.  For the next week, I’m going to block some sites from my browser during office hours3 with an hour break for lunch and see what it does to my productivity and client base.

I’m guessin’ we’re gonna see some positive results.  Whatcha think?

1 (Thanks sheelangig!)
2You’d be amazed at how inexpensive a single PDF download of an article from a technical or medical journal can be sometimes!
3 6:30-3:30 is usual for me to work.

Working at Home and Self-Discipline

I’ve had people comment from time to time that they don’t have the self-discipline to work from home or be self-employed.

Ironically, it’s not unusual for me to get this comment from people I consider more self-disciplined than I am1.

I think that it has a lot to do with one’s view of  “should” v. “want to”.  I like working from home and having the freedom that I do a whole lot.  I might be a good writer, but to explain how much I like it would be difficult. I don’t know, necessarily, how much self-discipline it takes to do what you passionately want.  In fact, I’d say it doesn’t take all that much discipline, really.

That’s something I think we often miss in our lives.  We don’t separate out what we think we should be doing or should want from what we passionately want with all our hearts and souls.

Does this mean we should necessarily make our livings from our passions?  No, not really.  When you can, it’s really cool.  I’m not gonna lie about that.  Thing is, it looks a lot more virtuous than it is.  When you wake up excited about doing something, and that something is your job, you look all focused and motivated and virtuous and disciplined.  Friends, going into a toy store and grabbing everything in sight is about as far from disciplined as you can get!

I’m going to be taking a trip down to visit my family soon.  I’m taking the train at least in part so I can work on the way down.   I love being able to do that.  It’s hard to describe the kick I get out of it.   The kick I get out of sitting here in my writin’ chair listening to Dire Straits (playing Money for Nothing, ironically enough), and working on a project for a client feels so very good.  I used to dream of being able to do exactly this when I was a kid.  I’d read science fiction stories about people with hand computers (and remember these were written when computers were as big as a bedroom!) able to access datanets anywhere, write stuff, do work and go anywhere while they were doing it.

I wanted that so badly.  It’s part of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.  When I was a kid, it was the only portable profession I knew about.  Being a computer professional wasn’t yet all that portable — as  I well knew when I watched my father leave the house as I got up to get ready for school.  But I’d take my notebook into the woods behind my friend Mindy’s house, write, and fantasize about the day when I’d be making a living doing that.

When you want something that badly, when you dream about something so much that it stops being a dream but just an internalized part of you waking and sleeping, discipline isn’t the issue any more.  It’s just… what you do.

1 I actually consider myself pretty undisciplined, really. I’m just pig-headed.

Freelancing, Parkour and a Tu'penny Upright

I just plain did not feel like swimming today.  Not sure why, but since the goal is to do cardio on Tuesdays, I just did something else that I think I am going to start referring to as my Tu’penny Upright Cardio[1]: 20 minutes on the elliptical.  Anything to keep myself amused and motivated.  I wanted to share this with the gym, but since I work there I figured I’d be a little more professional about it.  With my luck, someone there reads this and I’m gonna hear it next time I’m there.

I’m beginning to feel like a dork for driving to work when I work in the gym.  I live a half a mile from the place.  Thing is, I go there at 0-my-god-it’s-early and I’m not sure that walking there in the dark is exactly being Ms. Safety – even if I do live in a small and not too terribly crime-ridden town.  Still, driving a half a mile that I’m physically capable of walking quite comfortably offends my sensibilities.  Besides, I kinda like getting in that little extra bit of walking.  God knows why, but I’ll walk to get somewhere and rather like doing it, but rarely just “take a walk”.  When the snow starts getting nasty here, I probably will start walking to the gym cause I hate driving in snow, the sidewalks are safe, I have good boots and I figure that people tend not to be arsed to get out in bad weather to commit crimes.  I should probably look up that last and see if there’s any stats on it rather than bet my safety on idle speculation, huh?

I have some work to finish today, which is good.  I also really need to sit my butt down and make a specific reading plan for my school.  While I love a self-directed study, it is self-directed, which means I have to plan what I’m doing.  I’m just not at home to doing it frantically right before the deadline.  I could throw something adequate together and it’d probably look better than a lot of what my advisor gets.  There are advantages to studying and writing for a living!  But, the idea is to turn in stuff that’s as good as anything I’d hand a client.  ‘Cause, well, you know… The whole Proud as Lucifer thing.

