Reclaiming friendship

I spent the single most unproductive hour of my month having tea with a comparatively new friend. Wouldn’t have changed that for the world: there is something energising, nourishing, exciting about nattering over tea. If I did nothing in that hour – and I absolutely did nothing – then the hour after it was far more productive because of taking that time.

So I’m keen on tea. And there was cake this time: chocolate is my Kryptonite.

But there wa also friendship. I read somewhere that we tend to keep our friends for around seven years. I can think of people I’ve been close to for longer but I was a little reassured by this idea of natural moving on because I’ve lost a lot of pals and it could be argued that they tended to disappear on me after about that time. So it’s not me. And it’s not them.

I think it might be me, though. So I was taken with this piece from the always superb Brain Pickings:

We call “friends” peers we barely know beyond the shallow roots of the professional connection, we mistake mere mutual admiration for friendship, we name-drop as “friends” acquaintances associating with whom we feel reflects favorably on us in the eyes of others, thus rendering true friendship vacant of Emerson’s exacting definition. We have perpetrated a corrosion of meaning by overusing the word and overextending its connotation, compressing into an imperceptible difference the vast existential expanse between mere acquaintanceship and friendship in the proper Aristotelian sense.

Reclaiming friendship – Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – 16 August 2016

She’s talking about reclaiming the word friendship and I read that also as making a stand for how important friendship is. Being Brain Pickings, Popova does as ever gather insightful quotes and detail from great minds but also as ever, what she says herself is arresting. Have a read of her full piece.

When coffee doesn’t cut it: how to keep going

“There are a few optimal windows for doing your most creative and focused work,” [Assistant Professor Christopher] Barnes says. Most people are at their best in the mid-morning and late afternoon. You might match your circadian rhythm to your schedule by organizing your to-do list around these peaks and valleys. Tate recommends doing “any type of highly detailed work,” such as writing, important decision-making, or technical coding during high-energy hours. During the lulls, you can then turn to tasks that don’t require a great deal of focus: cleaning out your inbox, filling out expense reports, or returning phone calls. “That’s when to do tasks that are like muscle memory work,” she says.

How to Overcome the Midday Slump – Carolyn O’Hara, Harvard Business Review (1 July 2015)

Are we sure coffee doesn’t do the job? It would be helpful. Tea would be even better. But according to O’Hara, moving around and then the opposite, mediation, are what you need. There are reasons and there are more ways to get yourself moving, though: Read the full piece.

Tea breaks

I take a lot of these tea breaks and I’ve been spending those three-minute aeons while the kettle boils by reading RSS news. But then isn’t a good tea break more than three minutes plus fifteen seconds hunting for biscuits? I’m trying a new thing now where I do come back to my desk and I do drink the tea as usual, but hey, I kick back for a spell while I’m doing it.

And I check out my OmniFocus list for short, quick things I can do before I have to concentrate on the next big job.

That’s it. Take your full tea break, get your mind fully away from the current job, but use the time to meander through your list and seeing what you can bat out of the way quickly.

Just an idea.

Use your phone to make coffee

Not by stirring. By tapping. On the WeMo app that I’m sure is used for far more sensible things but now is how to control the Mr Coffee 10-Cup Smart Optimal Brew machine from Belkin. Basically, it’s a kettle.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 08.57.47

Bean there, done that? If you’re instant-ly sure you want this then let me take you off the boil for a second and say it’s currently only in America. But don’t hold back: go buy it from Amazon USA for around $142 US (prices vary a tiny bit).

You’re smart, you know what it does. It makes coffee. You tell it to by tapping on your phone. And yes, it sends messages back. But there is more.

Sleep in a little longer by setting up a brewing schedule in advance. Then monitor your brew status from your smart device to make sure you don’t get out of bed before the coffee’s ready. The free WeMo® app lets you configure weeks’ worth of brew times at once.

Mr Coffee 10-Cup Smart Optimal Brew official site

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve though, hmm, it’s nearly December, better get my early morning coffee kettle sorted out for the month.

Actually, I’m more of a tea drinker. Ever since I worked in a pub lugging barrels around and coffee was the only thing available, I’ve come to associate it with being outside and working so I will often have it then. Always black, always very strong. If you can’t chew it, I don’t want to know. But for the rest of the time when I’m in my office or at my desk – and I’m a writer, the rest of the time is a lot of time to rest in – then I’m a tea jenny.

Which means it is my civic duty to point out that there is already a tea iKettle and it is available in the UK. Here it is on Amazon UK. Curiously, Amazon USA doesn’t stock the tea kettle, only this new coffee one. Is this national stereotyping gone mad?

Eat that

Okay, so, there is no question but that the best food in the world is dark chocolate and that the best drink in the world is builders’-strength Yorkshire Tea. Easy. Some poor eejits don’t realise this, though, and have gone off on some damn fool idealistic crusade to find out what foods make you sleep well and which ones keep you up.

