Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reclaiming Time to Do

My little corner of the internet has been suffering through another of its periodic outbreaks of earnest male contemplation about the relative dearth of women in the tech world, and as before, the diagnosis is a problem with the women. We're just not interested, see. We didn't evolve the patience and focus required to code.

I won't link to the latest outcropping of this, because really, you've read it all before. And I won't waste my time debunking that nonsense, because you've probably read all of that before, too.

OK, I'll allow myself one indignant splutter about how men who think women haven't evolved the ability to focus and be patient know as little about traditionally female work as they do about evolutionary biology, but then I'll move on.

I've decided that instead of spending energy defending the idea that I might be capable of doing awesome tech work, I'm just going to try to do some awesome tech work. This is not to belittle the work other women are doing of swatting this nonsense down. I think that is vital, useful work. I just need a little break to focus on the things that drew me to computers in the first place.

Namely, the fact that I love organizing information and computers are really good at that.

Also, I like creating things, and computers let me do that despite my relatively poor hand-eye coordination.

My paid work is mostly management these days, so I have to turn to my personal project for some tech joy. The problem, of course, is how to make time to work on my project when I am expected to be at my paying job roughly 40 hours per week, and I also want to spend time with my family.

I've been squeezing project work in around the edges, tinkering with it during "quiet time" on the weekends, or while the kids watch a show after bath (they're both pretty wiped out after full screen-free days at day care and camp, so I refuse to care if they ask for a Sid the Science Kid before bed). I have made really good progress, but have been dancing around the edge of a deeper technical issue I need to solve. The issue needs some uninterrupted quiet time to really tackle, as opposed to the constantly interrupted noisy time that is more the norm in my life.

So I decided to try something different. After dinner on Tuesday, I packed my project laptop, project notebook, and a couple of relevant books into my bag and drove to our local library. I set up at one of the work tables, availed myself of their free wi-fi, and tried to solve my problem.

I intended to stay for one and a half hours, but I left after an hour, convinced that the experiment had failed. I hadn't been able to solve my problem, I had just read a bunch of websites that seemed to be about a similar topic, but not quite the topic I was trying to address. I was starting to feel a bit lost, like I'd bit off a bigger problem than I could solve. The guy across from me was streaming something with a lot of crashes and screaming, and despite his headphones, it was getting on my nerves. The woman across from me kept getting phone calls, and her ringtone was some annoying pop song. So I drove home before I yelled at anyone at the library, accepted the happy hugs of my kids, and figured I'd have to try again some other night.

But an interesting thing happened later that night. I finished reading Pumpkin her bedtime stories, and did the dishes. Since it was only about 9 p.m., I got out my laptop again, and poked some more and my problem. And at some point, the answer came into focus. I didn't have time to implement it, but I am pretty sure I know what I need to do now. I just need to carve out another hour or so in which to do it.

Where to get that hour, though? I don't want to miss too many after dinner play sessions with the kids, even though Mr. Snarky is perfectly happy to let me do so.

I probably also know the answer to this time management project, but haven't figured out how to get there, yet. About a year ago, I instituted a routine of getting up 30 minutes earlier than I "had" to and spending that time on me- exercising and writing, mainly. It was a great thing, while it lasted, which was about 9 months. I've unfortunately let that habit die out this summer. Petunia's bedtimes stretch to 9:30, if I do anything at all after that, I don't get to bed in time to get a full 8 hours of sleep before my alarm goes off at 6, and I am someone who really does better on 8 hours of sleep. I envy people like my husband, who are perfectly happy with 6 hours! But that is not me, and there is no way I know of to change that, so I have to work with the constraints I've been given.

I could try to do my project work at night, after the kids are in bed, but I'm usually done with mental heavy lifting by that point. I can type out rambling blog posts like this one, but not work through technical conundrums.

I think I need to reclaim my "before breakfast" time. My initial experiment with getting up early was inspired by reading Laura Vanderkam's "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast" ebook. It has just recently come out paperback form, bundled with the other two "time makeover" ebooks she wrote and some extras just for the paperback. Perhaps I should take that as a sign from the universe that it is time to figure out a better routine for myself, get to bed earlier, and get up in the morning for some project work time.

Which means that I should stop writing this post and go to bed!


  1. Finding project time is my single biggest problem as a WOHM. I could manage it pre-kids, and I could manage it during both maternity leaves, but now? It's like you can pick any two of work, family, and your own stuff...and when something's got to give, your own stuff is the only thing that's really GOT any give.

