Special Feature

Pauline’s Depth Year Diary – September – October 2019

Back in December I published my Depth Year 2019 post, which set out my goals and hopes for the year.

  1. As a reminder, here are the goals:
    Limit my social media time to 20 minutes per day, except if I’m involved in an important group chat about something: no mindless scrolling.
  2. Uninstall or block notifications from Instagram and Twitter. Turn off Strava notifications and most Facebook notifications so they’re not distracting me when I’m trying to do deep work.
  3. Set aside dedicated time each week to play board games and shoot the breeze with Michael. You’d be surprised at how little that happens due to a combination of my fitness training schedule and mindless time-wasting.
  4. Look at ways to improve how we run the house, so that less time is wasted on mindless chores. Spending money on this is fine as long as the utility value makes the costs worthwhile.
  5. Allocate (realistic) time limits for tasks. If I haven’t got the task completed in that time then move on, and work out how to do it more efficiently next time.
  6. Identify a personal project to work on over the year, and track my progress on a monthly basis.

We’ve now only got two months left of this year. If I’m honest, I don’t think my Depth Year has been as successful as Michael’s. His goals were different to mine, but I think he has stuck to his more successfully, and gained more from the process. I guess I have also gained greater self-knowledge, but acting on it is a different matter.

The previous diary ended with me mentioning the Chicago marathon and our impending move to Göteborg. It would be fair to say that a lot of my focus during September and the first half of October was on the impending Chicago Marathon. It was tough doing Chicago as my autumn marathon as it was 3 weeks later than Loch Ness had been last year. This meant I was doing peak mileage weeks, incorporating 12 – 15 mile midweek long runs, during the hectic start of the academic year. I’d had a fantastic training block until teaching started again. Of course, unsurprisingly with everything else going on, I managed to get ill not just once but twice during the final 5 weeks of the plan. I only recovered from the second illness a couple of days before flying to Chicago. The marathon itself didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped. I got my nutrition wrong and hit the wall too early, but I still ran a fairly decent time. Chicago itself was amazing. It was a really nice vacation, and it was great to get away for a week.

Other than the marathon, I’ve been trying to spend time with friends and close relatives.  I won’t get to see nearly as much of them once I emigrate. I managed to get through to Anstruther to spend a weekend with my parents when they were holidaying there, fitting in an 18-mile training run on the Sunday morning. I was unable to go through to stay in October when they returned, but was able to meet them for lunch in Dundee. I’ve managed to see most of my running friends fairly regularly, and have made a conscious effort to make more time for some other (non-running) friends. But I have to admit I have been a bit overwhelmed with everything that needs done.  There are a few folk I am haphazardly trying to arrange final meet-ups with before we leave at the end of November. Even running has taken a bit of a back seat since Chicago in order to try and fit everything else in.

In terms of rule 1, I think it would be fair to say I have been spending more time on social media than I was doing earlier in the year. Partly this is down to trying to arrange meet-ups with groups of people, and keeping in touch with people whilst I was in Chicago. But it’s also partly due to feeling like I have too much going on just now.  At the point I get a bit of time to sit down and do something other than work, run, learn Swedish, or do household chores, I’m too tired and lacking in energy for anything requiring effort.  Social media is an easy way to fill a few minutes. I feel a little guilty about this, but everyone needs a bit of down time and I do think it’s true that the more tired you get, the less capable you are of making good life choices. As long as the important stuff is getting done, and it is, then I can cut myself a bit of slack.

I’ve managed to stick to rule 2 with regards to Strava, Twitter and Facebook. I have also switched off Messenger notifications on my phone, but not on my tablet. The amount of time I spend on Twitter is still negligible and I could easily delete it without it having any impact on my life. I tend to check Strava a few times a day, because I have a compulsive need to ensure everyone gets kudos, but it’s much better than checking it anywhere from 3 to 100+ times a day due to notifications. I occasionally miss interesting group chats due to not having messenger notifications on my phone, but I check it at work during lunch break and the occasional break between classes, and it’s rare to miss something urgent. It also stops me hopping on to other social media (e.g. Facebook and Strava) after a messenger notification, so it’s a net positive.

With regards to rule 3 I feel like, with everything going on, I haven’t been spending as much time as I should with Michael. Sometimes we can go from Tuesday morning until Friday night and only get about 30 minutes to speak to each other. With me being away for various races or doing parkrun tourism he sometimes doesn’t get to see me much at weekends either. We have had a few weekends where we’ve gone on day trips together, and we’ve even been watching a few films together.  Even including a couple on weeknights when I was ill and unable to go out running. I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time with him once we are in Gothenburg – though he will be the one with the time shortage there, trying to get settled into a new job.

I’m personally looking forward to having some down time after we move, but I’m also approaching it with more than a little trepidation. I really enjoyed my work-life balance in Canterbury, and was bringing in enough income to feel like I was pulling my weight without having to work more than about half time hours, and the same applied in Stonehaven. However, having no work at all lined up in Sweden means my only contribution is a very small amount of educational consulting work I still do for a UK educational provider, and my rental income. We’ve generally saved all of the profits from my properties to pay down the mortgages, so I can’t really put that towards paying my way.

I’ve got a lot of ideas for what I could do with a sabbatical. Michael and I have plans to write a book. I have a marathon to train for (London 2020). I’d like more time to spend on photography. I need to learn Swedish. I have a massive reading list to get through. I have more articles to write. It would be nice to explore my new city and country. One of my favourite podcasters, Paula Pant from Afford Anything, says “Retire early and often.” And in theory I agree with the philosophy of taking regular sabbaticals (or mini-retirements) on the way to an early retirement (i.e. mid to late 50s). I considered my long summer vacations as well-earned sabbaticals and a nice re-set between academic years. But in practice I worry that I will struggle to find a job in Sweden, and that I will be a financial burden on Michael.