Tossing and turning. Long, sleepless nights. They’re draining, frustrating, and, well, exhausting—physically and mentally. And they’re usually unnecessary, experts say, but can be counteracted by minor dietary tweaks. Indeed, what you put in your mouth can directly affect how many ZZZs come out. “The majority of people with day-to-day insomnia could be sleeping like puppies if they made just a few changes,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, which are located nationwide, and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. “And if you know how to eat right? You’re going to be way ahead of the game.”

From cherries to almonds, consider these soothing, snooze-inducing foods:

Bananas. Make them a daily staple. They’re packed with potassium and magnesium, nutrients that double as natural muscle relaxants. Plus, they contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which ultimately turns into serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a chemical that promotes sleepiness. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan your snack accordingly.

[See: Top-Rated Diets Overall]

Sleep-Promoting (and Sleep-Stealing) Foods – Angela Haupt, US News (19 July 2012)

Bananas are just the first of the good ones and there some bad boys in there too. Read the full piece.

Making 5am starts even harder

Ah, what the hell? I’m 264 days into this 5am start lark, let’s shake it up. Today, for the first time – do you know, I’m suddenly embarrassed about admitting this? – I didn’t do the usual fast shower, mug of tea, bleary, get down to typing business.

I went straight to the keys.

From bed to alarm to keys, nothing else.

It was because I needed to write something and get it sent quickly, an extra thing ahead of a busy day, but also I woke with the first line in my head. I would like to stress to you now that it’s gone 6am and I have showered, made tea and, well, dressed.

I may never have written the words “well dressed” about me. I’ve certainly never written it without a comma.

But images of me sitting here nude and dishevelled aside, I can report that it may have worked. I walked away to do that showering and tea-ing after writing the piece and before sending it so I could come back with a freshly shampooed and caffeinated mind. I did rather rewrite it but more lots of twiddles than anything big. And I’m happy with it, it’s gone, I’m back to the rest of the day.

Can’t decide yet whether I’m actually recommending this to you. It was quite cold. But that was as much motivation to write quickly as the dangling prospect of tea was.

Put it this way: I’m not going to rush to do this every morning. But once in a while, it’s good to cut out everything that stands between you and the keyboard.

I must get a heater.

One (I Mean Six) Better Alternatives to Coffee

Guess which of these appeals to me most. If you’re needing a productivity or energy boost, do you:

a) work out at a gym
b) eat chocolate

If you chose c) Drink Tea then I knew I liked you.

Productivity blog Procrastinate Away argues that you should have green tea and I turn my face against them for that. Real tea, please. Is there a Campaign for Real Tea? Strictly speaking I would like a Campaign for Real Yorkshire Tea in a Teabag No Sugar and Just a Little Milk.

Excuse me while I go register the website

It’s not that I disagree with Procrastinate Away’s reasoning, they’ve just transgressed my religion, so.

Read why they say gym and chocolate and green tea and three more things – including one surprise about temperature – are so much better than coffee.

Essential morning preparation

I’m back on the getting up to work at 5am lark after about a month away doing various jobs and then one of those there holidays. This morning I woke up, looked at the clock, saw it was 04:53 and said aloud: “Well, this is fun, isn’t it?”

Getting up at 5am for day 256 was as hard as some of the first few days but it was helped by one thing, gigantically hindered by one thing and conned by a third.

The Helpful Thing
I had a plan. I knew exactly what I was going to be working on the moment I had showered, made a mug of tea and sat down at the keys. No hesitation, no choosing, just straight to it: I was going to work on a particular book project. There’s a lot to do today but for the first hour, I’d do this and then it would be done plus I’d be on my way.

Until today I would’ve said that this is easily the biggest thing in working at stupid o’clock: if you go straight to the keys with a purpose and work for an hour, then at stupid o’clock plus one you feel you’ve really achieved something. Half of you now wants to go back to bed but half of you is bursting to continue and that To Do list looks pretty doable.

The Con
It’s 06:46 as I write this to you and I haven’t done a word of that book. Because right after I said “Well, this is run, isn’t it?” I rolled back away from the clock, looked at the ceiling and while waiting for the alarm thought: “Act 1: Lights up on Mabel. Very plainly dressed: specifically, no jewellery, no bag.”

Without planning to, I’d got the start of a script I’d been working up. Most of it was done, I was just struggling with certain elements like the start and there it was.

So that’s what I did instead of the book project. And now I should really go do the book project, except that I am still suffering from The Gigantic Hindrance.

The Gigantic Hindrance
The milk has gone off. Did you hear me at 05:10? Tilting back my freshly-showered head, my hair still damp, and my face raised to the heavens as I howled?

There are worse things in this world but a mug of tea with bits in is up there.