Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those posts about how your hard work now will pay off later.
In fact, this is a post about trying to schedule LESS work for yourself.
I just got back from my first work conference in many, many years. The event was held in British Columbia and I live all the way on the other side of the country in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I have a lot of stress around travelling under normal circumstances (I’m not afraid of flying, I find being at the whims of the airline schedules nerve-wracking) and that stress was intensified by concerns about Covid.
And, of course, flying across the country, across multiple time zones (there is a 4.5 hour difference between home and BC), added another layer of trickiness to the whole process. My flights to BC found me getting up at 2am to be at the airport form my 5am flight, and after complications, delays, and waiting for flights, I had been up for 26 hours by the time I got to bed that night. My flights home were less complex but I took off in Nanaimo at 3pm Sunday and got home at 11am on Monday – a schedule that included a 5 hour wait in Toronto airport in the middle of the night.
I’m home as I sleepily write this on Monday night and I am finding myself grateful for something my past self did for me.
When I booked those flights, I thought about how I would probably be extra tired right now from traveling, time zones, and from several days of peopling, and I put a note in my calendar to protect myself this week.
It might not seem like much but that note to ‘keep schedule light’ made me mindful of taking good care of myself. Every time I turned to add something to this week in my calendar, I had a reminder that my capacity was going to be reduced right now and that it would be a good idea to schedule accordingly.
Obviously I have certain commitments and obligations this week, and I have to keep preparing for my black belt test on the 19th, but I managed to avoid adding very much extra to my schedule and I feel very relieved about that.
So, Team, I would like to invite you to help your future selves a little.
If you have busy or stressful times ahead, how can you give yourself some extra space in your schedule?
Can you avoid taking on extra things at that point?
Is there anything you can drop or reschedule?
If you don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, can you give yourself permission to take some things a bit slower or do them in a easier or more straightforward way? (i.e. Even if you can’t take a break, can you cut yourself some slack?)
Sometimes, giving yourself a little extra space can be as straightforward as reminding yourself after a long weekend that you can’t get as much done in a 4 day workweek as you can in a 5 day week and to consider that fact when you make that week’s schedule.
This may take some practice. We’re all very used to pretending that we work at the same capacity all of the time and then just gritting our teeth and struggling through our low-capacity weeks.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my flights home were on two separate dates, I probably wouldn’t have thought to cut myself some slack this week. But I am so very glad that I did.
And no matter whether you manage to cut yourself a few moments’ slack, to go easy with your self-talk in a busy time, or if you can organize your schedule to accommodate your lower-capacity times, I think you deserve a gold star for your efforts.
Taking good care of ourselves in this cult-of-productivity world is a challenging thing and your efforts count.
PS – Your future self will thank you for anything you do to make their life easier.
As someone with ADHD, I am always looking for ways to improve my ability to focus. My medication, my planning, and environmental cues all help but it can still take a lot of energy to keep myself on task, so when I came across some music that made it easier to stick to my work plan, I was delighted.
I’m not sure how I happened upon Greenred Productions ADHD Relief Deep Focus Music (embedded below) but I can only assume that it was something the algorithm churned up after I watched a How to ADHD video at some point.
Maybe there is a scientific reason why this music works for me or maybe it is a coincidence but, either way, playing this video helps me to focus. And the fact that it is almost 12 hours of music means that I won’t lose track of time while selecting music or creating a playlist.
I don’t always have music on when I am working but it has been great to have this on hand when I need a little extra help to focus.
A couple of weeks ago, I was returning to the video over and over throughout the week but, for some reason, I wasn’t resetting it, I was just letting it play from wherever I had paused it the session before.
So, even though it is a 12 hour video, I eventually reached the end and THAT’S when I found the best meditation/relaxation/body-calming music (embedded below) that I have ever encountered.
It turns out that I find cello music incredibly calming. In fact, when I listen to this music, I feel the same kind of sensory-soothing calm that I feel when I put on a weighted shoulder wrap or lie in my hammock. Something in the music just really grounds me and puts me at ease.
I have been playing it while I meditate, draw, colour, or read and I swear I can feel myself sinking deeper into those relaxing activities as a result.
Do you find specific types of music help you to focus or to relax?
Does music contribute to your peace of mind?
