Countdown to midlife crisis Part 1: developing a time management obsession

Posted by on Oct 13, 2014 in Productivity | 5 Comments
Breithorn summit

MIke on the summit of the Breithorn, high above Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, 20/09/14.

With a significant birthday under 6 months away I have started making preparations for my mid-life crisis, or to use less alarmist language, my mid-life transformation.

I can trace the roots of this transformation to about a year ago when  on holiday in Turkey. I got back into doing tai chi on a daily basis and on returning home decided to  get up a little earlier and stop off at an appropriate spot on my way into work to run through my form. Through the dark days of last winter, in wind, rain and snow I kept it up and it now feels like a habit that has been ingrained for life, giving a massive payback in terms of wellbeing in return for under ten minutes a day of practice.

Part way through last year I happened upon Tim Ferriss while looking for business podcasts. A few years ago I read and was inspired by his book ‘The Four Hour Work Week’, an impulse purchase in an airport bookshop, so when I found that he had started a podcast I subscribed and quickly caught up with the back episodes. I’ve been a podcast enthusiast for years and this is one of the best I’ve found, consisting mostly of interviews with inspirational and creative people that dig into their backgrounds and the mechanics of their creative processes.

A habit thing that kept coming up among Ferriss’s interviewees was the idea of getting up in the morning and doing a creative burst, knocking out several pages of writing first thing. I decided that I would get up even earlier and make the time to give it a shot.  Since June I have gone straight to my desk each morning to produce about 700 words longhand. I can’t over-emphasise how transformative this has been. I’ve conceived and made good progress on a work of literary non-fiction. The project provides a vehicle for much of the writing and research I’ve done over the last few years and it now feels inevitable I will complete it, probably in around a year from now.

Having tasted first hand the magic of the morning creative burst I’m greedy for more and want to get up even earlier so I can produce 1000 – 1500 words each day. This causes some prioritisation issues because I do need to get some sleep. It seems that there is nothing for it but to resort to obsessive time management.

So here’s what day including a 1500 word morning would have to look like….

0515 rise and write

0615 finish writing, eat breakfast, shower, make lunch

0715 leave house on bike

0720 stop off to do tai chi

0800 arrive at work

1700 leave work

1745 get home, eat dinner, enjoy company of lovely wife and daughters

1830 evening family admin, homework, baths, stories, walk dog

2215 latest possible bed time to get 7 hours sleep

Realistically I can’t get children and dog processed before 2030, and I want to spend at least half an hour before bed away from the sleep-disturbing blue light of computer screens, TV and phone, so my wind-down has to start at 2130.  The upshot is that if I want to get enough sleep I only have about 1 hour or 1.5 hours maximum to do stuff in the evening. And there is so much I want to cram into this time: reviewing and editing my morning output, catching up on reading papers and adding them to my library, editing the chapters that I have completed in draft, catching up with correspondence. Clearly all this can’t be squeezed into just over an hour, so careful and deliberate choices will be required.

Realising how compressed my evenings have become  makes me want to examine the rest of my day. If I could claw back half an hour from the morning I would be able to add this time to my evening. But what to sacrifice? I could stop doing tai chi or start driving to work instead of cycling, but this morning exercise is a cornerstone of my routine. I could skip breakfast or stop making sandwiched to take for lunch, but these choices would also have negative consequences. It looks as if everything that I could do to gain more time would affect my concentration, my energy levels or both.

To make matters even more complicated I would also like to incorporate some resistance training and meditation into my day. Maybe I should just chill out.



  1. Craig W
    October 14, 2014

    It’s a lot easier to find the time when you don’t have a family!

    Could you do stuff during your lunch break? Or get a bus and type on a tablet? I considered dictating whilst cycling but that proved to be impossible.

    • Gavin
      November 6, 2014

      Whoops that post has been awaiting approval for a while – your next ones will be auto approved!

      Been giving this a bit more thought, next post is on the tech-enabled creative workflow that I’m experimenting with – think I’ve found something that works.

  2. Dom
    October 16, 2014

    Gav – what a rich, full life you have; don’t burn out!
    Look forward to reading your opus. Great photo of the alps

  3. Allan Wallace
    April 25, 2015

    The schedule you’ve posted only shows 45 minutes for time with your children. This is not good.

    • Gavin
      April 26, 2015

      You’re right, 45 minutes would not be that good. Fortunately the next item on the list is ‘Family admin, homework, baths, stories’, so the total contact time is more like 2.5 hours.

      But your general point is a good one. Our society is arranged such that most of our time is spent getting ready to go to work, travelling to work, working, then travelling home from work. No doubt we would all be happier and more fulfilled if we lived in Amish style communities where the local is celebrated and there is little division between family, work, and community life. I’ve heard Kevin Kelly speak convincingly on this topic.


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