In building a new “standard day,” some sparkling new bricks can be mortared on with ready ease – an evening alarm to encourage sleep patterns, a brief (ten minutes) moment of stillness, a habit of daily exercise. Other bricks – a morning alarm, instilling afternoon productivity, diverting a little time into book production – are yet to be successfully laid. Patience required, Andres.
The switch from 2017 – a certain routine of working and living – to 2018 has wrenched more than I anticipated, so I can’t express full delight at progress. But much is on track and, best of all, I’m back at Bar Ristretto for this morning of Monday, January 15.
Distracted, I shout (silently!) at the blue sky
Like shoveling mulch, that’s what drafting a book often feels like. Never-ceasing labor with no end in sight. Keep at it, though, and buffeting shards of illuminating light flood your mind. That’s what it means or that’s how to do it or that’s what truth looks like or . . .
I’ve been slow at drafting and even when I’ve sped up, I’ve still been too tardy. But the cycle seems to be accelerating. Surely, if I keep plunging my spade into the mulch, surely those lights will come faster and faster, until words pour out of me.
I’m blessed with the life I have, my family, my friends. Beyond that basic and profound statement, meaning in my life revolves around my writing. And for the last decade-plus, meaningfulness has equated to the narrative history I’m working on. I’ve spent far too long on it and most have given up on it and given up on me, but in 2018 I plan to turn it into reality (note how careful I am with words, I didn’t utter the word “finish”!). The 1,000 Big Year is it, 2018’s thorniest obsession.
The idea is simple. For 43 weeks of the year (that is, excluding travel), I shall rise at 5 AM and then over the morning draft 1,000 words. 1,000 words is 4 pages, roughly, so do the maths, that’s a heap of pages. Slow has been the adjective that best categorised my drafting over 2017, but steadily I’ve become speedier and speedier. A few “training sessions” late in 2017 have convinced me I can do it.
Another rule: no morning Facebook. No skimming The Age newspaper. Not even the briefest checking of emails. In 2018 my mornings shall be uninterrupted, always “on,” If I was back at work in a Collins Street office, “on” would be my middle name, and that’s what I need to emulate.
Another principle: plan, record, monitor, and review, over every morning. Easy to say, tough to do, and various project management approaches I’ve attempted over the last few years have failed. I’m going to try any approach that works, but I need to end up being able to push at real daily goals and to convert progress data into proper future forecasts.
The most onerous aspect of this 1,000 Big Year? My afternoons are now potentially packed with stress. Life’s glories, life’s chores, and three other Big Years, need to be managed and made to work in the period from noon till bedtime. Somehow, this prospect excites me: isn’t life wonderful?
I can’t wait for 2018! So much is going on in the lives of me and my family and friends. For the third Big Year (I’m turning 63 next year) in my Big Decade, I’ll swing at four obsessions. They range from all-consuming to “should be simple to fit in.” Not all details are settled yet but here’s 2018’s framework (beyond the joy of life itself):
1,000 Big Year
The nuclear power history book is still my albatross. After a maddeningly ineffective 2017 attempt to frame my writing push, in 2018 I focus on process and output. For each day in 43 weeks*, I draft 1,000 words (4 pages); draft uninterrupted between 5 AM and noon; ban morning Facebook and emails; micro plan, monitor & review.
You’ll note none of the “finish this or that by such-and-such date” project plans I’ve issued over the last two years and then clawed back. That doesn’t mean I won’t plan. I will and I’ll publicize in order to increase my accountability.
Tractor Big Year
Huh, you say? The working title for the book is Reactor but you don’t suck the life out of a title by using it all year. Hence Tractor, rhymes with Reactor? For each day in 43 weeks, I spend an afternoon hour researching, planning, readying for, and executing publication of Reactor.
Freshness Big Year
In 2016 I jogged a lot. This year I’ve tackled “fitness” by introducing cycling and arriving at an “exercise daily” regimen that works. Next year I’ll still exercise daily but at slightly lower intensity, plus I’ll address alcohol, diet, and insomnia.
“Freshness” is code for wellness, energy, and vigor. Note that 2018 can’t be the year to cycle huge distances, to do much tough or long-distance hiking (with one notable exception), to race, or to speed up. Instead I’m setting artificially strict regulations for 52 or 43 or 39 weeks (depending on which rule). I’m sure you’ll be amused at this quirky list:
- 90/30/3 – each week, and only in the afternoons, exercise 9 times, cycling 90 kms, jogging 30 kms, and gym’ing 3 times. (Annual targets are 3,000 kms, 1,200 kms, 100 gyms.)
- M-W AFDs + 14 – absolutely no alcohol for the first three days of each and every week, and no more than 14 standard drinks per week.
- 2 alarms – each and every day, set an alarm to go to sleep and one to rise.
- No snacking cheese – each and every day, stay away from cheese platters (cheese in recipes is fine).
- No afternoon snacking at home – each and every day.
Stillness Big Year
“Stillness” is code for mindfulness, meditation, peacefulness, etc., etc. I could have called this the Headspace Big Year, but Headspace is a commercial product. I commit to spending 10 minutes each and every day following guided meditation according to the Headspace app.
Doing four Big Years flirts with overstretching but I believe I’ve structured the obsessions suitably. One big year, the most important one, carries a massive time commitment. Two of the four require an hour or two a day. The final one only takes ten minutes a day.
I’m now deep into practice for each of 2018’s four challenges, so that I can leap out of the gates on January 1.
2018 is bound to be a fascinating twelve months. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s also joyous, effective, and balanced.
* Travel and family commitments mean that, depending on which Big Year is involved, 2018 is 52 weeks or 43 weeks or 39 weeks.
Oh, I strove this year but, as someone close to me observed last night, “you’ve mastered the art of writing a book impossibly slowly.” The Writing Big Year, which was meant to provide structure and underpin a proper “plan,” sped me up but not enough. Bleak moments abounded.
But the night lifts and a sweet day unfurls, and the name of that day is 2018. This time next year I’ll toast success!