Monday, March 22, 2010

Resoluquinox 2010

I am continuing my new tradition of making my resolutions at the Spring equinox, rather than at the deepest darkest time of winter. (I'm a day late, but let's pretend we didn't notice).

Most of my resolutions are the same as last year's, so I've combined my 2009-2010 progress summaries with the new / revised resolutions (the blue headings). One thing I've learned is that I do better with specific targets than with vague "do more of X and less of Y" resolutions, so I've tried to set goals for each resolution this year.


2009-2010 progress:

i) do everything I can to make sure I get to stay on in my job after my original two year contract expires in November.

DONE! My funding source, and therefore my job description, changed a bit and I'm working with a different (but overlapping) set of PIs now, but I'm still employed and still enjoying it (on the macro level, at least. On the micro level, some tasks are more fun than others! I'm looking at you, CV formatting days).

ii) stop procrastinating and develop my freelance writing

I got my first freelance writing income this year - the first (and so far only) royalties for an online high school textbook section that I wrote and project managed with some former colleagues back in 2007 - and also my first byline, hopefully the first of many articles for the MS Society. That gig puts the free in freelancing, but it's a great start to my portfolio (and also an improvement on how I've volunteered for them in the past; standing in the freezing rain in Stanley Park for a few hours during their annual fundraising walk. Kinda fun, but I prefer writing, and they seem to agree that it's a better use of my time and training :) ). I've also worked on a couple of side projects for a PI who I know from my day job, on projects that aren't really in my job description but for which the PI has funding to hire me for a few hours here and there. And I also worked with my former colleagues this year to update the textbook content and change the format for another market, which will hopefully bring in some more money. Other than landing the MS Society gig I haven't been terribly proactive though, i.e. I haven't submitted any queries or articles anywhere.

2010-2011 goals:

i) be more organised and proactive at work

The deadline-driven nature of my work means that I go through peaks and troughs of urgency, with periods of panic followed by calmer weeks spent trying to deal with the fall-out from the panic (e.g. inbox chaos, trying to catch up on non-deadlined tasks before the next deadline hits). I also tend to get overwhelmed by the regular floods of new tasks that all hit me in the same week. (They always, always, cluster). So here are the initial goals, although I may add more and / or modify these ones depending on how they work.

a) Check work email only three times a day (first thing in the morning, at lunch time, and then at about 4pm). Turn off email auto-alerts. Answer every single email within one work day. File all emails weekly. (The first two points do not apply during deadline weeks!)

b) Have a daily and a monthly to-do list, as well as a weekly one

c) Have a list of non-urgent, non-deadlined tasks, organised by how long each task will take, so that I can easily pick one if I have a spare 20 minutes / hour / afternoon. These tasks tend to get neglected otherwise.

d) Get a Mobile Me subscription and have ALL events on ONE calendar.

e) Try again to negotiate a day a week working from home (I get horribly distracted in the open-plan office).

ii) do more extracurricular writing

I've modified this title category from last year, as I want to include blogging as well as freelance writing.

When it comes to the latter, I'm much less sure than I was last year that freelancing is my ideal long-term job. I've been reading / listening to a lot of books, blogs and podcasts by and for freelancers, and have gained a much more realistic appreciation of how hard it is to earn a living in this way. Although I still think I'd love freelancing, given our current mortgage there's just no way that it'll be a viable career for me any time in the next ten years.

In addition, Bean-Mom's recent post about her own writing really hit home (I haven't commented yet because I'm still mulling it over). I have similar issues with discipline; I really knuckled down for the projects I mentioned above, especially the textbook project, but that took up every weekend and evening (and some mornings before work) for several months, and when it was done I just wanted to veg out. I spent Boxing Day 2007 locked in the computer room alone while my in-laws hung out with Mr E Man, eating turkey and bacon sandwiches and playing fun board games with lots of laughter (they'd all come over for Christmas Day and got snowed in), leading to my niece saying "I thought your name was Auntie Cath, not Antisocial". I also had to work for 14 hours on New Year's Day 2008, when I'd much rather have been under a blanket on the sofa with Mr E Man, eating pizza and watching movies all day like a normal person. In other words, freelancing is a very, very hard thing to do, especially when you're also working full time in a demanding job.

