Be flexible and be open to trying new ingredients. You may not get everything that you want when you go shopping. Use this as an opportunity to buy things that you haven’t tried before and look up ideas about how to use them.
2. Eat more beans and lentils
Not everyone likes eating lentils or knows what to do with them. There are though some great recipes that you can make with them, varying from Indian dals to a lentil loaf for a vegetarian roast lunch.
3. keep in touch
Try to maintain face to face contact with friends, family
and colleagues using programs such as Skype or Facetime. You may not have used
these before, but this is your opportunity to learn. Schedule a virtual coffee
or even a lunch with a friend to catch up.
4. read books
Go to the library. As more and more of us use the internet
to keep in touch our bandwith may be reduced. Make sure that you’ve got some
good old-fashioned paper books at hand. It will also give your eyes a rest from
looking at a screen.
5. get some fresh air
Whilst we’re still allowed out try going for a walk every day. Without that daily commute you’ll have more time in your day. The weather will hopefully improve over the coming weeks and the days will certainly lengthen. Enjoy thirty minutes in the fresh air. It will also help get you away from all those screens and give you a chance to enjoy nature.
6. grow your own
If you are lucky enough to have a garden, even a small one, how about growing some veg this year? Even a balcony would be enough to grow some salad leaves in containers or even a tomato plant if it’s a sheltered sunny spot.
7. have a routine
I’m all for getting dressed for work even when I’m not going out the door. I started to make more of an effort after listening to this podcast by Natalie Bacon. If you’re not used to working at home you may find this useful to distinguish between work time and personal time. Even if I don’t need to dress smartly I at least put on jeans and then when I’m finished work I change into my tracksuit bottoms. I also have a clear start to my work day, making myself a cup of coffee before I sit down and turn the computer on.
8. remain positive
Try to limit the amount of news that you consume. I think that
it can be tempting to get caught up in all the drama, but it can also lead to unnecessary
worry. Keep yourself informed, but otherwise try to focus on other things which
create more positivity in your life.
9. improve yourself
Make the most of extra time, using it as an opportunity for
learning instead of maybe watching too much TV. There’s lots of on line courses
or even You Tube videos from which you can learn loads of different skills.
10. improve your home
Take the opportunity to do those DIY jobs that you’ve been putting off for years or even months. Maybe even have a spring clean. It will also be the chance to have a look in the back of those cupboards to find those ingredients you bought but never used. They might just come in handy.
Finally, just take care of yourselves and your family over the coming months. Let me know your ideas for how to manage our time and our minds as we move into uncharted waters.
In this third post looking at the book ‘Deep Work’, by Cal Newport, I’m going to take you through his second rule, entitled ‘Embrace Boredom‘. In a nutshell, this is about learning to live without distractions. It also includes tips and ideas for learning to concentrate better and focus your mind on challenging problems.
I was recently reminded of the rarity of just sitting alone by this recent post from Hustle Escape. With smartphones as our constant companions we very rarely just sit and do nothing. Waiting in the queue at the supermarket checkout we spend the time looking at our phones. On the train home from work no one talks to each other, they’re all just looking at their phones. According to Cal you need to wean your mind from this type of behaviour. If you don’t you’ll struggle to achieve the level of concentration required for deep work.
Take Breaks from Focus, not
Instead of constantly checking your email and what the authors of ‘Make Time’, John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp, call ‘infinity pools’, e.g. Twitter and Facebook, schedule times to do this. Outside of those times you need to avoid social media and other internet distractions altogether. Cal Newport suggests writing down on a piece of paper the next time you’re allowed to use the internet. He says that it’s not the service itself which reduces your brain’s ability to focus. It’s the constant switching from low stimuli/high value activities to high stimuli/low value activities at the slightest hint of boredom or when you’re trying to do an intellectually taxing task, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty.
Three points to consider
If you have to spend a lot of time answering emails in your job, just schedule lots of blocks of time to do this, rather than switching back and fore between deep work tasks and email activity.
You must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from internet use. Basically, close your emails down so they don’t pop up as you’re doing deep work and distract you. Put your phone on silent when you’re having focused time. I do this with my personal mobile. I need to learn to do the same with my work one, as nothing is ever that urgent that it can’t wait, but I’ve resisted this.
Scheduling internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training. It might be that what you do in the evenings and on weekends is undoing all that great training that you’re doing for your brain when you’re at work. Try the same techniques in your personal life. When you’re spending time with your family put your phone in another room and agree just to look at it when the kids have gone to bed.
One tactic for getting yourself to focus on a task is to set yourself a tight deadline. It will mean that you have to concentrate intensely on finishing the project. You won’t have time for distractions. I must admit I have never been one to work this way as tight deadlines stress me, although I know many people who seem to leave tasks until the eleventh hour and are able to work all night to get them done.
