Nicky's Blog

Quarterly Review: Q1

Today marks of the first day of my 50,000 Words challenge and folks, I am not above picking the low hanging fruit so long as I don't break the rules.

We are now a quarter of the way through my yearly theme, the Year of Intentionality, and as initially promised it's time for my publicly accountable quarterly review.

I'll be honest, I'm a little nervous, which seems a silly reaction to have to something relatively trivial. But straight away I don't feel like this quarter has gone well on many fronts and stagnant in others.

So lets start there.

Going back to my low hanging fruit, my weight has been most challenging. When I wrote Being Fatter Than Homer Simpson, I weighed in at 266 pounds. This morning, I weighed 278.

Gaining weight over winter is hardly an unexpected phenomenon. With winter SAD, the holiday period, decades of terrible eating habits, and a month of minimal activity due to a massive cold, some weight gain was bound to happen. 12 pounds over roughly four months also isn't a terrible amount, but it's still 12 pounds in the wrong direction.

I've been pretty slow to combat this. Again, allowing for the depression and cold affected month of January, it's only really been the last few weeks that I've put any really effort into adjusting my diet and increasing my exercise. Initially, I was counting calories again, and it looked as though I could get away with eating 3,300 kcals daily (I know, I know). This was a gross miscalculation; I continued to either stagnate or gain/loss a fraction of a pound each week. But it allowed me to have my cake and eat it too, so I kept it up.

The tipping point was hitting 280+ pounds again. Since then, I've reduced my kcals target to 2800, which averages me around a pound lost per week. I've also incorporated 'mindful' cheat days on Sundays: no calorie counting, eat whatever I want, but have the next week's weigh-ins in mind. This last point has dropped the weight gained the following morning to a pound, down from two, which is much easier to drop in a day or two, and I still get to eat yum nuts and a creamy truffle sausage pasta sauce write up to follow). I've cut out the fat breakfast roll from the local park kiosk though; a step too far.

Another low hanging fruit is my mental health. In fact, my whole Intentional Mind section has been rather slow. Aside from this post, my regular reviews still are still being skipped. I've put off rolling out my productivity system because 'effort'. Self-performed therapy sessions (not that kind, pervert) aren't happening on a regular schedule, although I have done a couple in times of need. My meditation habit is still off and on, and my yoga minutes are going up in a big way (seven hours last month compared to barely three hours in January, and four in February) but I still struggle to motivate myself to do it every morning, preferring to read junk on my iPad or iPhone and eat into my time.

There has been one decent win though, and it's the reason I'm able to really know that last point. I've finally started to implement a solid time tracking habit. It's a thing I've been meaning to try for a long while, with previous attempts failing at the first opportunity, but this time it seems to be sticking. I've managed to get a full month's worth of tracking in, and while it's not entirely useful data just yet due to some refinements of how I'm tracking certain activities (chiefly work and unintentional time during the day), I am picking up some patterns to work on. For example, it's usually about 45 minutes before I actually do anything in the morning, what with Reddit, news, and Facebook taking priority as a lazy mental activity. That's a fairly solid opportunity for improvement.

My mental health has been taking a nose dive though. Last week in particular was a particularly dark period, and the invasive thoughs have been particularly strong. But even that has ended well, and while I'm of a nervous disposition today (more on that tomorrow), overall I'm feeling pretty good, helped in no small part by trains and double sausage and egg McMuffins (extended cheat weekend; again, more on that tomorrow).

Ok, so on reflection the bad stuff isn't necessarily all bad. It's not great, but there's some sneaky wins in there that take away some of the sting. So, what about the good?

The Intentional Actions section of my yearly theme is where I'm shining the most.

My credit balance is slowly but surely heading downwards. I'm still putting bits on here and there, but I'm paying off more than I'm putting on combined with the interest. I'm considering a 0% interest balance transfer option, but nervous about another hit to my credit score when I want to be renegotiating my mortgage at the end of the year. I'm almost certainly being overly cautious, but I've been in bad credit situations before, and I'm not in a hurry to see my score drop. I am, however, finally finishing paying off my wife's engagement ring in May, so that's one less credit balance on my record.

Savings is where we're currently really shining. Even after bills and spare cash, we're putting aside roughly £800 a month. That'll go down slightly soon as the government energy assistance has finished, and my work are going to stop their cost of living assistance. On top of that, I'm expecting my fixed rate energy deal to jump up in July when it comes to renegotiating, especially as we've built up a fair bit of dept of the winter months with the central heating.

