Sabbatical 2023 - Week 1: The Marble and Sculptor Both.
18 September 2023
Yep, I'm taking a Sabbatical. Until the beginning of 2024. It might end earlier, if I find an opportunity I can't turn down, or later, if I only find ones I can.
To keep it short, I felt it was a good time to shake things up. I worked at the same company since I graduated, and while I enjoyed the work, I wasn't able to balance it with trying to get the personal side of my life back off the ground after the pandemic, and I wasn't performing at the level I expected from myself. Initially, I thought a few weeks in between would be nice, but the more I thought about a break the longer it got! So I checked my funds, wrote up a basic framework for what I would do to best make use of the interim and put in my two weeks' notice. My last day was 8 September, and my Sabbatical began last Monday, 11 September.
Starting the day having secured my fix
As I started my Sabbatical last Monday, I discovered the Panera Bread "Unlimited Sips Club" and their two-months-free offer. That quickly completed my task of finding affordable morning caffeine as a non-coffee-drinker trying not to spend so much on Monster. Panera's Charged Lemonades aren't bad (especially compared to Monster), and I can get another one or a different drink every two hours! I went there mostly because I wanted to feel like a retired academic for the first morning, but continuing to start my morning at the Panera near me to fulfill the deal has been a nice place to read or work outside before everything fully wakes up. I'm enjoying noticing the transition in the weather, day by day.
Classical Music as a "Mental Palate Cleanser" from one period of life to the next
I started listening to a ton of classical music, which I didn't expect. I had my hype music and playlists playing my last week of work and over that weekend, but come Monday morning, I wanted a non-specific playlist to set the background for my first day. So I started a twelve hour classical music playlist on Spotify, and here I am three full playthroughs later. Right now I'm really into Shubert and most of the way through Spotify's "This Is Shubert" playlist. It sure is, Spotify.
Morning and Evening routines so smooth I don't even listen to Jazz anymore, it's just not the same
I developed a morning routine that only requires me to move room-to-room once (bathroom, to bedroom, to kitchen, to living room) on my way from awakening to leaving the house. Very efficient, no need to memorize anything because after a few times, it becomes instinctual.
(Before you ask, because I know you will, the initial move upon waking up from the bedroom to the bathroom is implied. I don't sleep in my bathtub. Unless I have a guest using my bed, of course, though even then we take turns each night.)
I think it's easier to memorize a morning routine if you order it by room rather than by task. To that end, I moved my only watch charger from my nightstand to the bathroom. I realized that not only is my shower the best time to charge my watch, but I'll never forget to charge it because I'll always see said charger at shower time, right next where to I took my watch off. Ope, might as well charge it!
Making the Trains Run On Time
My biggest, most immediate personal challenge was going to be "getting my trains running on time". My internal clock got accustomed to being powered by external forces, so having done a complete u-turn and removing all external forces, I have only the force I can apply to myself to keep myself in line moving forward.
I figured the fewer decisions I can make myself answer each day in regards to managing my time to do work will maximize the time I have to do the actual work. On my phone, I created an "outline" schedule that divides the day into two one-hour periods and one two-hour period in the morning and the afternoon.
Outline Schedule in iOS Calendar
I call it an "outline" schedule because it exists in this basic form on my phone calendar only so I can get push notifications. The details of what I'm doing each period, along with the actual notes from the work, are in Obsidian, using the Tasks and Full Calendar plugins.
That may seem overly complicated if my proper "calendar" app (my Outlook calendar) is separate from where I keep the event details and notes (Obsidian), but since I divided my schedule into just six potential working periods, "scheduling" my day is in actuality just dropping tasks into the time slots on my daily note and checking that when it's time to switch tasks, or just as I do throughout the day.
I'll add any time-sensitive appointments, plans with friends, reservations, etc., to the phone calendar myself. Since it's the calendar attached to my email, events emailed to me are automatically added.
Since I'm working for myself and not tied to a traditional Monday-through-Friday working schedule, I extended this outline schedule to repeat all seven days of the week. The notifications are more suggestions than checkboxes, and they never temptingly name a particular task, so I can ignore them as desired without halting my current mental flow. The end goal is to get a feel for this schedule every day, but not be bound to it. Emphasize quality work time and flow over rigid adherence to schedule, but have a schedule to anchor to, if needed. Answer "How long should I work on something?" before deciding what to do, if I find myself with unexpected downtime.
Reading Book Introductions
I've been spending the first Deep Work period at Barnes and Noble, where I have two tasks, which are at odds with each other:
- Do No Harm (To My Wallet, By Buying Books). I now have a surplus of time, so look without buying. Spend minutes, not money.
- Read the introduction of at least three books. Three books, two of which have to be on topics I wouldn't read about otherwise. They're not in my usual categories of interest, or they're not targeted toward me, or they're straight up not the kind of books I typically gravitate toward. The third book can be something more aligned with my usual preferences, but it should still be something I haven't explored before.
I discovered the joy of actually sitting and reading a good part of a book I have (almost) no intention of buying.
