Start early, have some me-time
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Some years ago, a colleague of mine at this newspaper—you know who you are—asked me to accompany him for an after-work glass of beer at a somewhat shady hotel bar near the office. As we sipped a lager of some kind, we began to talk about a film he had seen earlier that day. I have no recollection whatsoever of the film. But I vividly remember the digression that happened in our conversation—I suddenly realized something. He had been at work the whole day. When did he get a chance to see the film?
“Oh we wake up at 5 in the morning to get the daughters ready for school,” he said. His daughters were old enough to prep for school on their own, so my colleague spent the rest of the early morning watching a film, before coming to work. And apparently he got through three-four movies a week like this.
I was thunderstruck by the simplicity of it all. Here I was never finding the time to watch anything more than a film or read more than a book each fortnight. If that. And this chap was blasting through new and old DVDs by the cartonfuls.
I made a solemn promise to try the same thing. And never accomplished it for years. Until very recently. I am now in the midst of developing my own little method to chalk out a little time every day for a little leisurely reading. Along the way, I realized why chalking parcels of me-time like this can be very useful but also challenging. This week, let us try to untangle the secret.
First, most people are terrible at compartmentalizing the time they allocate to various tasks. Especially if they are work-related. We set aside 10 minutes to check email and then spend 2 hours. We make a solemn pledge to polish off a presentation in 30 minutes. And find ourselves working on slides 3 hours later. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some things just take time. And life is full of a million distractions, not all of them avoidable. The closest many of us come to taking off a fixed slot of time for ourselves each day is when we step away from the desk for a bite of lunch (ever noticed how few people who work in companies with a staff canteen and fixed lunch time miss lunch? The company frees up the slot for them).
What all this means is that most people are never going to be able to set aside time in the middle of the day for a spot of reading or any other kind of leisure.
Second, you need to make sure that the time you set aside does not place undue stress on the rest of your family. Thus, watching a film each evening before you go to bed sounds like a good idea until you realize that this is also the only time you get each evening to have a chat with the spouse or the children. Besides, if you’re like me, you probably like staying up late at night working on projects.
You’re probably beginning to see why early mornings are the best time of day for some me-time, well before you’ve been pulled into the rigmarole of everyday life and those emails have started pinging in. Yes, yes, 5 in the morning is a bit much. But imagine the sheer joy of watching the latest Netflix smash hit or reading through a Jo Nesbo while the world is still asleep, the coffee is fresh, and workplace crises are still beyond the horizon. Once you start your day with an hour or so of leisure, the rest of the slog seems all that much lighter. So, if you will excuse me, I will go to bed now. I have an early morning meeting with a Roy Adkins history of the Battle of Trafalgar.