September was quite a peaceful month, just like I wanted. This was something new, though. Usually in September I have a surge of energy, a kind of readiness to work and “achieve things”, something that marks the beginning of a new academic year. The only problem is that it lasts a couple of months and then I’m tired again. This September, however, wasn’t just peaceful, it was lazy, and only by the end of it I collected myself for doing something useful. Hm.. something’s changing for the better, I guess.
Dealing with productivity
Maybe it was because we came back from holiday only on the 23rd of August, a couple of weeks later than usual. Then I needed some time to rest and recover from our active hikes. I had planned two weeks for this, but it took almost three. Wasn’t it a bit too much, after a holiday? I was surprised myself but I was also beginning to see a pattern: if I overstretched myself, mentally or physically, then it took x3 time to make up for it. Something was not working properly there.
This may be the consequences of my burnout, but still, they have to be managed, right? That makes me keep looking for the ways to measure and track my workload, to avoid those long recovery periods. Previously I experimented with the number of hours per week for each of my main activities – work, studying, reading, blog etc (like read 6 hours a week). But with that approach the focus was still too much on completing things. My plan would often take over me and I achieved my goals at the expense of my mental and physical state. Then found myself tired again, unable to get back to my activities and recovering with the time x3.
This September I decided to focus on “meta metrics” instead. I made a list of all the processes and things that were in my head and that I was trying to keep track of or do (there turned out to be more than 30 of them!). Then I looked at them and tried to figure out in what state I need to be to complete all this successfully. And I found that it all boils down to just three things 1) being calm, 2) getting good rest and 3) bringing things in order. So simple, isn’t it?
Now, instead of exhausting myself with the sort of “make your choice” questions – shall I read? or write? or practice coding? or better do some French? or start doing maths at last? – I just focused on “Am I calm? Do I need rest? What can I do to bring more order to all my activities?” And I’m so happy to say that it worked! I hope this is the beginning of me being much more productive on a regular basis. And I’m going to continue the same way through the rest of the autumn and winter as well.
At the beginning of the summer I decided to get some rest from English. I read a couple of Russian books, switched my diary and some notes into Russian and mostly avoided podcasts or videos in English, with the exception of series. So by September I felt like it was time to immerse into the language again and activate it a bit for a new academic year. The easiest thing to do so was to listen to the radio. But I changed one thing.
I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 on my computer but that meant I couldn’t combine it with other types of intellectual activity like studying or reading: my mind would focus on picking up “interesting expressions” and urging me to write them down. I would then get tired of this intensive listening exercise.
This time I switched on the radio in the kitchen, right in the morning, and listened to it while I was making food, eating and generally walking here and there in the flat. Then I left it on and every time I came to the kitchen for yet another cup of tea I tuned in and stayed focused for a couple of minutes or longer, depending on what they were talking about.
Now this was the right approach to listening to the radio – not to focus on everything, but to tune in and out, or just have it in the background. Sometimes, if the conversations were getting too tiring or boring, I switched to BBC Radio 2 and educated myself on the music styles of the past.
At the end of week 1 I could feel my English getting more alive, by week 2 I started to articulate my thoughts more precisely and even have occasional thoughts in English. As I was getting into the habits of having the radio on most of the time, the Queen passed away and all the programmes became about the same. I listened to them for a couple of weeks and then decided to take a break. But now, it seems, the programmes are back to normal so I’m resuming my little practice.
I’ve also tried to listen to a French radio, franceinfo, and I happily realised that I can follow the flow of speech and understand almost everything in French, too. However, it’ll take more practice to become comfortable with tuning in and out and having the radio in the background.
I also had two calls with a study buddy of mine and we discussed the news, French and British. Not that it was the best idea to come back to French speaking after almost a year’s break and dive right into the news, especially because I don’t normally read it, but such was the suggestion of my study buddy and it was better than nothing. Well, maybe we’ll change something later.
The idea to appoint scrapbooking as my main resting activity worked too. It turned out to be an amazing state when I stop thinking in words and start thinking (or feeling?) in images and colours. It’s a very peculiar sensation: I’m looking at a set of stickers and, instead of analysing which will express my idea better, I’m “listening” to them to “hear” which one is “calling me”. Gosh, it’s fun.
It’s a real hobby which I’ve never had before because in scrapbooking I can’t imagine any goals/ special studies or “development”. And I know that I don’t have any artistic vision/ talent so I can’t expect from myself to create something extraordinary. I can just sit, put paper, glue everything on top of each other and relax. The result will be a sort of a creative mess anyway but it’s supposed to be so, as far as I understand.