I've enjoyed spending the first deep work of my day by engaging with new ideas for a time because I don't get them elsewhere anymore without the news. This way I'm diving in with each new idea with more depth than any news article would have given me.
The iPhone's built-in OCR (Android may have a similar feature) is a godsend for pulling excerpts out of books with almost no effort. And if that's going to throw me off too much while I'm still in the reading groove, no problem! Take a whole picture of each page, then come back after I've finished and paste them en masse into my note for that book.
I now create a note in Obsidian for every book I read, even if it's just the introduction in the store. Since I can't highlight or markup in the store's book, I'm encouraged to record only the most notable things I see in that single reading session. And if I find the book moderately interesting? I'll record the page number I stopped reading at, and it'll be there should I ever want to pick up where I left off.
I could do this at the Library just as well, but two differences stand out: first, the collections and curation are going to be different, with the bookstore having more "current works" and the library more "classic works"; and second, the library, save for "reference" books, removes the "focus on critically and actively reading this now, because you can't take it home" constraint that a bookstore can have, because it turns out the library lets you do exactly that. Stop feeding my temptations, TPL!
Book Introductions Read
- Fat Talk: Parenting In The Age Of Diet Culture, by Virginia Sole-Smith
- I Feel Love: MDMA And The Quest For Connection In a Fractured World, by Rachel Nuwer
- The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future, by Robert P. Jones
- Norman Rockwell - My Life As an Illustrator, by Norman Rockwell, Tom Rockwell, Abigail Rockwell
- The Unapologetic Guide To Black Mental Health - Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools For Emotional Wellness, And Get the Help You Deserve, by Rheeda Walker, PhD
- I'm Ascending, Now What - Awaken Your Authentic Self, Own Your Power, Embody Your Truth, by Sydney Campos
- Four Thousand Weeks - Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Berkeman
- The Real Work - On the Mystery of Mastery, by Adam Gopnik
- Introduction To Computer Organization - An Under the Hood Look At Hardware And x86-64 Assembly
- Body Neutral - A Revolutionary Guide to Overcoming Body Images Issues, by Jessi Kneeland
- Cannabis Healing - A Guide to the Therapeutic Use of CBD, THC & Other Cannabinoids, by Franco Grotenhermen, M.D.
- The Man's Guide to Corporate Culture, by Heather Zumarraga
Establishing Book-Buying Criteria that discourage buying on-a-whim but allow for whim-based purchases after a proper vetting of the text in-store
Some criteria for buying a book and ensuring you won't regret it later as an impulse buy:
- You cannot buy a book without having read the introduction, in full.
- You can pick up a book, look at both sides of the cover, and read what is presented on the outside, but you cannot open a book without committing to read the introduction, even if it's a hardcover book with the description inside the dust cover.
- You may judge whether to buy the book only by reading its full introduction, not by reading a summary on Amazon, a synopsis, or a review on Goodreads*.
The introduction is where the book tells you about itself, and where it states its values from its perspective, whereas summaries and reviews are filled with their own author's perspectives that potentially augment your perspective on the book before you even open it! The book and its author already have a complete perspective, and that's the one you're actually interested in and potentially spending money on.
*A potential exception to the "reviews" ban may be when the reviewer clearly states their position relevant to the book, then offers their thoughts. This allows you to know where the reviewer stands compared to where you stand before reading their words. You are still reading an external perspective, but having both the perspective and the position makes the information much more useful.
My Mornings, play-by-play
I stumbled into a pretty cool morning work routine:
- I leave the house around 0730 and arrive at the shopping area around ten-'til. I order a Charged Strawberry Mint Lemonade from Panera Bread, which is ready by the time I walk up to the store. I pick up my drink and walk down the shopping area's center walk until I find a nice seat out of the sun.
- From 0805 to 1000, I sit in the shopping area's outdoor seating reading, working on the computer, or listening to a podcast. The hour between 0800 and 0900 and the hour between 0900 and 1000 are scheduled as "Medium Work", one hour each dedicated (hopefully) to just one task.
- I think the first hour is best spent doing something "loose", like reading a book or brainstorming for the time, rather than trying to accomplish a particular task within it. I say this because the first 20 minutes after 0800 have been a toss-up; am I all cozy with my lemonade and on the computer by 0805, or is it a quarter into the hour by the time I get settled? So I'll schedule to read then (which contributes to my Independent Continuing Education goal) and start real detail work at 0900. After the caffeine's kicked in.
- At 1000, Barnes at Noble opens at the other end of the shopping area, so I pack up my stuff and start walking down that way. I meander around the store, mostly in the non-fiction sections, looking for books that might have interesting introductions.
- Around noon, I finish up at Barnes and Noble and make my way out of the shopping area to find somewhere to spend the afternoon.
- So far I've spent time at a local park, the library, or another local mall.
Creating Order out of Chaos, as one's own god of Chaos
Lastly, I am experiencing what I expected, and intended, to experience: how hard it is to create my own order out of my own chaos. Fortunately, I am able to make it so that for a time, my only responsibility is identifying my chaos and forming it into order.
"Man cannot remake himself without suffering,
for he is both