A power cut leads to self-reflection

As I lay on the sofa, reading the first chapter of The Luminaries, there was a pop, like a balloon bursting, but quieter, and all the lights in the house went out. The room was still illuminated by the glow of the television, and for a moment I stayed on the sofa, surprised that the energy saving light bulb would make such a noise as it died, leaving the world not with a bang, but with a sort of whimper.
Then, as the ceiling fan slowly decelerated, I realised that the circuit breaker had tripped, for no apparent reason. I hadn’t been wilfully attaching greater numbers of electronic devices to the power running through the ceiling, unless reading an ornate and intimidating book was enough to provoke a surge of some sort. Cautiously, because I don’t like to fiddle with electricity without taking some care, I fetched the pocket torch from its place, nestled amongst bottles and breast pump paraphernalia, and went to the door to flick the switch back on.

When it worked, and no other source of electric light blinked off, I was vaguely surprised. Pleased that I hadn’t electrocuted myself, and that I’d solved a fairly simple problem, and yet dumbfounded, half expecting that when I flicked the switch there would be another quiet popping noise, and half of Singapore would go black.

I returned to the sofa, and looked at The Luminaries again.

This week has been a little up and down; at times it’s felt like there’s been far more to do each day than time will allow for. I blame having consecutive days with early morning calls and late evening calls; trapped between the intersections of time zones and talking to people in London and on the West Coast of the US, my days drag out longer and longer, and instead of taking the time in the morning to play with a cheerful baby or to see her in the early evening, it feels as though work is soaking up all my time. But so it goes; some weeks things go well, and other weeks you can let things get on top of you.

I deleted about 150 emails one evening this week. That made a dent in my inbox, but it’s still floating perilously around the 200 email mark. Of late, I’ve stopped filing emails; maintaining hundreds of folders, carefully dividing work up into little boxes, turns out to be more effort than it’s worth. Better just to put every email you’ve read into a folder of read emails, where you can search it for what you need later, than try to remember if you filed invoices into Marketing – Invoices or Invoices – Marketing a month later.

Still, I have feelings of guilt when I shuffle emails from the inbox into Read when I don’t feel I’ve read them carefully enough, and at other times I worry that I haven’t made enough of an effort to save the environment by deleting the emails I’ll never need. But that guilt is itself a waste of time.

I’ve stopped using my inbox as a way to manage my tasks. I’ve also stopped using tasks as a way to manage my tasks. The trouble with tasks in Outlook is that they don’t occupy time in the day; each task has a deadline, and that’s it. It’s therefore very easy to create a dozen things that need to be done at the same time, and not have any warning from Outlook that perhaps you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Instead, I started this week to block out time in my calendar: half an hour here to rewrite code, an hour there to think about a report, and this has the twin benefit that my calendar is no longer open for random meetings to come in and suck up my time, and that I don’t try to do too many things at once.

It’s not perfect, of course; the problem with calendar items is that if you don’t get them done in the time you allotted, they feel less flexible to rearrange than task items do. Also, an annoyance of Outlook is that you can’t default calendar items to run for 45 minutes. Ideally, I’d start every task on the hour, work for 45 minutes, and then have fifteen minutes to recover, to stretch my legs, to calm and reorient myself for my next objective. I can do that, but only if I go and fiddle with each calendar item, manually fine-tuning the duration.

I assume the reason for this is that Microsoft believe you should be 100% productive, 100% of the time. I find inspiration when I’m not doing things, or at least doing something else. I don’t find much inspiration while I’m reorganising my inbox or shuffling calendar items.

The power cut didn’t make me think much about this. On reflection, perhaps I should have reflected more. A pause in the delivery of electricity to my life might be something to welcome, not to rage against: a chance to pause, decompress, and think more clearly. Instead of clinging to hopes of new distraction, perhaps I should simply sit in the dark and contemplate myself, until such time as the baby wakes and needs feeding, or my wife returns, or it’s morning and I go out to the middle of nowhere to run.

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