I’ve still made no progress on rules 4 and 5, though I have managed to get a lot (but not all) of the work done on the house.  As I am typing this though I have just remembered that I need to arrange a gas boiler service and get a couple of the taps looked at and the bath sealant redone.  All the ivy roots have now been removed from the back of the house, which has been repainted and looks great, as does the garden which has been thoroughly tidied up. We are also able to open the windows in our living room for the first time in 5 years. The kickboards in the kitchen have been refitted (the guy who took them off to do some work 3 years ago said he’d come back to replace them, but never did). The broken hinges on a couple of cupboards in the kitchen have been replaced so all the doors shut properly now. We can now get natural light in the bedroom thanks to a new blind which was fitted by someone competent – unlike the last one which we fitted ourselves.

This is all great, but there are still other things we need to get done (e.g. some rooms need repainted) which will be hard to do until we move some things out of the house. This has started, but it’s a slow process.

In terms of rule 6 we never made any real progress on this in 2019, but Michael and I have two clear and distinct projects we are going to work on in 2020. Hopefully one will result in us co-authoring and publishing a non-fiction book next year – or at least having it written and be in the process of trying to find a publisher for it. It’s actually something we started writing 6 years ago when we were in Canterbury, but haven’t had time to finish. The other project is a technical one and we’ll see how that goes, but I think the book is the main initial focus.

With regards to my goals, I think I’m doing reasonably well with being aware of how I’m spending my time, even if I’m not always optimising it. And my running is going well enough, even though I didn’t quite smash it in Chicago. My last blood results came back normal, so I’m no longer anaemic, at least at present. I’m dubious as to how long that will remain the case now I’ve been taken off the tablets, but I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to get re-tested as it depends how long it takes to get registered with a GP in Sweden.

I’m still feeling pretty happy about goal three (to read more), though I’m slightly disappointed that, unlike Michael, I have very little hope of reading close to 52 books this year. I got a couple of books read whilst in Chicago though (mostly on the flights there and back) and have read 34 books so far, with another couple halfway throug h. With about 8 weeks left in the year, and the prospect of a fair amount of free time on my hands in December, I might well make it into the 40s. I’ve read a few books on productivity, focus and scheduling recently (Cal Newport, Dan Pink and Laura Vanderkam) which probably represents my fear of wasting time, but which don’t necessarily offer much in the way of really deep insights. The main highlights of my reading year have been the latter instalments of the Expanse series which has remained consistently excellent, and 11.22.63 which is quite possibly the best book Stephen King has ever written, even including the Dark Tower series. I was also very impressed with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and am looking forward to reading the sequels.

I’m pretty sure Michael and I are still pretty solid (goal 4), even though we haven’t seen as much of each other over the past couple of months as I might like. Maybe that’s why our relationship works so well though: because he doesn’t spend enough time with me to get sick of me. I’m not sure how much time I’ve had for deep contemplation over the past couple of months, but it’s probably more than enough.

I also seem reasonably chilled about the fact we’re going to be leaving Scotland before selling the house, and I haven’t done anything about selling my car or other various important things. Or maybe I just haven’t had time to think any of that through yet. In my last diary I said we might be well-organised, or we might be panicking. In reality, we’ve got a lot done but are not anywhere near as organised as we could be. Despite this, we’re staying pretty serene. Neither of us is sleeping particularly well though, so maybe all the stressors are impacting us in other ways?

The final two months of the year are going to be full of huge changes for me: finishing up at work, saying a lot of goodbyes, trying to tie up several loose ends, and trying to settle into a new environment where I have no job and don’t speak the lang uage. I think my feelings on all this are somewhat – complex. I like the term poignant, as that captures how I am feeling about things better than most other emotions. I’m relieved to be leaving the UK political situation, and excited about embarking on a new experience in Sweden. I’m aware of how privileged we are to be able to take this leap into the unknown, and also aware that it’s not even that much of a risk for us because we’ve used to past 5 ½ years to get on a really stable financial footing. If it takes me a while to get a job, and it also takes a while to sell our house, it will hurt for a bit, but there’s no imminent risk of bankruptcy. I’ve put down deep roots here though, and there are so many people I will miss. The internet makes it easier than ever to stay in touch, but only in a shallow way, and it’s not the same. I have moved around often enough to be used to it by now, and know I will settle and find my tribe anywhere. However, I suspect it may take longer in Gothenburg due to the added complication of not speaking Swedish. I’m aware there is a thriving expat/ UK immigrant population which should make settling in easier, but I’d like to get fully integrated into Swedish society, not just a subset of it.

As noted at the start of this incoherent ramble, I don’t think I’ve been particularly successful on this Depth Year. I have at least become more self-aware of how much time I waste on social media, and implemented some strategies for minimising that. I’ve also managed to read several more books than last year, by carving out time from the social media and casual phone games, whilst still meeting my running mileage targets most months. I’ve also realised that trying to be very productive all the time can have adverse consequences, and I need to allow for some down time.

If I continue on with a Depth Year in 2020, I would need to re-assess my goals for it. I suspect the central tenet of “don’t try anything new” is not going to be a good one to follow when getting to know a new country. I’ve got a couple of months to think about what follows on, if anything, in 2020.

I’ve got just under a month to go before the move. What impact is an international move going to have on the remainder of this Depth Year? Will we get everything we need done in time before the move? How ruthlessly can we cull our possessions before moving? Will I get some rest and relaxation in Gothenburg in December once we are settled into our new apartment? Check in next time to find out.

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