In the interests of trying to start leaning Parkour[2] I’ve been making a point to jump more often.  You know, down a minimal amount of steps, over small obstacles.   Mostly at this point I really am trying to get my courage back about my knee.  Two years out of ACL repair surgery is plenty.  The knee is as strong as it is ever going to get, I lift weights, so the supporting muscles are fine.  I jumped off the stepstool we use at the gym because our files are too high for the short people.  It’s goofy.  It’s small.  But I’m starting from nothing.  Goofy and small works.  Also been practicing my rolls, but that’s just fun.   I did forget to ask if the gym stocked mats for the third floor where the basketball courts and stuff are.  The aerobics room has ‘em, but I’ll want room.  I suppose I can always drag ‘em upstairs.

[1] My usual cardio is lying down, for longer duration and at a slightly slower pace.  Do I really have to draw you guys a picture?

[2] And you kids in the peanut gallery can stop laughing at a fat old lady even attempting it!

Starting the Day with Iron and Electrons

I’ve got more work than I know what to do with… Well, okay, that’s not quite fair.  I have a lot of work, but I know what to do with it.  Finish it on time.  See, not that complex!

When I quit working for an employer, I had several income streams figured out, and I approached it with the idea I’d do most anything legal and reasonable to bring in some cash.   Clean houses, babysit, be a Virtual Assistant, have a phone advice line, temp… I didn’t care as long as I was working for myself.  As wonderful as the job I left was (and I really did work with some great people in a fantastic environment), I Just Don’t Like Office Work.  I didn’t leave to flee the Job from Hell, but because I needed a change and needed to be working for myself.

I am actually a little surprised that writing has become a big enough part of my income (most of it, these days) that I’m not thinking so much in terms of finding multiple income streams doing radically different things as I am thinking in terms of being a full-time freelance writer.   Not all of my income is from writing.  I teach computer applications, too.  But, I’m almost at the point where I could quit that if I wanted to and only write.

Here’s the cool part.  The teaching?  I’m doing that because it’s fun.  How cool is that?  I wouldn’t give it up. If I had a J.K. Rowling-style success at fiction (and none of my income comes from fiction), I’d still want to teach.  I don’t think I’d love it full time like I do writing nearly full time.  I’d burn out.  But a few classes a month? Bring it on!

I’m feeling slow today.  I can’t believe I got my lazy butt to the gym this morning.  You know those workouts when you’re having a great time, the blood is pumping and you feel like a God?  Yeah, well, today wasn’t one of ’em.  The best I can say is that I did what I planned I would do.   I saw a woman in the gym today that was monster strong.  I saw her at the squat rack with an empty bar and though, “No way did she get muscle development on her legs like that squatting 45lbs!”

I was right.  That was her warmup set.  She was doing pyramids and when I left she was squatting something like 155lbs. (She was teeny, too.  ‘Bout my height, but with very little body fat).  I commented to a trainer there, “Someday.”

“Yeah, she’s really strong,” quoth he.

It made me feel good, because he knew immediately I was envying the strength more than anything.   You have no idea how much I enjoy being in a gym where strength and fitness in women is considered a great goal without pushing skinny, skinny, skinny all the time.

What's Your Rhythm?

I’m up between 4:30 and 5:15 most weekday mornings.  No, not claiming some early morning virtue here.  I do that for three reasons.  A couple of mornings a week, I open the local gym before my workout.  The rest of the time, I figure I might as well have my body used to getting up that early.  Since I’m up, it’s easiest just to get that workout out of the way then so I don’t have it hanging over my head all day.

The biggest reason is sheer laziness.  Yep, laziness.  If I have an article to write for a client, it takes me about a quarter of the time if I do it before noon that it would take me if I tried to do it after noon.  It’s weird that the difference in how well my brain works and when is so dramatic, but it is.

Since I work to the job instead of by the hour, getting up and getting going right away is the most cost-effective way for me to work.

Not everyone is a morning person, of course.  There are people whose brains simply do not turn on until late afternoon.

The question I have is:  Do you know when your brain is sharpest and do you schedule your life in harmony with that?  Do you know what environmental factors help this?

For instance, my brain is sharpest after a really hard workout.  Yet, I used to date a guy who found that heavy physical labor sapped his mental capacity, so he rarely chose to exercise anywhere near time to do work requiring clear thought.

This isn’t just for self-employed people by the way.  When I used to work in an office, I tried to schedule the “brain” tasks for before lunch and routine stuff for after lunch.  I also learned that coming home from an office to try to do webdev type work after dinner Just Wasn’t Going to Happen.  I think that one of the reasons that the freelance writing profession is overwhelmingly represented by night owls has a lot to do with the fact that it was the night owls who were able to work a day job and work at night until they were established as writers.  That this happened to ole up-with-the-chickens Noël is a bit of luck and a whole bunch of audacity.