However, I still really enjoy writing, and there's no reason why it can't still be a fun hobby that brings in a little money here and there. And given the soft-money nature of my salary support, it's always good to have a back-up plan (although if my funding ends, I will have to make finding another full-time job my top priority). So with that in mind, my specific goals are mostly aimed at providing motivation to write in ways that I find enjoyable and productive, with half an eye on developing my portfolio and keeping my eyes and ears open for paying opportunities.

a) write at least one "research blogging" style blog post per month (on my other blog). I've been reading over my blog archives recently, and I'm really proud of how some of those early posts turned out, even if they barely attracted any comments. I'd like to get back into this style of blogging as I have "lazy blogger" tendencies otherwise :)

b) develop a portfolio website. Mostly just for the experience, but then I'll have something ready to go in case I spot an interesting opportunity.

c) I'm reluctant to even mention this, but... I have an idea for a pop-sci book. In a way this appeals more than taking on a larger number of small projects, but I'm extremely ambivalent about it given my comments above about locking myself in a room to write while other people have fun. I honestly don't know if I have it in me to do this, although I would love to have a book published (I have no illusions about making a ton of money and quitting my day job; I know people are interested in this subject, but it's still a very small niche, and I'm aware that only a tiny percentage of authors make enough money for it to be their sole profession). It would be a HUGE, multi-year commitment; many, many holidays would be spent in the same way as Boxing Day 2007. I've read some excellent posts recently about how to develop a book proposal (a must in the non-fiction market), so at the very least I will take the first couple of steps (defining exactly what would be in this hypothetical book; the scope is potentially huge and I would need to whittle it down to a much more focused subset of the subject matter). I may be contacting a couple of fellow bloggers for feedback!


2009-2010 progress:

i) exercise more

I did really well for the first 8 months of the year. I went to the gym more, I swam every week until my swimming partner had her baby in July, and I started running for the first time in my life. I started out with 30 second running / 1 minute walking intervals over a 7.5 minute run, and built up to running 33 minutes (3 x 10 minute intervals interspersed with 1 minute walks) twice or thrice a week. However, everything went to pot when I got swine flu in November. I was still recovering when we left for two weeks in Cuba, still had a cough when we returned... and by the time I was feeling completely better, it was the darkest, coldest, and rainiest time of year and I was just out of the habit. Good habits are so much easier to break than to form! I have done some exercise since, just... not much.

ii) stretch more

For me, stretching tends to go hand in hand with running. So, see above for how I started well but ended poorly...

iii) improve my diet

I did OK here, but not great. I've cut down further on the amount of meat I eat, especially red meat, and Mr E Man and I are both doing better at going out of our way to buy organic free range meat rather than the other stuff that's available at our closest three grocery stores. But I need to do better at eating locally. I have had some good long streaks of making my own lunch, but one forgetful / rushed day tends to lead to a skipped week or even longer. When I do buy lunch I try to get something vegetarian, but the best veggie lunches are a longer walk, and grant deadlines and nasty weather make me lazy.

2010-2011 goals: (I'm going to be really, really unoriginal here!)

i) exercise more

My upcoming bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle (sponsor me! It's for cancer research!) is an excellent motivation here.

a) On weekdays, I will do one weights session and at least one cardio session per week. At least one cardio session MUST be on a bike (real or static).

b) On weekends when I'm in town, I will do at least one long bike ride per weekend until the ride, and thereafter at least one run OR a long bike ride OR some other form of cardio (kayaking, hiking etc).

c) I will stretch before every session.

ii) improve my diet

a) No more meat at lunch, unless it's leftovers from a previous dinner, or unless I go out for lunch (this only happens about once a month and I often go for the veggie option anyway, depending on the restaurant).

b) Red meat no more than once a week, unless I'm served red meat at someone's house and I've already had some that week. But in that case I won't have any red meat the following week.

c) Go to the farmer's market every summer weekend when I'm in town. Eat more local produce in general.

d) Drink more water: at least a litre a day at work on top of my usual cups of tea, and also alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water when I'm out.


