A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article called Do It Now by Steve Pavlina:
When watching TV, read a computer magazine during commercials. If you're a male, read while shaving. I use an electric shaver and read during the 2-3 minutes it takes me to shave each day. This allows me to get through about two extra articles a week -- that's 100 extra articles a year, enough to keep up on a few monthly subscriptions.
When I read the passage above, I was slightly horrified. I don't mean any disrespect to the author; he is obviously a highly-organised, highly-motivated person who gets an enormous amount accomplished, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for that. My horror stemmed from the fact that I don't want this to happen to me. All of my organisational drives are towards one aim: to get the same amount of work done in less time and with less stress.
I don't want to do more work — I want more time to watch films, go for walks, spend time with my husband and friends, and more time to just daydream. If that sounds lazy, well, it probably is. However, I know from experience that when I have more of this 'pottering time', I'm more effective at work and more creative. Ideas seem to sidle up behind me and tap me on the shoulder when I'm doing something completely unrelated. If I sit down and actually try to think of new ideas, they elude me.
To explain how I got into this state, I need to tell you a story. When I was doing my PhD, I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Of course, I didn't know what it was straight away. CFS is only diagnosed when you've had the same symptoms for more than six months, and after all the diagnostic tests for frightening and serious illnesses with the same symptoms have come back negative. What I did know was that I was so tired I could hardly move (even after a good night's sleep), I felt as if I was thinking through treacle1, and I had agonising pains in my joints and muscles that meant I couldn't get comfortable. If you imagine having 'flu (real influenza, not the kind of heavy cold you call 'flu to get a day off work) continuously for about a year, you'll come close to the experience.
In the midst of my illness, I remember lying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling. There was a one-story extension with a flat roof below my window, and the sunlight reflected in the pools of water on the roof and beamed shifting waves on my ceiling. I don't know how long I lay there, but I remember just observing. At times CFS gave me an odd feeling of detachment. While my body and brain had no energy for any action, I was still enough to observe myself objectively. I never (ever) want to go through the experience again — I have enormous sympathy for people who have to put up with far worse conditions for their whole lives — I'm very grateful that it happened. It made me look at my life in a different way, and treasure the simplicity and clarity that comes when you just stop. It was also almost worth it for the sheer joy and exhilaration I found in being able to use my body again, after I had started to get better. I remember jogging around a park in Oxford at dusk and feeling as if I knew where every blood cell was in my body.
That's why I don't want to read while brushing my teeth. I want to enjoy the experience of brushing my teeth and letting my mind drift about.
1 I remember using this exact phrase to describe the experience to someone when I was ill, and got a little jolt last week when I read an article by a fellow former sufferer who used exactly the same wording.