Did YOU know that cello was so relaxing? Am I the last person on earth to discover this?
Tell me all about it in the comments. Pretty please!
PS – I really wanted to call this post ‘Cello, it is you I’m looking for’ but then the first embedded video wouldn’t make any sense and besides, I wasn’t sure if the Lionel Richie reference was too much of a reach for the joke to work. 😉
But one recent morning, and for the first time, I found myself wanting to go on a solo hike outside. Because I also enjoy the company of books, I decided to bring one with me.
Hiking with a book is not exactly like reading in your backyard or on a deck. One of the best parts about hiking with a book is that you have find a spot to read. While I was outside primarily for exercise, I was also side-questing for the best place to stop. On the hill or by the water? On a rock or a log? Behind or facing the sun?
Once I hiked as far as I had wanted to go, I doubled back and settled on the best of my mentally shortlisted spots: a great, flat tree stump that was surrounded by trees but also eye-line to the river. It was perfect!
On sites like Bustle and Goodreads, and on blogs like thehikinglife there are lists and lists of books to take along hiking and backpacking. But I am mostly a short-distance hiker who is not really drawn to stories about radical feats of extreme hiking.
Instead, I brought a book I had just bought: One Story, One Song (2015) by Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. He is one of my favourite writers, and it was a happy coincidence to read Wagamese’s reflections on what he has learned from the land while being on the land myself.
Out in the crisp spring air, on my solo hike I savoured both the hike itself and anticipation of stopping to read.
When I sat and read, I paused between chapters under the section titled “Humility,” which put into relief some of the petty challenges that had wound me up over the past week. As I looked at the water and listened to the little birds chirping and flitting around me, I thought quietly about my own humility.
When I resumed the rest of my hike, book in pocket, I set some positive intentions for the upcoming week based on what I had read and thought about. In the middle of my busy week, I plan to find some quiet time by recalling what I had read and where I was when I read it.
So, this week I discovered how outdoor reading that is “bookended” by some alone hiking time can be replenishing for both body and mind. I definitely recommend it!
Do you hike with books? What do you read, and where?
In an effort to spend less time sitting in a chair, I have been experimenting with standing, sitting on the floor, and lying down while I work, read, or watch TV and as I was going through all of those different positions while writing the other day, I reminded myself of this improv game:
I think I was less awkward than that but I can never be sure. 😉
Once upon a time, I had a standing desk. This was before my ADHD was diagnosed and I did find it quite useful because I could fidget a fair bit while doing my work. However, once I really dug into what I was working on, I would end up standing in the same position for long periods of time and my body was not a fan of that.
In fact, I would actually end up with most of my weight on my right leg, my right hip jutted out a bit, with my left foot only lightly touching the floor to give me balance. I’m pretty damn sure that standing habit contributed to my overall challenges with my right hip.
I kept a standing desk for years but at some point, I realized that having to stand up to work had become one more obstacle between me and my tasks. It was mostly subconscious. It wasn’t like I was thinking ‘UGH! I have to stand up? Blech.’ But, over time, it was becoming harder to get started and once I dug into that feeling a bit I realized that standing up was part of the problem.
So, I went back to a sitting desk but whenever I thought of it I would stand up to do voice dictation or I would prop my keyboard on something so I could type while standing. This, combined with a timer app that helps me focus for short periods and then take a break to move around a little, has helped me get important things done without sitting still for too long.
And I often bring my yoga mat down to the living room when my husband and I are watching a show so I can do stretches or just sit on the floor while we watch.
In January, once they went on sale, I bought a reading mat and bolster cushion so I could be even more comfortable lying or sitting on our laminate floor while I read, watch TV, chat with my family or even attend webinars where I don’t have to be on camera.
So, I was already open to the idea of spending more time at floor level when I came across a video (below) a few weeks back from someone who always works from the floor. I have occasionally done some journaling or drawing while sitting on my mat but I hadn’t tried doing any extended work from the floor. If it did cross my mind, I probably dismissed it because I didn’t want to spend any extra time hunched over during the day.
Before you watch this, I want to be clear that I am not necessarily endorsing the claims they make about the benefits of floor sitting and that I really wish they had said ‘dawn of humanity’ instead of ‘dawn of man.’
