No time to chat

Published on 13. May, 2012 by in Family, Harry, Millie, Onside Analysis, Time, Wendy

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If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you are probably aware that at the beginning of the year I committed to writing more frequently, having struggled to provide even a monthly post last year. In fact, in my eagerness, I became so confident in my abilities that I decided to try to write 52 posts this year. In breaking news, I can now report that this isn’t going to happen.

Millie is very taken with farm life. She asked me to retrain.

Since leaving Imperial at the end of March, lots has changed in my life, not least being fortunate to have abandoned the regular commute. The downside of this is that without my commute, I am finding no time to write. In fact, as it happens, I am writing right now from the train, on one of my rarer sorties into London.

Setting up a new business is somewhat consuming. This has not really come as a huge surprise, I knew what I was getting into, but nonetheless I don’t think I realised quite how much my time would be reduced for little things like blog writing. The good news is that things at Onside Analysis are shaping up nicely and we are very excited about what is on the horizon; we really think that putting the hard graft and effort in here will lead to some exciting results in the not too distant future.

But, back to my life, adding in the work with MDC and other activities (the most recent being my very enjoyable coaching course), what time is left is very little. Poor Wendy and the kids are struggling to get  my attention, albeit as always without complaint, but clearly my priority needs to be spending what time I do have with my family rather than indulgently writing to myself and the handful of other kind people who every so often read these words.

I’m not immodest enough to think that anyone will care all that much about this. Whether I write every week, month or just a few times a year doesn’t have any cosmic repercussions. Interestingly, when I look at the traffic that visits my site, when I used to write rarely I had a lot more readers of the blog than when I wrote every week. This might suggest that increased frequency has come at the expense of quality, or that if I write too often people finally become aware that there is nothing of importance being said. Either way, the extra commitment of writing regularly for a diminishing readership is unappealing.

My big little boy is 2!

All this said, it’s important to say that it’s not going to be the end of the blog altogether, as it is still a very enjoyable way to spend a train journey. Also, I still have plenty to write about. Since my last post I have been busy on my football coaching course (where I have learned plenty); been lambing for the second year in a row (once again a very enjoyable experience); been to the Crucible to watch the snooker (including a great view from the commentary box courtesy of Willie Thorne) and had little Harry H’s magical second birthday. These have all been exciting experiences, that if time permitted would provide plenty of material for writing about. Such things are going to continue, so there will always be things for me to write about.

For now I’ll just observe what fun we had, and draw to a close. The train is pulling into the station you see, and another busy day (for which I am already an hour late) is about to get going. I’ll see you when I see you, and post this blog when I get the chance…

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Get with the routine

Published on 16. Feb, 2012 by in Onside Analysis, Time

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Same place, a week later. Beginning this post I am stood in almost exactly the same spot as last week, in the hallway of the same carriage of the same 7:54 train from Guildford to London Waterloo. This is getting routine.

I woke at 6am, had a quick shower, then took the dog for a walk. A quick breakfast of a couple of Weetabix, 5 minutes with the kids and then I left the house at 7:25 and hopped in the car to begin my commute. It is the same most mornings that I commute into London, although sometimes I get to lie in until 6:25 if Wendy is walking the dog.

In fact, much of my life is routine. I believe that this is partially through human nature, and partially through the stage of life that we are in. Having young children, you see, typically lends itself to pretty standardised days, at least in terms of timings.

Of course, the extent to which as a parent you encourage your children to follow a routine is very much an individual choice. For us, having a routine works. The children wake at 7am and are in bed for 7pm. Dinner for them is between 5 and 5:30, and bed is nearly always preceded by a bath. And it’s not just a bedtime routine: after a middle of the day lunch, Harry (and until relatively recently Millie) has a nap, often for a couple of hours. As I say, it might not work for everyone but it works for us. Our children sleep well, normally from 7 til 7 and rarely wake in between times. They both genuinely ask to go to bed, for an early night,  if they are tired. That may be largely down to good fortune but I do think routine helps.

Even parents who choose not to live by such a strict routine typically have to comply with regular timings on a day to day basis. School, for example, is the same time every day. As are more fun things like play groups or after school clubs. When it comes to parenting you can reduce routine if you wish, but you can’t really eliminate it.

More generally,  in my experience, it seems that most people follow routines more than they are aware.

In an average day, there are many routines that are imposed upon us, for example those dictated by our employers or jobs. Routines in this respect are (or at least were historically) necessary to do business. Say for example you have eggs that you wish to sell at a market, by establishing a regular time for this market, a lot more eggs will be sold. And it is also in the interest of the consumer. Sporadic markets may mean long periods with no eggs.

Christmas: a wonderful communication method?

It was recently highlighted to me, at a fabulous talk by the engaging Alain de Botton (thank you May and Phil for a wonderful Christmas present) that religions are also supremely good at imposing and using routines to get their message across. Nearly all religions have an associated calendar, often both on an annual and weekly basis, which dictate particular times when their followers’ attention should be directed to a specific message that they feel is important. That is achieved through regular holy days (be it Friday, Saturday or Sunday) and more focussed annual occurrences (for example Christmas, Easter, Divali, or Ramadam). In other words, routine can be used as a tool to improve communication and education. It makes you think then, perhaps, if you find yourself in a routine that you haven’t chosen for yourself, it might be worth taking the time to think whether there is an associated message, and if so, considering whether you agree with that message, or whether you are being passively and quietly indoctrinated.

There are also many routines that we choose to follow with little external pressures. For example, I typically always stand on the same place on the platform waiting for a train or a tube. Judging by the faces that I recognise standing next to me on a daily basis this is not unusual behaviour. Another example is when people attend regular meetings or lectures. It seems typical to me that most people will sit in the same position as they first chose on the first occasion they entered the room.

A sensible explanation for such behaviour is that we have a (perhaps subconscious) security derived from the familiar. It doesn’t take too much thought to suggest a plausible basis in evolutionary  forces and historical reasoning. But it would appear that we tend to carry this security too far, letting it provide a general inertia in escaping from the familiar. This must no doubt carry an opportunity cost. If you limit yourself to only a tiny subset of experiences, just try to imagine what you might be missing out on. Most people choose not to only go back to the same place on holiday, year after year; we should adopt that recognition of the importance of variety into our wider lives.

Obviously, routines can change either because someone or something changes them for us, or because we choose to change them ourselves. Shortly my routine will change significantly because I won’t be working at Imperial any longer, but instead will be solely dedicated to growing my new business, Onside Analysis. No longer will I be commuting in to London (what that will mean in terms of finding time to write my blog I don’t know!). Nor will I even have to stick to the routines and norms that are demanded by working for someone else. Of course, as our client list grows with time, these routines will simply be replaced by others.

But like others I will still have a number of routines that are mine to decide. Where possible I’m going to challenge myself to mix it up and not simply revert to the norm. Any takers amongst you for joining me?

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