Do you know your own rhythm?

Rewarding Yourself

I’ve always had this idea that you’re supposed to get stuff you need to get done because it needs to get done. Which is true as far as it goes, but when I feel unmotivated to do a task, I sometimes reward myself.

I often felt like a dork doing that. I mean, come on, grownups just get it done, right?

I missed a part. Grownups do what they need to to make sure they get it done, and self-motivation can take plenty of forms.

Right now I’m rather obsessed with sewing myself a new wardrobe. But I also have work to take care of — a book for a client, studying to teach a class, what have you. Because I work for myself, I could choose to spend most of my day on whatever my current obsession is.

If I made a habit of that, I’d have to get a “real job”. While I will if I must, I really, really don’t want to.

So, to keep myself on task, I reward myself when I get the day’s work done. I reward myself for working out with a Dr. Who episode, and that’s been quite a motivator for me.

I’m rewarding myself for getting work done with sewing time. I have a project that I have to complete a certain amount on each day to get it done, so I agree with myself that after I do that (and any other routine work), I’m allowed to go ahead and do some work on my wardrobe.

Because I’m so obsessed with getting my wardrobe done, it’s been a big motivator for me. It’s not even noon yet, and I got everything business-related I planned to get done today finished. So, I have a few hours to sew before I go for my swim, then have some fun with friends and family this evening.

I have to laugh a little. My mother’s reward for herself when I was growing up was downtime with a craft tray on her lap and the soaps playing in the afternoon. She took being a homemaker pretty seriously, and that meant a morning’s worth of housework, shopping, meal planning and what have you every morning. She moved fast and got it done quick because she wanted to do her painting (or whatever it was she was working on at the time).

I still have the “Housework should be done by noon” mentality, but I’ve had to throw that off because for me it’s business projects. (Which means more hours of work for me because I’m a much earlier riser than my mother!)

I also note that if I have a mentality that says, “Okay, you have to do X thing to earn X pleasure” not only does more stuff get done, the fun stuff has a sharper edge of pleasure to it.

Nothing Tastes as Good as Being Thin Feels

As I’ve mentioned countless times, swimming is an excellent time to ponder.

I was looking forward to a breakfast of fresh-from-the-farm eggs and a nice espresso when the title phrase of this post fluttered through my mind.

Now, I’ve never been thin. I really wouldn’t know. But I’m trying to imagine how it’s gonna feel great.

All my mind can go to is, “Well, it’d be easier to do pullups, and probably with less drag my swim times will improve” and then my mind goes blank.

Being thin won’t feel like anything that I can imagine. I don’t live in front of a mirror, so I won’t have any real, consistent feedback. My body will just feel like my body because I live in it. Whatever you get used to just feels normal. It won’t feel like a constant orgasm of thin. Possibly I’ll get more male attention. I know it sounds weird, but I’m not actually looking forward to that part1.

I used to be a diet counselor. I’ve watched many women lose large amounts of weight. Accomplishing a big goal? Hell yeah, that feels really good — for about twenty minutes. Then you move on to the next thing.

But, I never noticed that their lives necessarily improved from losing weight. They still had issues with their husbands, or had the same sour tempers they started with, or still hated their jobs, or found their children frustrating, or were scared their husbands were having affairs…

Or if they were happy and had positive attitudes (as many did. I don’t want to imply that all my clients were miserable. They weren’t), they were about as cheerful as they always were, laughed about the same amount and there really wasn’t a significant change in their basic attitude.

I know the phrase is supposed to help people focus on their goals. And you know what, “Don’t sacrifice a long-term goal for a momentary distraction” is a good thing to keep in mind.  The thing is: “Being thin will feel good” is a lousy motivation.  It won’t feel like anything. It’ll just be you and your body.  The change is gonna be gradual and it’s just gonna feel normal after awhile.  It’ll be your life and you’ll take it for granted after some small period of time.

1It’s not that I don’t like being flirted with. I do. A LOT. But, that sort of attention becomes less attractive when you’ve seen someone trying to ask a girl for a date when she’s at the squat rack. Free advice to the men that wanna date women who lift: Do not distract a person who is lifting enough weight to cause an injury if it is lifted wrong. You won’t score any points that way. Promise. Wait’ll she’s done. It’ll improve your chances.

And You Can Work in Your Underwear!

Whenever those “work at home” scams hit my inbox, working at home in your underwear is often one of the “selling points” of the scam.

I won’t say I’ve never worked in a state of dishabille. I do sometimes.