Once I saw the video though, I clued into the fact that I had more options besides hunching over or lying on my stomach to write in my notebook like a movie teenager – I could raise my work surface to create a more comfortable working position.*
So, now I have a whole variety of ways to get comfortable while I work or relax and I feel better for it. Switching positions during the day gets me moving but even when I am staying still I don’t end up holding the same posture for an extended period of time.
My body likes that and so does my brain.
Do you alternate positions during your work or relaxation time? Which ones work best for you?
Since all of our bodies work differently, I know that my options may not work for you but I would be interested to know what does.
Do you schedule a time to shift? Do you choose positions based on task? Or do you just move when you get uncomfortable?
I can’t rely on noticing that I am uncomfortable, sometimes ADHD hyperfocus gets the best of me, so I make a plan for what tasks I am going to do where, and I use a timer.
*Meanwhile, if I had consciously decided to work on the floor, I would have had a full brainstorm of ideas about how to make it more comfortable. I hadn’t chosen to focus on it so my brain had just dismissed it without further consideration. Brains are such pests sometimes!
Fitness has many visible and invisible costs, whether it’s for equipment, space, or training. Of course walking and running are free, but even then many folks purchase footwear specifically for those activities. (Throughout the world people run without shoes, but in Canada most need shoes, at least during below-freezing weather).
As I hiked with my friends a few weeks ago, and we chatted about topics like when to buy new hiking boots and where the money goes from the conservation area parking, I wondered to myself: What would happen if all basic fitness activities were free? Would it motivate people to exercise more, or at least try different sports and activities?How might paid-for exercise change people’s fitness habits?
In my thought experiment, I thought that exercise is free could mean that people have no-cost access to standard equipment, (like shoes and balls) and spaces (like courts) for the activities typically available in their climate and geographic location. Free also includes basic required training and/or certification for safety.
People would still have to get to and from activities at their own cost. To try to keep this idea from getting too fanciful, I figured that activities requiring expensive vehicles, like Formula 1 race cars or planes, wouldn’t count. Also excluded are the world’s most expensive mainstream sports.
How Free Fitness Might Change My Habits
I looked at this ranked list of exercise activities to see what I would do if cost was no longer a factor. Dodgeball, yes. More yoga, yes! I would try scuba diving, though I am afraid of getting “the bends.” I would definitely take dance lessons. I don’t think I’d be any good at fencing, but I would feel cool. I’ve never played cricket, but I’m not terrible at baseball, so I’d do that. I would maybe even try…cheerleading.
I feel like free fitness would change my fitness habits substantially. What would change for me is that I would diversify my activities. At the same time, I realized as I scanned the ranked list of exercise activities that many are yet untried by me not because of cost but because I don’t know where to pick up a fencing foil or who might play cricket with me. It’s time and opportunity, not affordability, that seems to be my main barriers.
It is critical to note that as a North American, middle-class, child-less white cis-woman I have the means and lifestyle to try most regular sports and fitness activities typically available in my geographic region. This is not the case for many.
Would Free Change Other People’s Habits?
I would like to think that with free access to all kinds of physical activities people’s physical and mental health would substantially improve. With a wider scope of activities in common, people could also connect more with each other. Free exercise would benefit communities and families with limited or no ability to pay for sports and fitness activities. Free could increase the diversity of folks engaging in those activities as well.
Logistics aside (i.e., who would pay for all this, how would it be coordinated), who would argue that making basic exercise free for everyone is a bad idea?
But when I consulted my friends enthusiastically about my daydream idea, they brought me back to reality by saying that free exercise would probably NOT dramatically change most people’s fitness habits. If humans are naturally energy-conserving creatures (read “lazy”), then even more readily available fitness options would not be enough to make everyone exercise, or diversify their exercise, more. Rather, free exercise would most benefit only those who already valued fitness and exercise.
Why Exercises Costs
Of course, free exercise is economically and logistically impossible. In many parts of the world, where basic necessities for remain unaffordable, free dodgeball or cheerleading is not a priority. And in reality there would have to be a hard line about where “free” ends–should the internet be free because so many exercise programs are available there?
Here in Canada, imagining how to make sports and physical activities free for everyone actually reinforced to me how deeply tied physical fitness is to money:
Exercise is a huge industry, and many people make their livings through exercise training, coaching, equipment sales, etc.