2009-2010 progress:

i) play my guitar more 

As with making lunches, I'm streaky. I came back from Cuba with masses of inspiration, but being away for two weeks over Christmas and New Year broke that good habit (I played a LOT of Beatles Rock Band while I was away, but I don't think that counts). 

ii) don't neglect the garden so much

Another one that started well, but ended with a chaos of weeds... 

2010-2011 goals: (Again, same old same old, but with more specific goals)

i) play my guitar more

At least one hour per week

ii) don't neglect the garden so much

a) Plant a hedge

b) Replace the shrubby thing that died last year

c) Replace the fern that died last year

d) Fix the outside tap and buy a hose so that I don't stop watering the plants when I realise that going up and down the stairs into the kitchen with a watering can ten times per night during a heatwave is not really all that much fun

e) Weed for at least five minutes a day on weekdays, and as needed on weekends (subject to weather conditions, of course)

iii) Finances

Persuade Mr E Man that we need to see a financial planner. Relying on the house to fund our retirement is probably not all that smart, even in Vancouver.

Phew! It's going to be another busy year. And I just spent 90 minutes writing this blog post. It's just as well I got up extra early... gotta go, things to do!


  1. if you need someone to go to farmer's markets with you, i'll happily ride and meet you at the Trout Lake market on a weekend or two! It gives me a chance for a good long ride, and I get veggies out of it!

  2. You're on! It's not that long a ride for me, but riding up lots of hills with heavy bags on the way home is a good addition to the endurance training.

  3. wow, that's a lot.

    hm, my resolutions would be the same as last yesr too.... ;) less food, more exercise and try and be happy and not worry too much.

    I like the long ride on the weekends. I have realise lately that I have made really good progress at the gym Sat and Sundays, which surprised me a bit. It seemed easier to do it on the weekend than in the evenings?!

  4. Yes, it is a wee bit ambitious, eh?

    I tried to start as many items as I could this morning. I do like having the email alert switched off, and only one person so far has called me to see why I hadn't replied to their email. The daily to-do list has worked well, but I might have to build up to the 1L of water + tea gradually, having spent rather more time in the loo today than I would like :)

    Now I just have to remember to do a little bit of weeding when I get home, maybe play my guitar a bit, and I'm golden. I picked my bike up from the repair shop at lunchtime (it needed new gears, chain, and pedal shaft before its Seattle adventure), and if this nice weather holds I'll try to go for a nice long detour on my way to work tomorrow!

    I don't tend to go to the gym on weekends. I see little enough of Mr E Man during the week as it is when we're both working, so I like to spend as much time as I can with him on weekends. But I really do need some good long rides to train for this ride, and I just don't have enough hours in the day on week days!

  5. Good luck with all your resolutions. If I were to make resolutions, they would look very similar - right down to the financial planner. They would also be pretty similar from year to year.

  6. Sounds like a great plan! Very ambitious, but they are also all thinks you actually WANT to do, which will help. Your big bike ride will be great motivation to keep you on your bike. Perhaps when the days are slightly longer you can do a longer ride on your way home, and increase your time on the bike that way too?

    To keep motivated afterwards, perhaps pick a race of some sort towards the end of the year - nothing like the fear of being DFL (dead f.... last) to keep you moving :). Perhaps a 5km run or something?

    I love that you have thought through everything and detailed a list. I kind of muddle through, but I wish I spent more time thinking about this stuff! Good work!

