When I write these blog posts or think of the idea to write them, I find myself gushing with ideas of clever and/or apparently true things I might say. I don’t know how many of these are good, and certainly there are times in posts entirely about, rather than merely inspired by, my own life, when I run away with myself and thus end up saying lots of things about the future that will never end up actually coming true. So I’m apprehensive about this post. I do not wish to speak prematurely, and I do not wish to damage progress by writing about it, which can happen as psychologists think that we use up some of our determination in telling others about our determination. Nor do I wish to suggest that I am not aware that there is far further to go than this post might suggest I think there is. My proposed antidote to this is to suppress my gushing flow of sentences and just note down a few things. The whole point of having a blog like this is to write what I’m thinking right now so that’s what I’ll do.

I am filled with hope for my future that I have not felt for a long time because I have had two successful days of work that I have not had for so long, and it seems to me that all I need to do to achieve the serenity I desire is to just keep doing this, more groundedly, if I can do this for the next six months, my degree is certainly sorted out.

There are two components to this hope. One is that I have been successfully implementing something I have been toying with for the past three weeks or so, that is, the Pomodoro Technique, or at least, my version of it. The point is to work for twenty-five minutes at a time with no distractions or interruptions (a ‘pomodoro’); if unavoidable ones arise, just write them down and deal with them later. Then compress all your time-wasting activities into a five minute break. Then do another pomodoro, and another five minute break. Every four pomodoros, I take a break of between half an hour and an hour depending on the time of the day and what I wish to do with the time.

Twenty-five minutes doesn’t seem like a very long time. But twenty-five minutes with a high level of concentration is equivalent, I would say, to rather more minutes of ‘ordinary’ student study, if you average your productivity out across the longer ordinary study period. It is certainly the case that two pomodoros is worth much more than an hour’s ordinary work. At the moment I am aiming to do sixteen pomodoros a day; during term, twelve might be more realistic.

The technique actually works in terms of getting this focus, or it has for me these past few days with reading Plato, and in the last few weeks, with revising maths. This is focus which I have not had for months, so it is very sweet to me. I have described before how struggling to concentrate leads to procrastination because I say to myself, ‘what’s the point in working when you achieve so little?’ but the Pomodoro Technique seems to break this cycle, because it hits at both components of it: it gives focus back, and deals with procrastination by saying, truthfully, ‘do a Pomodoro right now and you will definitely make some progress’.

Or so it has been for the past few days, and to a lesser extent the past few weeks. The author of P.T. talks about a lot of other stuff, about time management and breaking tasks down so that they fit within pomodoros, but all that isn’t really interesting to me right now. I’ve got the core I need. I’ve found some Emacs code so that “just do a pomodoro” is easy to get myself to do, and I’ve hacked the code a little to improve it. I just hit F11 and the timer starts, then at the end I get a “Five minute break yes/no?” dialog; saying no gives me an extra two minutes working if I really have to (though this isn’t to be encouraged). At the end of the break I get a similar question about going back to work. And then every four I get asked about taking a longer break, though I’m not doing this properly yet, spreading out my pomodoros throughout the day into blocks more and less than four (more frequently less).

Great, then: to the second aspect of this hope. The idea of working solidly like this has me thinking of traditional notions of honest work and work before play and work makes the man and whatever. The point is that I actually see my work, studying philosophy and a little maths, as work in this sense: enriching but not necessarily pleasant, the pleasantness or not not really being important, because it’s work. Should I be doing something so hard, then, if I no longer love it? I still love it, very much so, but this love flies all over the place with my ever-ruminating mind, and I’m learning to trust such thoughts less, for the mind isn’t very good at dealing with things so close to its own core of self. I am not sure how to word it but I think I understand how one can separately but jointly consider a subject to be important, and to love it, while still encountering great resistance to doing it, because it’s hard and involves effort. This feeling is more complex than my usual “you have to do the hard parts before doing the fun parts”; I think I’m onto something new here. A kind of commitment, perhaps, to something both valuable and thrilling, that I may, all the same, fall in and out of love with. This thought is deeply settling.

I was thinking about New Year about new years’ resolutions last week, a friend pointing out that it can just be seen as “a nice excuse” to be better. I have learnt in life that it’s important not to say “tomorrow I’ll be great and do this” without also saying “can I start it now, though?” (of course sometimes one won’t be able to start it now). So I’m not generally fond of things like new years’ resolutions where one says, okay, arbitrary date, as soon as it arrives in a few days time I’ll change all this stuff, until them, time to keep smoking and eating and whatever. However something rather less arbitrary that I have written about before is the way in which we can find ourselves kicked into action by changes or events, such as moving back to university and living my life independently again as I have just done. I moved back on new years’ day. Since then I have tried to be what I want to be, and I have succeeded,[1] and I am building hope and momentum. The challenge now is to keep that going through the term. And I am tentatively hopeful that I can.

[1] Even if it’s only with reading Plato (and no note-taking too) which I love anyway, but even then it requires effort and I have encountered resistance to sitting down and doing it.