Pay-to-play gives some people real and perceived social status (e.g., celebrity-endorsed brand name gear).
Some people rely on the cost transaction, such as paying for a gym pass, to commit them to exercise.
It may be precisely the cost of a specialty sport–including the travel–that makes activities like heli-skiing or deep sea diving memorable and worthwhile.
Starting Small and With What You Value
Elan (the daydreamer) and her friends (the realists) did agree that the world might improve if we started small and everyone got at least a free pair of running shoes every few years. This idea to make basic exercise slightly more affordable could help with getting kids outside more and perhaps reduce people’s exercise-related foot and back ailments in later years.
But it seems that resources must go to not only making fitness more affordable but also continuing to shift how folks might better understand and value physical exercise activities in the first place.
And for my own situation, if I really wanted to try playing dodgeball or cricket, I just need a plan and the will to get started.
If all exercise were free, what would you try? Would your fitness habits change?
I was expecting it to take two months to see any improvement but I am delighted to say that despite a hectic January, with weird, rainy weather that included at least a week where I had to reduce my exercise instead of intensifying it, I have officially nudged myself a little closer to Good.
I started as Fair to Average and now, I am Average to Good. It’s a small nudge but a nudge all the same.
I shall award myself a gold star.
I know that this number isn’t a definitive description of my fitness level overall but it is measuring one aspect in a tangible way.
And, I improved the number in a short period of time by slightly increasing the intensity of my exercise.
This is encouraging and it bodes well for making bigger changes over time.
When I look at my heart rate numbers and see that a greater percentage of my workout is in my target range, it feels good.
Having my efforts recorded and made visible brings me back to try again the next day.
And, interestingly, I’m bringing the lessons from Adriene’s ‘Move’ series into this part of my fitness practice as well. I have been paying closer attention to how I feel when I am working a bit harder and to what movements make the biggest difference in my heart rate. Both of these things add a certain element of playfulness and experimentation to my exercise sessions, which I really appreciate.
Oh, and my additional efforts are also adding a little mystery to my practice. For no apparent reason, my Fitbit has started registering some of my walks as sessions on an elliptical machine (I don’t have an elliptical machine) and it has been registering my TKD practice as swimming. Go figure!
Anyway, I’ll post again next month to let you know whether I have moved another point to the good.
Speaking of good, here’s Khalee after one of our ‘elliptical’ walks.
When my kids were babies, they never quite got the knack of sleeping. For 5 years of my life, I was awake every 90 minutes (or less) until they both were finally (mostly) sleeping through the night.* Ever since then, it takes only the smallest interruption in my sleep pattern to throw my mind back to that time when I was doing the best I could, managing on very little sleep, and just feeling a little out of it all the time. Even a single night of weird sleep sends some part of my brain into a spin about getting stuck in that situation again.
A few years ago, I was having trouble sleeping and I figured out that using a sleep mask was the solution to getting better sleep and feeling more rested. I’m still using a sleep mask but I’ve been through a few different ones since then. My current favourite is an Alaska Bear sleep mask which is not shaped like a bear, covered in a bear print, or made of bear fur and it neither transports me to Alaska nor does it turn me into a bear but it does, despite all of that, it help me sleep.
I’ve been having a good go of it with my sleep since the sleep mask discovery. The occasional bad night, like everyone has, but no recurring issues. Until the last month or so when an external factor has been weighing in.
One of my family members semi-regularly needs my help with a minor but persistent health issue at some point between 1am and 2am. It’s not every night but it may be a few nights in a row, or every second night for a while, or a couple of times in a week. You get the idea.
Technically, I *could* let them deal with it on their own and just get my sleep. But it’s really important to me to be able to support the person who needs my help. And the whole thing is temporary so I’d really rather be there to help and just figure out how to minimize the effects on my sleep until the situation passes.
Solution Attempt #1
Since, under normal circumstances, I go to bed at 11:30 or 12, I tried just staying up later and just managing with less sleep.
That was not ideal.
Apparently, I need at least 7 hours sleep to be relatively human the next day and for my ADHD meds to work the way they should. My meds do make things better even when I am sleepy but the sleepiness is an added obstacle that I do not need while I am trying to focus on the work of the day.