    I got into a pretty good groove for the first half of this year whereby we set aside an evening a week that I could spend in the studio, but then my husband started a new job in a city about 2h away and everything not essential to daily logistics basically went right out the window. Got to find some way to reinstitute it if I want to stay sane!

    1. That is tough. Is this a short term thing our your new normal?

    2. He's about to get more time to telecommute, which will make things substantially easier. It's just hard to stop mentally hyperventilating :P

  2. I'm trying to figure out how to carve up time for exercise. When my husband is home, it's not hard (though I haven't done it lately) because we can get up at 6 with the kids and then one of us can have a half hour or so to do something physical. But I can't bring myself to wake up at 5:30 or earlier, even though technically I could get enough sleep. I suppose I should? I don't know.

    1. I'm not sure I could make myself get up at 5:30 to exercise. Are your kids old enough to watch a show or something while you workout? I've sometimes been able to claim a little workout time that way.

    2. I just found out that my husband didn't get a parking permit this year because he was somehow super-late applying. Which means we have to carpool and I cannot go MWF to my 4:30 PM kickboxing classes... :-((
      I will have to do the 5:15 or 6:15 (AM) ones instead, I have no idea how I will do that, sneak out without waking everyone up... And those morning classes are so crowded.
      Stupid parking.

    3. Oh, I'd be VERY made at my husband if he did something like that! I hope you can figure something out.

  3. Anonymous5:35 PM

    "Wow. Just Wow. Block me" I feel like I just read that somewhere recently. Where was it...

    Ah yes:


    I mean it's funny, but it's also sad. And I shouldn't be pointing it out, but... sometimes internet drama is just too funny to ignore. At the same time, it's really sad that it's funny.

    If I were on twitter I'm afraid I would succumb to my worst impulses.

    Re: the topic. Right now my problem isn't finding time, it's finding mental space. I'm not sure that I'm an introvert so much as overstimulated these days.

    1. Hee hee. That's a funny article.

      I mostly stay out of that sort of thing, but being upset when people moderate their comments is sort of a pet peeve of mine.

      Also, the deep irony of people demanding access to the comments section of a blog post about people expecting access to someone else's body/sexuality... well that was just too much.

    2. Oh, and on the mental space issue- I get that way sometimes. For me, the only solution is to just work through items on my to do list until I clear some space. But that's just me.

    3. Anonymous7:54 PM

      I'm having a really difficult time staying focused even when I do have a block of time and it should be easy for me to knock things out (couldn't concentrate on making a very simple program today). I really do think it's school starting and everybody wanting a piece of me with so many interruptions and the new people across the hall from me are SO loud and some guy this morning was SO ANGRY in the hall at 8am which is my usual quiet productive nobody is here time. I want to crawl under my desk and hide. Or just zone out for an hour or two.

      Things should calm down in a couple of weeks. Plus the department chair whose office is near mine sent out an email asking people to shut the heck up, only more politely.

    4. I hear you on the mental space. I'm always overstimulated, but I definitely think it's part of introversion, and having two very loud, social, extroverted children. Now that they're older, I say to them: "I'm overstimulated! You have to stop talking!" when I reach the melting point. But it all means that by the time they are in bed, all I want to do is sit quietly and read or watch TV for about an hour. I couldn't even talk to my husband last night!

    5. Anonymous6:10 AM

      I made mine turn off the netflix he was quietly playing on his ipad. Poor guy.

    6. I read a little while ago about willpower being a mental faculty that gets tired with exertion like any other, and I think that principle applies becomes a lot easier just to rewatch the X-Files instead of doing something creative.

    7. Anonymous11:50 AM

      Yup. Willpower is a very good book! The problem is that even thinking about how I'm depleting my willpower depletes my willpower. Very sad.

    8. I remember reading about that willpower thing, too. Which is why I have recently decided to stop fighting the urge to have a diet Coke when I want one. Seems like a dumb thing to waste my willpower on!

  4. Thanks for mentioning my book, Cloud! This week I've been making more of an effort to exercise before breakfast. It really is good to get it over with, since my work days have been very disjointed these past few weeks. Mornings -- with a bit of coffee -- are very good for heavy mental lifting. I make sure to schedule my toughest task for the first 2 hours of the work day.


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