We’ve all heard about sitting in a chair, or even cross-legged, quietly for a few minutes and the benefits that this can bring. I’ve even written a post about it, but Cal suggests a different type of meditation. This is where you are doing something physically e.g. walking or showering and during that time you focus your attention on a specific problem. When you are distracted you need to bring your mind back to the challenge that you’ve set yourself. I’ve not tried this in such an intentional way, although I do find that my mind will mull over problems when I’m driving (if I’m not listening to a podcast that is) or over the summer, gardening is a task that allows my mind to wander. According to Cal, as a rule you should try to do this two to three times a week.
So there we are, some really practical ideas for how to achieve the goal of deep work. For me it is something that I am still working on, but I do feel that I have improved my ability to concentrate, particularly in the afternoon, which I used to find really difficult during that ‘post lunch dip’ period. Have you tried any of Cal’s advice from my previous posts? I would love to know how you got on?
My dearest friends, how was February for you? It’s been a fairly quiet month in the Simple household.
On the home front Mr Simple has made great strides with the master bedroom. There’s still a long way to go, but he’s demolished all of the old fitted wardrobes, rewired much of the room – fitting new sockets where we need them – bought new radiators and has arranged for a plumber to come and fit them. This Friday I have the day off and we plan to go shopping for new fitted wardrobes.
plans for the summer
I’ve spent a lot of this month booking holidays. We usually go to France every year, but didn’t do so in 2019. This year we are going in June and I have finally got around to booking the ferry, two B&Bs and the cottage for the second week. In the past few years June has been very warm and I’m hoping that 2020 will be no different. I love hot weather. My ideal climate is one where you can eat breakfast outdoors. I then finished planning my holiday with my mother. Last year we went on an organised trip to Italy, but this year we are doing our usual thing of staying in Britain and visiting gardens. This means that I have to plan and book the itinerary.
I went for my annual dental check and didn’t need anything doing, not even a scale and polish. Don’t have to go again for another year. I then had an eye test and my eyes are looking healthy and I don’t need new glasses. I had been saving money every month over the last two years towards a new pair of spectacles and now I can spend it on something else. At the beginning of February I thought that I was coming down with a cold and took some high strength vitamin C tablets. Either they worked like a treat or my suspicions were wrong as I didn’t get sick.
We had an excellent talk at the village WI. A really interesting speaker who has visited us before. To be honest I think that he could speak about paint drying and we would all be glued. I also met up with a friend. Our usual pub wasn’t serving food that night and so we spent a bit more than normal, but I really enjoyed catching up. She is the sort of person who is really interested in what you have to say. Unfortunately those type of people seem few and far between nowadays as I find others spend time just talking about themselves.
Our village cinema showed ‘Green Book’ about a Black musician travelling around the deep South in the early sixties. I had a can of lager, which comes as part of the ticket price, but woke up with a headache the following morning. I am such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. I like the idea of it, but often regret it the next day. This week they are showing ‘Judy’ with Renee Zellweger and I have decided that I am not going to drink.
some good news
Mr Simple has been passed some extra work by an ex-colleague, so that’s been good news. It’s only about an hour’s drive away, so he can go there and back in a day, unlike his other work which involves a very early start and staying away overnight.
investing in myself
Although I saved money on new spectacles this month I blew what I saved on joining Natalie Bacon’s ‘Grow You’ coaching programme. It’s something that I have been thinking about for a while. I love her podcast and find so much of what she says very helpful in day to day life. The cost is the equivalent of £34 per month, which as she says is like a gym membership. Each month there is a different topic, with a video, a workbook and various live group coaching sessions and question and answer sessions. You can either join the calls live (although that’s difficult when I don’t live in the States) or listen to them afterwards. So far I am really enjoying it and hope to learn even more about managing my emotions and pursuing my goals.
During the last week of the month
I had to go into the city early in the morning i.e. catch the 8am train. I know
that for many people this is an everyday occurrence, but I have got so used to
having time in the morning to read, jog, mediate and have a leisurely
breakfast. I forget how lucky I am until I have a busy week, which is most
people’s regular week.
dreaming about the future
My pension provider has a new website on which there is a modelling tool. You can vary the age at which you want to retire and play around with the lump sum you can withdraw. It’s great to see how much I would get if I retired at 55. Although it isn’t much and I would have to cut expenses, which would include getting rid of my car, it’s nice to think that it might just be an option, instead of the current plan to work part time from then.
progress on my goals
Looking back at the goals that I set
myself for the first quarter of the year I am not doing particularly well:
Improve diet – I am no longer fasting as Mr Simple questioned why I was doing this when I don’t need to lose weight. He suggested that I just have the low calorie meal with him in the evening, but apart from that I eat normally. Amazingly I lost one pound last week after I’d stopped fasting.