Solution Attempt #2
Then I tried taking what I was calling ‘a nap’ from 10:30 or 11:00pm and getting my family member to wake me when they needed me.
This worked a lot better. I was getting enough sleep overall but I was finding it challenging to get back to sleep once I was up. (I think this is a carry-over from when the kids were small. 99% of the time, once I am up for more than a few minutes, I am AWAKE and I could stay up for hours.)
Even with being fully awake shortly after going to sleep, it was still better than staying up extra late. And I figured out how to optimize that nap – doing some of my before bed routines earlier in the evening so I could shorten the time between ‘I should go to bed’ and actually lying down, making sure that I had the right weight and texture blankets, using my mask but leaving a small light on so I slept well but not too deeply and so on.
Basically, I was using one of my most useful skills – making the best of a tricky situation – and applying it to a temporary challenge.
All The Feelings, Damn It
But, I was still finding it a bit tricky. I didn’t love the fact that, when I settled in at 10:30 or so, I was going to be interrupted so soon.** It didn’t often stop me from falling asleep but it made me feel a bit cranky about the whole thing, even though I have willing signed on to support my family member. I didn’t want to feel cranky and I certainly didn’t want them to think that I resented their need for help.
Obviously, my feelings are valid and I can feel however I feel about the situation. But I didn’t want to get so caught up in those feelings that I generated any extra distress – not for me and not for my family member.
After all, I can’t choose my feelings but I can choose how I act on them. I knew I needed to reframe how I was thinking about the whole situation so I could act more effectively.
The funny thing is, I have read about bi-phasic sleep before. If *you* had told me that you had to sleep in two chunks and that you felt weird about it, my brain would have tossed enough facts from that old article at me that I could have used them to help you reframe your thinking.
My brain did not choose to cough up those facts for me until I saw Samantha’s post.
But as soon as I read ‘bi-phasic’ sleep, I thought ‘OH! That’s what I’m doing!’ and my brain immediately began to reshape the story I have been telling myself about how I am sleeping.
Suddenly, I wasn’t having interrupted sleep, I was having bi-phasic sleep.
I had gone medieval and I didn’t recognize it!
I was getting up after my first sleep to support a family member and perhaps do a little reading or drawing before starting my second sleep.
That reframing puts a whole new slant on things.
It takes away the idea of the interruption as a problem and makes it a structure for my night’s sleep.
And, as mentioned in the article, it removes any anxiousness about being awake in the middle of the night. This is probably not how I will sleep forever but it is one way that people *can* sleep. I’m not sleeping ‘wrong’ and I am not doing something detrimental.
I’m just practicing bi-phasic sleeping at the moment and, by framing it that way, my brain can settle in around the pattern and stop trying to solve the ‘problem’ of being awake at 1:30am.
*If you are warming up your fingers to type some advice about what I *should* have done back then, save your energy because I won’t play. I tried everything. I did all kinds of research. There are all kinds of things you can do to encourage sleep but sleep is neurological thing and sometimes all you can do is wait for the situation to change or a baby’s brain to mature a bit. If you know someone whose baby is not sleeping, don’t give them advice, give them support. Zip over there early in the morning so they can get back to sleep before they fully wake up for the day. Stay late at night so they can grab a nap before the evening circus starts. Run errands for them. Take the baby for a walk so they can do some yoga nidra. Just don’t offer more damn advice. They have tried it already and all the advice is starting to feel judgmental and aggressive. Trust me on this.
**I imagine that everyone hates interruptions and I can’t speak for how the neurotypical brain deals with them. For someone with ADHD, knowing that you will be interrupted (whether that interruption is scheduled or just impending) can put you into the dreaded ‘waiting mode‘ which prevents you from immersing yourself in what you are doing because you know that you are going to have to switch tasks.
I have picked a word for the year – spaciousness – but I hadn’t really settled on a fitness goal until this weekend when I found a new category of information in my Fitbit.
In my average week, I’m moving a fair bit. I take the dog for a walk or two each day, I usually have two TKD classes in a week, I do a bit of yoga and some stretches and a bit of strength training.
Lately though, I have come to realize that I am not really moving the metaphorical needle on my fitness level. I’m maintaining what I have but my efforts are not particularly focused and I’m not feeling any sort of expansion in my capacity.
