Monday, January 10, 2011

Me, I Like the Crust

For baking brownies with extra edges
There's more than one way to make a sandwich. It was in northern Morocco that I first saw someone hollow out a baguette, throwing away the soft part to make room for more filling. The crust, not the middle, was highly prized. In the same way, if you buy a torta on the streets of Mexico your carne comes in a tasty, crusty roll. Yet take high tea with the British or American upper crust (sic) and you'll get your sandwiches with nothing crunchier than the cucumbers.

I like crusts. What about you? 

In the same way, the edges of my day seem the most valuable. I realized a couple years ago that I do my best work before 10 am or (especially) after 4 pm. Unfortunately my job was based on 8-5 office hours, with the first hour given to meetings. So I seldom felt as productive as I might be. In order to deliver what I thought of as my best work I ended up spending a lot of evenings and weekends at the office. While I enjoyed those Saturday afternoons and Friday or Sunday nights on my own, I knew I wasn't getting enough down time and resented working so much overtime, even as I'd chosen it myself.  

Nowadays I'm enjoying my work more. I work less and accomplish more working at home and on my own schedule. I often reach for my computer first thing and put it away last thing, but in the middle, I give myself more margin to goof off, run errands, do chores. It's like a day with extra crust.

Similarly, I find Mondays and Fridays are the days I most want to work. It's in the middle of the week that I lose my way. So I go with it: I make Wednesdays my lighter day, sometimes even running my week on a "four tens" schedule (working M-Tu, Th-F). It's like having two Mondays and two Fridays.

The biggest problem - since the how-do-I-get-my-people-time one is working out fine - is that my preferred schedule doesn't necessarily jive with the way the rest of the world (my world) operates. I'm ready to make those phone calls or send those emails on Friday afternoon, but plenty of people have already checked out and don't want to receive them. Similarly, my East Coast colleagues don't want to interact after I get my second wind 4:00 pm my time. 

>> Have you found a way to match your schedule with you most natural personal rhythms? How do the people around you respond?

P.S.: Here's one bonus instance of "extra edges." Friends of mine live on Lake Tapps, a body of water that, though less than five square miles in area, boasts 45 miles of shoreline. That's a lot of waterfront property, eh?


Scott Fields said...

Another cruster!

I love the outside crust of a French baguette or an Italian loaf; I love the edges of a pan of brownies (hey, were do I GET one of those things?); and I, too, operate best on the fringes of the day.

Well, maybe not so much so in the mornings. I was born a perennial night person. I find that even on nights when I'm sagging with exhaustion, I still get buzzed to tackle some late-evening project. I'm able to work well in the mornings too, those rare times when I can summon the strength to rise at a reasonable time (doing the late-night thing doesn't help this much). It's nice to focus on something for a while before the day can begin unloading its customary distractions on me.

And no, it doesn't always step in time with everyone else's schedules. For me, it's helpful to categorize work according to the appropriate time of day. Conferencing, interacting, and communicating in the here-and-now is reserved for normal working hours, just to be reasonable. The "me" stuff--or at least, the "me alone" stuff--I save for my periods of isolation late at night or early in the morning. I know I'll always have enough tasks of this sort that I won't have a problem filling that time when it rolls around.

- Scott

TraciB said...

I like the crusts too. To me they have more flavor than the middles. :)

I'm a night person in a day job world, so I do what I can whenever I can. Sometimes that means I run late to the office because I get into a project right after my morning Bible reading instead of just having breakfast and going to work; sometimes it means I get less sleep than I should because I'm on a roll with something at 10 p.m. and want to finish it. Thankfully, my boss is lenient and I'm on salary, so as long as the work gets done, he's okay with my flexible arrival time.

What I haven't found a good groove for yet is a regular writing time. I have several other interests that vy for my attention and desk space, so I'm still figuring all this out. I know it's just a matter of planting backside in chair and fingers on keyboard, but when - that is the question.

