Pleasant Events

I have been thinking a lot recently about having fun. I sort of have this ongoing thought around, “Am I having enough fun?” I’m not exactly sure what I mean by this. Some combination of — Am I free-spirited enough? Am I spontaneous enough? Am I enjoying my life enough?

So I’ve started to compile a list of activities that I find fun, but that are also nourishing to me.

  • home projects — like reorganizing a space, finding a solution to a small problem, rearranging furniture
  • having friends over meals, or hosting them overnight — especially if you cook together
  • cooking when I’m alone in the house, with a glass of wine and a podcast
  • karaoke
  • people watching
  • Frisbee
  • lifting weights with lots of people (the other day, I got to lift in a group of four and it was great)

There are some activities that are a little less fun, but still nourishing like:

  • taking a long shower
  • changing my sheets
  • stretching/yin yoga
  • writing in my journal.

In three weeks, I get significantly less busy so I’m planning to make a few dates with myself or with friends to engage in some of these activities. A more proactive choice of where I want to spend time based on what will leave me better off afterwards.

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

Book Review #11 – Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

*****

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favorite authors. Maybe actually my top favorite author. This book, about the Biafran independence movement (within Nigeria — a civil war), introduced me to a slice of history I had literally never heard of before. Using the lens of five intertwined characters, the book continued to draw you in — and as the situation got worse and worse for Biafrans, you felt like you were witnessing a progression you were helpless to stop. A fiction book, it expresses certain truths about human life and spirit, about mankind, and about what identity and war and hunger do to individuals and society, and about how the entire world is intertwined in a way Westerners aren’t always willing to admit. It’s haunting but needs to be heard.

Book Review: Deep Work

Book Review #10: Deep Work (Cal Newport)

*****

Though not the best written book, Deep Work shares research and proactive actions that can be taken related to a topic I have been thinking a lot about recently – focus. Specifically, about how in the internet-era, people have been losing the ability to focus. And, offices increasingly tend to prioritize “shallow work” (e.g. emails, unproductive meetings, networking) which can fracture your daily schedule in such a way that you never have time to dive into the meat of your work. And then you are at the office later and later, staying connected to colleagues via emails at night and on the weekend. The whole system makes no sense. I’ve seen at the consulting organization I work for that my team – which emphasizes disconnecting from work, not responding to emails immediately, and letting people create their own work schedules from their own preferred locations, is more productive and less burnt-out that other teams that emphasize the opposite.

Here are some takeaways I learned from the book:

  • Make internet time/distracted time the exception, not the norm.
  • Build time into your schedule for focus and create rules around what is and isn’t allowed during that time period. I don’t allow any internet for example – no checking of email, no looking up information. I also write down one thing on a post-it that is the only thing I am supposed to work on. When I finish, I write down something else.
  • Keep track of the number of deep work hours you are working. This helps incentivize you and allows you to set and meet goals.
  • Do less shallow work. Don’t meet people for coffee, don’t respond to useless emails – say no to whatever is not a priority for you.

Since reading, I’ve set an initial goal of two hours of deep work a day. This has already helped me get SO MUCH done. So much. And, I very much appreciate how it shifts me away from mindless internet usage. I have done tremendously well at not using the internet much in my personal life, but creating these structures for my work life has been very helpful.

Opting Out: Smartphones

Those who know me in real life know that I constantly bring up the idea of getting rid of my smartphone. My company actually pays for my phone and when I am traveling for work, I absolutely do need it. But I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a non-smart phone for my daily use and just turning the smart phone on when I am traveling.

I have not done this yet. I would make an intention to trying to use my phone less and fail — and this was a cycle that repeated over and over. I wasn’t quite ready to drop my phone altogether for three main reasons: 1) How would I take photos? 2) How would I figure out how to get anywhere? 3) How would I keep in contact with my loved ones (whom I mostly communicate with via text).

So what I did was starting deleting apps from my phone. Yup. I went through and deleted every app I didn’t absolutely need. Even Safari. I didn’t even know you could delete Safari! But that, on its own, reduced my smartphone usage each day by probably 60%. I had two apps left that had some level of search and interaction component — the first was google maps and the second was Instagram.

I have about six Instagram friends, and I really use the platform as more of a photo scrapbook. But all of a sudden I was spending 10 minutes at a time on Instagram explore – or searching hashtags. So I deleted Instagram.

And now, I am honestly finding myself using my phone just for navigation, photos, and texting. The cognitive load of my phone has greatly reduced — and it has, once again, become a tool that is serving me. And honestly, I don’t miss having Safari on my phone at all. Not at all. It makes me feel free.

Packing Light

I am a master at packing light. Part of this is likely because I don’t have any qualms wearing the same clothes on repeat as long as they smell good and feel clean.

Last year, my boo and I went to Japan for two weeks and each just brought a backpack. And not an intense, backpacking pack either — mine was very much a day bag and his was a bit bigger.

For two weeks we only had those backpacks. They carried all of our clothes, toiletries, shoes, tech, etc. It was amazing. We could take the train to a new city and instantly walk around. Or we could take the train to a new city and lock our backpacks in a locker, and be free to walk around. We went to four cities, rode many trains and subways, and took a three-day hike.

These are the clothes I packed:

  • three pairs of merino-based underwear (moving forward, I would bring closer to 4-5 pairs. They take up virtually no room and it’s nice to have some flexibility).
  • two pairs of merino-based bras.
  • a pair of black hiking pants with zip-up pockets. I wore these almost every day.
  • two pairs of black, hiking shorts. One were super comfortable and could also be work to sleep. The other were more rugged and a bit longer, so good for a day of city activities.
  • two pairs of socks.
  • two pairs of shoes — a pair of tevas and a pair of low-key hiking sneaks. Both were very light.
  • a light merino sweater.
  • a pair of leggings that I could wear as pants or as pajamas.
  • two merino-based tanktops.
  • a very light, packable, rain coat.

I also brought:

  • an e-reader (which has since broken, so on more recent trips, I have just brought a thin book instead)
  • earbud headphones
  • my cellphone
  • my wallet
  • a pocket wifi and charger (necessary only in Japan, I would think)
  • a small red notebook
  • cards
  • a pen
  • sunglassess

And, I was able to benefit from a nalgene and small toiletry bag (just the essentials) that were in my partner’s slightly larger bag.

It sounds insane but not having any options — I basically wore what was cleanest every day — helped us focus on the experience and not on the stuff.

Book Review: Our Babies, Ourselves

Book Review #9: Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent (Meredith Small)

***

This book focuses on ethnopediatrics — how culture influences how we parent and think about parenting. Mostly focuses on sleeping and breastfeeding, it draws on qualitative and quantitative data to create different parenting typologies and explore how these are linked to culture. I appreciated that it wasn’t just focused on industrial versus more traditional societies, but also contrasted different industrial societies. Here are some fun facts I learned: in certain tribal cultures, babies breastfeed every 13 minutes. In Japan, babies are trained to be dependent on the family unit. In the United States, there is an overwhelming emphasis on what parents can contribute to kids (e.g. healthy food, information and education) and not what on kids can contribute to families (e.g. labor).

Book Review – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Book Review # 8 – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast)

****

Hilarious, deeply sad, moving, and slightly disgusting all at once. A memoir by Roz Chast, this graphic novel shares her experience navigating the old age and eventual deaths of both of her parents. The book is incredibly honest in sharing mixed feelings — for example, a desire to be close to your parents, lingering dislike for your childhood, fear around if their money will run out before they die. And because the author is Roz Chast, the book is laugh out loud funny in many parts.