Part of this is due to my issues with my toes/heel/calf/knee, of course, and luckily that situation is improving steadily. And, up until now, I have been juggling about three things more than I had capacity for at any given time – I could manage to hold most things in the air most of the time but that was it.*
However, some combination of ADHD and personality also factors into this. I never really know when and how to push myself, it’s tricky for me to judge my capacity and energy levels at any given time, and I am never sure if and what I should measure.
I’ve been keeping an eye on my resting heart rate over time but since I don’t wear my Fitbit when I sleep, apparently that’s not a very accurate measurement.
And I check off the box for daily movement but my effort levels vary from day to day. I’m not criticizing myself for that but it does mean that I am maintaining rather than expanding my capacity.
However, this weekend, I accidentally nudged a different part of my Fitbit screen and discovered that I can get more information about my cardio fitness above and beyond just my heart rate.
This puts my numbers in context. I LOVE context!
Fair to average isn’t bad but I’m sure with a little more focused effort, I could get to good and maybe even beyond.
So, in a move that is probably startlingly obvious to anyone who doesn’t live in a ADHD time/pattern soup, I looked up how long it takes to improve cardio fitness and what kinds of exercises will help me see a little progress ASAP. (I know that you can’t rush results but I also know what my brain needs.)
So, now I know that I need to make some of my workouts HIIT workouts and, in about two months, I should see myself inching toward that next blue bar.
In the meantime, I going to try not to check this screen every day hoping for a magical shift. I’ll post about it once a month though, just to keep myself on track.
PS – I undoubtedly knew some or all of this before. And I may have put some pieces together before. If you had asked me, I probably could have told you that improving cardio fitness is a good idea and that things like HIIT would help. However, when I want to take things on for myself, I always need to have proper context in order to hold on to or apply the information I have. For some reason this chart gave me the right container for the information and let me make a plan. The new level of ADHD meds I started in early December are probably helping this whole process, too.
*Yes, I know that is not an idea situation to be in but I knew it would be relatively short-lived and the effort to juggle was far less than the effort to adjust all my other routines so I just got help where and when I could, took breaks whenever possible, and just juggled the heck out things the rest of the time. And, finally, as of mid-December, a few things finished up and I was back within my capacity and mostly in charge of my schedule. YAY!
For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it’s going to be tricky to find a little space during these next three days.
And for those of us who don’t, you will still be facing similar challenges as you try to maintain space for yourself amidst the commitments, activities, and obligations of a full life.
The pressures might be different in each case but the results are the same – very little room to take good care of yourself.
I hope that you can figure out a way to make a little space today. Maybe with these videos, maybe with something else.
I know that I often feel like I don’t have five minutes to spare but later in the day I will realize how often I checked my phone or scrolled through social media posts.
Hanging out on social media isn’t a bad thing, as long as it feels like a real break and you feel like you are connecting with the people whose posts you see. But, I often find that when I feel ‘too busy’ to do a short exercise video or ‘too agitated’ to meditation, I’ll hop on social media to get a break and it won’t feel good. It will add to my feeling of busy-ness, it will amplify my agitation.
In those cases, social media feels like an easy way to take a moment for myself but it’s not really taking a break, it’s just kind of checking out. It would be better for me to take just a minute and breathe deeply or to do a few neck stretches and then make a decision about how to proceed through the rest of my list, rather than numbly scrolling through Facebook and losing track of time.
Now, I am speaking from my own experience, I am not criticizing you and I am not condemning social media. Social media is a great tool in many ways. And you know yourself best, you can tell if you are taking a break or just checking out. And I hope you can do things in the way that serves you best.
If you have decided that movement or meditation would be good for you right now, here are your videos for today.
Remember, you can do just part of them if that makes sense for you. Please be kind to yourself about this and about everything else. (Your gold star is below the videos.)
I really enjoyed this back stretch routine. It’s straightforward and clear and made my back feel quite relaxed.
And here’s our meditation. This one felt really short to me today, I hope that’s a good sign for my subconscious state of mind.
Whether you try these videos, do your own making space thing, or just take a view deep breaths while you drive, you type, or you cook, I hope you have a little room for yourself today.