As for errands (bank, gas station, etc.), I'm blessed to have a work schedule that includes four 9-hour days and a 4-hour day. So when noon rolls around on Fridays, I can leave the office, run all my errands and spend the rest of the afternoon practicing my hoop dancing or doing whatever strikes my fancy.

Marti said...

Thanks for leaving comments!

Brownie pan: Available from the SkyMall catalog (gateway to many a "unique" gadget for the kitchen or elsewhere) for just $39.95. Add to your order a Draco Malfoy wand for your evil side, a pendant of Arwen Evenstar necklace for your dear wife, and a litter-box designed to look like an end table for your cat. You'll be set.

What you say about recognizing what activities work best at different times a day, to the extent that you can manage these things, is wise. In thinking about this more I can picture being one of those people who just has a regular ol' 9-5 job - rather than one focused on word-wrestling and mission-mobilizing - and save those latter activities for other times of the day. Basically pursue my "vocation" (calling) during the times when people pursue their avocations (hobbies) and treating my job like just a job. After so many years of full-time "ministry" that would be an adjustment but it might be just effective, for the ministry stuff. I wonder.

Meanwhile, I feel like a homeschooler: I get my work done in record time and with minimal bureaucracy to wrangle. So, mixing work and play, as long as I know I'm getting enough of each, seems to be working well.

The more I've developed my creative side the more of a nut case I have become, though. Have you guys found that true as well? By nutcase I mean "unpredictable and unreliable, moody, and someone prone to hypochondria and self-absorbtion." Apparently these are typical traits for writers.

Making time to write - consistently or not - does help. Do you find the same? Even if I just have one day a week that's not like the others and includes some premium time/space to play with the words in my toybox. Maybe it's the same time of day and week all the time, maybe it's not, but it comes. When I bind myself into a commitment to keep a thorough journal, writing everything down all the time, that stresses me out. So as rich as journaling is I'm pretty sporadic with it.

The fact that I have a 10-hour a week job editing and managing our ezine isn't quite enough, but I'm glad I've got it and that it runs along so nicely with a team and deadlines and feedback and stuff. Not many writing projects are like that.

Traci: Hmm, hoop dancing...?

TraciB said...

I thought that might catch your attention. :) It combines hula hooping with dancing, but with custom hoops that are made for your height and build. The hoops usually have a combination of a showy tape, like a pretty vinyl or metallic, and a grippy tape like the gaffer's tape that stagehands use at theaters and concerts. If you want to know more, you can check out Hoop City at, where I'm known as CircularPraise. There are tons of videos there and on YouTube and Vimeo too. I post exclusively to Hoop City, but a lot of hoopers post at the other sites as well.

As for the writing, one thing I've started doing again is journaling each morning. At the moment my journal entries are more like brain dumps for my ongoing mental to-do list, but the exercise is still getting me back into a daily writing routine. Perhaps in the near future, the morning session will evolve into something more than journal padding. I also think that as I finish some of these other projects, my inner procrastinator/avoider will have to turn to writing to fill the vacancies my sewing, jewelry, crocheting, etc., formerly occupied.

Regarding the "nut case" question: I'm in my mid 40s, so I never can tell whether my moods are hormonal or related to whatever's on my plate at a given moment (literally or figuratively). I do know that when I'm working on a story, I tend to float between the "real" world and the one I'm building for my novel, and it can be disconcerting to those who don't know the reason for my sudden conversational tangents.

Scott Fields said...

I'll have to check out that website. Sounds crazy, I know, but I was in a situation the just the other night where I could've used all four of those items at once. . . .

I actually find myself more on the nutty side when I'm not writing. I feel out-of-sorts, all dragged down, burdened with some phantom weight that nags at me constantly. When I'm writing (actively and consistently), I find I have more energy and desire to accomplish everything else in life--work, hobbies, ministry, everything. I've taken that as a given sign that this is what I'm designed to do. It's what I'm made for, that's all. . . .