5000 steps – I managed this on sixteen out of the twenty-nine days in February, so just over 50% of the time. This was a very slight improvement on my performance in January, but certainly not good enough. Definitely need to work harder at this.
Physio exercises – when I saw the
physiotherapist last week he said that the usual lump in my shoulder muscle had
reduced in size, which is evidently good news. I had previously tried to come
up with a reward for this e.g. put the money saved on physio appointments
towards holidays, but an obvious use for it now is to pay for ‘Grow You’, which
works out at a similar monthly cost.
Jog x 3 – I usually manage twice a week, but the third one doesn’t always happen. It very much depends on my working week, which varies a great deal. If I don’t have any early starts then it’s doable, whereas if I need to catch the 8am train several days a week then I am just not committed enough to get up at 5am to do all that I need to do.
Twitter followers – I had completely forgotten that one of my goals was to increase my numbers. I did absolutely no work on this and have instead been creating pins for Pinterest to get new readers to the blog.
a minor crisis
Talking about the blog, I think that I am having a bit of an identity crisis. I can’t decide how I want to use it. Initially it started as a way of tracking my progress towards financial independence, but then when you see so many successful bloggers making tons of money, it’s easy to say, ‘yes, I’d like a bit of that’, but the reality is that it’s really hard work. If you want to produce lots of good quality content and grow your email list then blogging is not just a hobby, but a second job. Blogging about my progress enables me to measure and examine how I’m doing, but it’s not that useful to other people. I have done some posts about the personal development books that I am reading, but it does take a lot of work to condense down all the information into a post. At times I have thought about giving up, but blogging makes me think about my life and it’s great when others do read it and get something out of it. I’ll just have to see how I go over the next few months.
Anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings. There’ll be another post along shortly to let you know my figures for the month. Until then, I hope that your February went well and like me you’ve been able to enjoy a bit of sunshine over the past few days. It’s nice to be into March. The daffodils are out and cheering up the place, so spring is definitely on its way!
The food budget is one of the big three spending categories that those of us who are aiming for FI/RE try to reduce. The challenge is to get a balance between still being able to eat meals that you enjoy whilst keeping your spending fairly modest.
So that we could have a closer look at how I’m spending my money last month I kept every receipt for all of the food items that I bought. I then planned to have a look at where I was using these ingredients, but the trouble is that some of the items that I used were purchased in January and this week I bought groceries that we won’t be eating until next week or later on in March.
Problems aside, February was an average month though and has given me an idea about where my hard-earned cash is going, so let’s have a look at my spending and some meals that we ate. The amounts below are how much I personally have spent. If something seems cheap it’s because most of the items are split 50:50 with Mr Simple.
Treats for the weekend £13.90
Every month I purchase a few treats which we usually eat on the weekend. Although I regard them as treats, I have to say that they are fairly modest and I am certainly in no danger of blowing the food budget if I continue to buy them:
15 bottles Beck’s Blue £8, so 53p per bottle. I drink one on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night
Four packets salt and vinegar crisps £4 – each pack lasts me for three portions i.e. I eat one pack per weekend, so about 34p a portion
Hot cross buns £1.35 – a treat with a cup of tea at the weekend
Biscuits 55p – another occasional weekend treat
As I’ve mentioned before I make a monthly Tesco order online. Even though I have to pay £2/1.50 for the delivery, which comes out of the food budget, it saves me a lot of time and stress doing it this way. For the most part this is made up of the alcohol and crisps noted above and store cupboard, fridge and freezer items, which this month were:
Butter £4.50 – used in cooking and on toast if we remember to get it out to soften. Not easy in this weather and we don’t have a microwave.
Tea bags £1.50 – only used when making single cups of tea. Otherwise I use leaves in the tea pot.
Coconut milk 1 can 45p. Not used it yet.
Spreadable butter £3.30. It’s not cheap, but we prefer a butter-based one rather than margarine.
Sunflower oil 55p – for general cooking e.g. frying my mushrooms in the morning.
Cheddar cheese £1.50. Mr Simple eats most of this, although I do use it in cooking.
Loose tea 65p – lasts us for at least a month and I make at least one pot of tea a day and sometimes two.
Juice 69p – It’s high in sugar so we only drink this on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Tomato puree 25p
Root ginger 37p – for curry.
Ketchup £1.15 – chose to buy a more expensive brand, but we don’t use that much.
Garlic – 3 bulbs 24p for curry.
Greek style yogurt – £1.20 – I used to buy proper Greek yogurt, but have managed to find Greek style which doesn’t contain thickeners e.g. corn starch, just milk.
Almond milk x 3 £4.50. Much more expensive than cow’s milk. It is twice the price. Should I just drink cow juice?