But you know, Flylady has a point when she talks about “dressing to your shoes”. You do need a mental cue that says, “Okay, this is worktime![1]

Do I ever work sitting propped up in bed? Goodness me, yes, I do! Finished my last project exactly that way. Sounds pretty cool, dunnit? I’m not saying it isn’t fun. It’s a lot of fun. Knowing that my “office” is my laptop, and can go anywhere is really, really cool. I’m not gonna lie to you.

But friends, work is still work. I might be working naked,[2] but I’m still working. The project still has to get done. If I take off to flit around all day because no-one is staring over my shoulder and my deadline isn’t for another week, work doesn’t get done. Cyberloafing in a formal office? Dandy. Go for it. Work isn’t getting done there, either.

But there’s a big difference between me and the person who practices the 5 Habits of the Highly Successful Slacker. He’s figured out a way to get paid without producing much.

I can’t.

I get paid when the job is done[3]. How I did it, when I did it,[4] what I was wearing when I did it… None of that matters. All that matters is “Did you finish?” and “Was it of good quality?”

Sure, sure, ideally you’ll treat your office job like that. If you do, you’ll probably have a really good, successful career and that’s awesome. The reality is that it’s awfully easy not to.

I like being my own boss and working to the job rather than to the clock.

But those “Work at home in your underwear” scams just make me roll my eyes. It makes it sound like you’ll be making a lot of money, but you won’t be working.

Don’t fall for that nonsense. You know, TANSTAAFL and all that smack.

[1] Mine is turning off my email, getting off the social networking sites, and closing chat.


[2] Though living as I do in Northern New England, it really hasn’t warmed up enough that I want to do that!

[3] Or more likely at specific milestones of the job.

[4] Providing I meet the deadline.

Captain Buzzkill 2000

I’d been oscillating since doing the 50 mile challenge at my gym whether or not to swim 1500 yards or 2000 yards as my workout. My normal swim was 1650. The last two times, I decided to do a 1500.

I woke up grumpy as all hell and feeling down on myself, so I chose to try a challenge and swam 2000.

I’d never done that before. Felt kinda good.

A lady in the gym got on the scales and commented (right beside me), “No way have I gained four pounds in a day!”

I laughed and said, “Don’t sweat it. It’s probably water weight.”

Another woman near us spoke up and said, “She’s working out, it’s probably muscle weight.”

In one day.

You wish.

A hard-training, unsupplemented1, young, genetically-gifted beginner female might put on about half a pound of muscle a week for the first five months or so if she specifically lifts to failure. If you’ve been following my listed workouts you will note this is considerably harder than I train2. I’m also hardly genetically gifted.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, strength training is important. But let’s be accurate with the numbers, ‘kay?

You’re probably not gonna jump four pounds of muscle doing aqua aerobics. Oh, do the aqua aerobics! It’s fantastic exercise, easy on the joints, gets your heart rate up, gives you some strength work. Absolutely. But it ain’t gonna turn you into a monster. It’ll help you be a little more healthy, and that’s great. It’s a wonderfully valid reason for doing it.

I don’t wanna be Captain Buzzkill here. I really do believe in exercise and I’m all for doing what you can. I mean, c’mon, I got my start swimming 400 yards three times a week, and lifting less than the weight of an empty barbell for my workouts. It’s taken me coming on to two years to get where I am. Doing what you can is something to be proud of. You don’t have to make anything up or distort it for it to be worthy and valuable.

If you think pop magazine articles on exercise get under my fingernails, you’re right.

1 A euphemism for “not taking anabolic steroids”.
2At the best I can estimate, I’ve put on about four pounds of muscle in the past eighteen months. In a way, we women are lucky at how little it takes to make wonderful changes.

No Pressure

When I signed up to do the whole 50 mile swim, I didn’t think anything of it.  I swim a specific yardage three times a week without really being too concerned about it.  Habit.

When your name is on a bulletin board and there’s a mileage increment chart where you’ll be getting a marker when you reach a certain number of miles, it puts it into another perspective.

There are people who’ve already swum 10 miles since this started on May 1.  I’m so nuts I actually considered trying to swim a mile every single day.

The thing is, that’s absurd.  My workout routine of swimming three days a week and lifting three days a week works out fine.  I don’t need to add more just because I’m feeling competitive.  I might quit or get discouraged.  Quitting bad.  Working out good.  I only “win” if I keep the workout habit.

Certainly I could choose to make swimming my sole workout.  But I really don’t want to.  I like lifting, want to continue with it and don’t want to devote more time to working out than I already do.  Yes, the option’s there, but I don’t want to.

Not “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t”  or “I have to…”   That’s it’s just a choice with no big moral attachment to it feels really good.