  7. Thanks, MXX! Yeah, I don't really feel the need to make any crazy drastic changes to my life, so no real changes from last year. And I think these resolutions are pretty common!

    Mermaid, I've done a couple of longer rides on my way in to work, this week and last week (along 37th to Dunbar, then North on Dunbar and back along 8th/7th/10th). There a several short but very steep hills, and a couple of longer, shallower hills, which is good training. The problem is though that in some parts of town (Cambie to Arbutus) it's impossible to find a route where you don't have to stop every block or two for a light. Very frustrating!

    I might try going further next time, i.e. around UBC. I'll need to either leave the house a bit earlier - today I made and ate breakfast, cooked lunch (rice and veggies), put the garbage out, and did other chores, so I was later than I wanted - or go after work.

    I'll see how I feel about doing a race once I've survived Seattle :)

    I thought that a detailed list might give me a better chance of sticking to my resolutions for longer this year. Muddling through worked for some items on my list, but not others! I like specific goals

  8. Cath,

    Your comments on freelance writing give me a lot of food for thought, too. I've been thinking that if I don't get this grant, maybe I'll take it as a sign and really get out and start pushing the (paying) freelance writing/editing thing... (no paid gigs during these past few months, unfortunately, but I haven't pushed it...)

    And good luck on all those resolutions! Yes, specific goals are good. And it sounds like you made good progress on last year's!

  9. Good luck with all of the goals. I've got to work on my diet and exercise this year - I was doing better, but there has been some backsliding! It's tough getting a healthier diet when 98% of the food that I like to eat is terminally unhealthy.

    I didn't realize how much freelance writing you do. You work on textbooks, while I can barely come up with a blog post every now and then!

  10. Bean-Mom, I'm sure having kids adds an order of magnitude more complexity to the situation too.

    If I ever do find myself unemployed, I will try freelancing much more seriously than to date, but like I said, I would need to look for a new full-time job first and foremost. The problem is that (from what I've read) it can take such a long time to build up business. You at least have some previous paid freelancing experience to leverage, and I'm sure you could hit the ground running! Of course there are things I could be doing now, but given my ambivalence of taking on any additional projects on top of a full time job, I'm not ready to commit to that right now.

    RPS, yeah, when it comes to diet and exercise, I often find myself fighting against my natural instincts!

    I had to keep the textbook project under wraps at the time (and for at least a year afterwards) for various non-bloggable reasons, and by the time it was OK to mention, it was no longer current. Unfortunately it's not for sale to the general public, just to people/groups who specialise in home schooling resources, and it's buried deep in a print catalogue rather than on a website. A bummer for people with blogs who want to link to it! I don't even have my own copy yet...

  11. Wonderful resolutions! I too like to have very specific ones. Still, my progress has been abysmal this year. Hopefully you will do better!

  12. Well, let's just say that some of the specifics are easier to manage than others! Thanks for the good luck wishes, and good luck with your own resolutions!

  13. I do not know if I could do the "check email 3 times a day" - do you think this is something that will persist after you have to fall off the wagon during a deadline?

    I think writing a book would be very difficult; perhaps my self-discipline is suffering from gradschoolrioritis, but I can't recall getting anything major done recently without the time pressure of a deadline. Do you know if writers create deadlines for themselves to overcome this?

    Good luck with all your resolutions, and thanks for reminding me of the ones I need to be doing myself!

  14. I'm not quite managing to get it down to three times a day, but it really is nice to have the automatic notifications switched off. I'll definitely leave them off whenever deadlines permit!

    I know what you mean about the deadlines. I'm a really bad "deadline writer" for my non-work projects (other than blogging, most of the time), so yeah, a lack of external deadlines would be a recipe for procrastination! I think people must create internal deadlines, I would definitely need to.

    Thanks for the good luck wishes! Same to you!


I promise to respond to all respectful non-spam comments! Don't be shy! Oh, and please don't type my surname in your comments; I know you all know what it is, but I'd prefer Google to rank other pages before this blog.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.