Three Months in the Grass Roof Hut

Staying Focused, Motivated, and Engaged

Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten feet square, an old man illumines forms and their nature.

Shitou, Translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Kazuaki Tanahashi, from Inside the Grass Hut, Ben Connelly.

A big worry I had in taking a sabbatical was that I’d just end up a couch potato all day for months and end up with nothing to show for it. This is especially true during the pandemic lockdowns. After three months I can say I’ve done OK. Remember this schedule from my earlier post when I started my sabbatical? Here it is again.

Daily Schedule

8:15Feed Yuli, Make Coffee
8:30Daily inspirational reading with coffee
9:30Study and Reading
25-min intervals
Alternate with Yuli playtime, reading for book group
NoonFeed Yuli
14:00Unstructured Time
nap, exercise, chores, shower, Yuli playtime, journal writing
Note: All times are approximate

Let me be clear: I don’t follow the the schedule rigorously or consistently. It’s not a Procrustean bed, it’s a guide. Having a schedule is important. Even before sabbatical, before the pandemic-enforced working from home, I had learned that outside the office world, professionals always lean a schedule. Beethoven had a routine. To a significant level having a set of rules and rituals is one of the keys to being productive.

One of the best outcomes of setting the schedule is that I spend a lot less time doom-scrolling social media. When I find I’ve gotten distracted I can stop, look at my schedule, and know what I should go back to doing. I also know how much time I’ll devote to something on a day-to-day basis, which helps me when I’m not especially motivated to focus on what’s scheduled, because I know that I have a definite stopping time and don’t have to spend any more time on it than that.

In addition to the daily schedule, I have a rotation of areas of focus for each day of the week. On any given day I have a guide for which of my interests gets my focus (or at least my primary focus) for the day.

Weekly Rotation

  • Sunday: Spirituality
  • Monday: Photography
  • Tuesday: Writing
  • Wednesday: Productivity
  • Thursday: General Programming
  • Friday: Identity and Access Management (a sub-field in software)
  • Saturday: wildcard, catch up or off

Now, after three months of this, I’m starting to discover areas I may refine or evolve this routine. First, I need to be more explicit about when, exactly, am I writing or producing vs reading, organizing, and planning. Second, only working on a topic every seven days is seeming less than ideal.

When Does the Writing Happen?

I’ve done a lot of soothing the burnout, reading, and pondering ideas in the past three months. I’ve managed to regain my ability to focus for long periods, and I’m very happy with that. As part of my reading and pondering, I of course take notes and that involves writing, but that kind of writing is only the raw material for producing published pieces like this blog post.

Now… Where Was I?

When I pick up my topic for the day, I find it hard to pick up where I left off a week ago. That is to say, I lose the momentum too much with a seven-down interval. Putting something aside after working on it a bit is a necessity, as intentional down time. Creativity requires what Joe Kraus calls “gap” time, but seven days seems to be too long.

Dude, Where’s My Vacation?

And the big one. My sabbatical plans never included unending weeks of this. I was going to do it for a while until the situation with the pandemic was better, then I was going to go on the road, do some hiking, photography, visit people, see places. And where are we now?

Source: Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory

Was I too optimistic in April when I looked towards summer? For the past few days I’ve been in a bit of a funk over this. It was bad enough in Spring of 2020 when it became clear that Americans weren’t going to take it seriously, and by Fall of 2020 when the inevitable surge came, but now it’s disheartening in a way that’s hard for me to express. It’s definitely impeding my recovery from burnout.

It looks like I started this post over a month ago. I’m sure that I’ve been sitting on it trying to figure out how to make it longer. I think it’s long enough now.