However, I'm hopeful we can keep that to under £250, having been paying £159 a month so far and using around £200 on average each month. Plus, the first thing we're currently saving for is a new boiler (our current on is around 13 years old, so well past replacing) and a power flush of the system. If I can get some thermostatic valves too, we should be able to reduce our energy usage in the next contract period.

Time spent on hobbies is on the up too. Reading, in particular, is one I'm most proud of. I've already read five books, so well on track to top last year's six. It's helped that my wife and I have fallen into the pattern of having a quiet Sunday afternoon. Her with a book or knitting on one end of the sofa; me on the other end with mine; the dog flitting between us, cuddling up to withever suits him best for a while; and a good solid amount of wine drank between us. That, plus getting into better night time habits has upped my reading intake.

The other thing that's helped is my choice of literature. In fact, I've consumed some decent art throughout the year. I've just finished The Shining, a book that's been on my wish list for some time. Before that, I listened to Turtles All The Way Down by John Green and No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy on Audible, and I started the year reading I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, demolishing that in three days and cementing that as one of my all time favourite books. The only one I've read so far that wasn't stellar was Holding by Graham Norton; the ITV drama took the characters in a much more interesting direction.

Outside of that though, I've been trying to make an effort listening to new music, mostly through Apple Music playlists like their Folktronica and Chillwave, but also through Pitchfork recommendations. I also finally saw The Bear on Disney+, and Coda on Apple TV, which was every bit as phenomenal as the awards implied. In particular, the scene where Ruby and MIles have their duet while the audio cuts off to show your Ruby's deaf parents, Frank and Jackie, perspective in the audience crushed me.

While my productivity system is a mess, I haven't let it stop me from doing things. I'm taking slow steps to improve my career prospects, both through networking internally, and improving my pre-existing skillset in Scrum and business analysis. I've also been talking to some old contacts about a possible job opportunity, which if it comes through will solve a number of issues for us.

I've been pushing on with small house projects, re-organising spaces and putting together some new cupboard inserts for our TV stand. We've started thinking about some ides for the garden, which will almost certainly require hiring a gardener (another problem solved by an increased salary), and gradually getting back on top of housework. Little things, here any there, which makes me question: do I really need a system?

The answer is emphatically yes. While things are 'ok', there's still a lot of drawbacks to just winging it. I've missed ordering pills, both for myself and the dog. I've still not even started on anything to do with the guttering, or sorting out replacement spotlights, or filled in some of the holes in the plaster, and so on and so forth.

It's not time that's causing the issue, or even tiredness really. It's decision fatigue, caused by the jumble of things in my head and a mistrust of my system, and then it's the effort required to resolve it. Again, nothing is falling down: the house is still solidly around me, and I'm not in any real danger of the unemployment line any time soon, so there's no red level urgency around it. But a lot of things would be improved if I just sat down and hashed it all out, including my mental state.

Just before I finish up, the final part of the theme I haven't touched on is Intentional Relationships. It's a tough one, sitting in both the good and bad sections.

One of the one hand, my relationship with my wife is ever stronger. Our peaceful Sundays and evening routines have cemented some quality time for us both. We're talking more, talking deeply, and just Being. We could use a bit more adventure in our lives, but overall, things have never been better.

On the friends and family count though, I'm lacking. I am trying, reaching out where I can, and I've typed most of this post on the train to and from meeting with my old work team. But in general, I'm very definitely creating a distance. Mostly because of the feeling of impending crisis, relating to that dark period I mentioned earlier, and just feeling like a mess. Far better to sit inside my cocoon that to venture out and put myself out there for people. In many respects, the blog is far easier; I can't see you reading, interacting, and judging. I can't see you get bored, or angry, or anything. But that one-way relationship is exactly that, one-way, and try as I might I'm still an inherently social creature. I need to get out there.

So on the whole, is it all as bad as I thought? Absolutely not. There's a few things that really need addressing - my system, my mental health, my mornings - but most things are either firmly in the positive or largely being addressed.

Meanwhile, the positive sections are firmly in the positive. My reading, my savings, my credit, our finances, my time tracking habit, my actions in general, especially relating to my career. I have a solid core to build on, and plenty of time to do so.

In terms of the next quarter, my main goal is to finalise my system and get to work on building trust in it again. Outside of that:

Doesn't seem all that difficult, right?

Word count: 2,032 Running total: 2,032/50,000 (4.06%, 365 words above target)

Thanks for reading! Through April, I’ll be writing here every day, aiming to hit 50,000 words total by the end. After that, I’ll be back to posting every Sunday. If you like what you read and want to follow on, you can subscribe via email or RSS.