Unsurprisingly, I got stuck on AliExpress and another marketplace choosing paper, stickers and other scrapbooking stuff, and spent lots of money on it. But it’s fun too. Finally, I downloaded Pinterest and TikTok to watch scrapbooking pictures and videos, and again it feels like rest and much better than Instagram (where I’m subscribed to quite a lot of news media accounts and can’t avoid the news or “useful texts”).
It’s funny how the idea to take up this hobby came to me almost a year ago and how long it took me to allow myself to get into this hobby and spend money on it. But I hope to stick to it as it seems the perfect way to switch off my “analytical and linguistic thinking”.
Oh, and I finally had an idea for the cover of our wedding album! I’d been struggling with it for 6 years. And then I saw an amazing embroidery featuring camomiles and other meadow flowers. I think this will be perfect. I’ll just need to decide on the colour of the fabric, the pattern and learn to embroider =) But I’m so happy I’ve found the concept I want to realise.
Scrapbooking seems to be a good rest and if I learn to have the right amount of it at the right time, I may start to increase my workload then and maybe move on to my general goals a bit faster.
Magazines and Books
I continued resting with Russian magazines. This month I bought Discovery and Amature (Дилетант), a popular science historical magazine. What can I say? It’s wonderful to lie in the hammock, flick through the magazine and enjoy simple Russian text paying special attention to multiple illustrations. Well done me)
I also joined a group of teachers, one of whom is my former colleague from the times I worked in a office, and we had several meetings discussing a book called How to Teach Vocabulary by Scott Thornbury. It had been on my list for a long while and I finally read it. And! took notes of each chapter. I’m proud of my notes and they came in very handy when we were discussing the ideas. With notes it took me 10.5 hours but it was worth it. Although at times it felt boring to take them, now I can come back to the book, not once, revisit my notes and think how to put these ideas into practice. Notes rock. Actually, it’s only the first book where I took such careful notes, not counting the ones at university. Before I’d wanted to do it, but decided against it because it’s time consuming.
So, inspired by my little success I decided to take notes of Making Sense (another ten hours). I did it not only because I wanted to write down the main ideas. I also wanted to look more closely at the structure which I liked a lot, at how the book is structured. If I decided to write a book, I’d like to structure it in a similar way =)
But still, note taking is time consuming. I do need notes – with them I retain much more informations. Just highlighting and bookmarking doesn’t do the same for me, but time is also better used wisely. So I think it makes sense to research how to take notes faster and more effectively.
And at the end of the month I started Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. It’s a German novel about a musician who makes a deal with the devil. So I’m reading it in Russian. The beginning has been of the kind I like so far – a slow introduction of the characters and their life stories. And it’s good to read a paper book sitting on the sofa by my cat and not taking any notes whatsoever =)
For music I mostly focused on Beethoven piano concertos. My favourite is the third one. But I want to know the others better. So I listened to the first and the second ones. It seems to me that they are much lighter in nature than the third, more easy-going and tongue-in-cheek. The third movements are especially fun, but for now I’m mixing them up)
With both third movements of the first two concertos I keep getting images of a Christmas/ New Year party preparations and naughty children running around, getting in the way and quarrelling. Not today, but some time in the past, in a family of nobles. So there’s a gouvernante who’s trying to calm down the children and finish the preparations. Very funny. I listened to the recordings of Krystian Zimmermann, but on YouTube there’s a wonderful video of Martha Argerich. She’s smiling a lot while playing. Here, 5 minutes of absolute pleasure:
I also started listening Beethoven sonatas, but didn’t get past the 5th. It’ll take a lot of time to get familiar with them. Goldberg variations as usual (listened to them twice), but I didn’t get round to WTK. I’ll need to fix it soon =)
That pattern I mentioned at the beginning, that if I get overloaded with something, it takes x3 time to recover from it.. It sure happened with data analytics. After my experiment in April-May I thought 5 days of rest would be enough. Instead they turned into 3.5 months of rest! Just couldn’t bring myself to studying more in the summer.
But in September I went back to studying maths. First I continued with something I had started in June – linear equations, the equation of the line and the circle; I quite liked drawing graphs, so I’ll leave a picture of my notes below.
Then I decided to go back to the very very basics and bought book for preparing for Russian State Exam. The main book has exactly what I need: the type of a problem, its solution and several almost identical problems for practice. This way I can revise a lot of material in a shorter period of time because I don’t need to think much, like with equations. And with every problem solved I feel better about my maths skills. Pity I didn’t do it earlier.
That’s it. I do hope to continue the autumn in the same calm manner. But I’ll need to do something about my productivity.