Bread £2.94 – during the week we use the bread maker to make bread for toast and sandwiches. On the weekend I usually buy a baguette to go with soup at lunch time. Most months I buy strong bread flour, but we had plenty left last month.
Tinned tomatoes 84p – used in butterbean jalfrezi and curry.
Cream 33p – this was to eat with an apple crumble I made.
Smoked paprika 45p
Chocolate £2.50 – on non-fast days we have a square of chocolate each after dinner. We don’t often eat dessert and it’s nice to have a small sweet treat after our meal.
Frozen vegetables £1.59
Spinach 75p – not used. I use it to add to dal.
Peas 31p – always good for adding to curry for some extra
Sliced green beans 53p – went with stuffed mushrooms, cottage pie and with spices as a curry side dish.
Eggs £9.75 – I eat two eggs almost every day. We buy the eggs from a local farm. They aren’t as cheap as the supermarket, but it’s nice to support a small business and they are straight from the chickens. Works out at 34p a day. Not bad for a food that provides you with protein and so again not completely frugal, but it doesn’t blow the food budget.
The weekly shop is based on my menu planning and includes general fruit and vegetables as well as items I buy to make the recipes that I have chosen for that week.
Items for certain meals £8.18
Paneer 65p to make eight bhaji burgers, a Jamie Oliver recipe where you grate the paneer and some butternut squash, then mix it with curry paste.
Seeded buns 35p for four buns – to put the burgers in. We also had them with wraps that I made on one occasion. The buns were an indulgence, but not that expensive.
Dried green lentils 58p to make stuffed mushroom wellingtons, a lentil and walnut loaf and cottage pie.
Walnuts for nut loaf and a mushroom and walnut pie I’ve yet to make – two packets £2. They were on special offer.
Tofu x 2 £2.00 – we use this a lot in fast day meals such as jerk tofu and tofu tikka masala – still have half a packet in the freezer.
Filo pastry 95p for the mushroom and walnut pie I’ve yet to make.
Blue cheese £1.00 to go in a risotto, which wasn’t actually that nice. We had some left over which we ate with leek and potato soup and bread at the weekend.
Fresh custard 65p – to go with apple crumble – we still have three bags of apple already peeled, cored and sliced in the freezer, which I am trying to use up.
Fresh Vegetables £27.03
Mushrooms 48p for stuffed mushroom wellingtons.
Swede 40p – allotment cottage pie and as a side dish. I’ve found that diced boiled swede freezes well. Then just defrost it, mash it and warm it up.
Sweet potatoes £1.44 for breakfast and soup
Onions £1.16 – a good staple used in most dishes.
Potatoes £1.64 – in soup and on the cottage pie
Mushrooms £6.14 – all for breakfast. I do seem to spend a lot on mushrooms.
Cauliflower – 50p – cauliflower tikka masala – another recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Veg book.
Coriander £1.05 – to go on curry and a spicy soup that I made with sweet potato and a bit of butternut squash left over from last month
Red peppers £1.39 – in Butter bean jalfrezi and the tofu tikka
Half a cucumber 23p
Celeriac 62p – allotment cottage pie and added to the leek and potato soup
Spring onions 30p – for jerk tofu paste
Leeks £1.50 – in soup
Salad leaves £1.71 – eaten with a frozen pizza we had to eat up, with risotto, bhaji burgers and jerk tofu steaks
Calabrese 68p – as a side veg
Cabbage 40p – herby lentil savoy cabbage cobbler. Some left in freezer. Also shredded and cooked with grated carrot for thoran.
29p – allotment cottage pie and thoran. Will grate it to make salad as well.
Avocados £6.35 for breakfast. These are expensive and I do question whether I could forgo them.
There we are – my monthly food budget spending. I do feel that we don’t eat a lot of processed foods. As you can see the only ready-made foods are bread, hot cross buns and the filo pastry. Otherwise, everything is made fresh. I tend to take that for granted until I see what others are buying in the supermarket and realise that we do eat fairly healthily.
I know that we could spend less, but I think that we’ve about halved our food bill over the past year, so I don’t think we’re doing that bad. How does it compare to your food budget spending? Any ideas for where I could make cuts without living on rice and beans for the month?
I have finally finished making notes from ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport. It has taken me much longer than I expected, probably because it contains so much useful information. I had planned to write just one more post looking at his four rules, but the first rule alone is going to take up all of this post.
If you missed my first post on ‘The Benefits of Discovering Deep Work’, then take at look at it here, otherwise let’s get started…
The philosophies of deep work
The first rule is – Work Deeply i.e. implement his recommended way of working. Cal suggests four different ways in which you can go about trying to do this, which he calls ‘philosophies’.
Basically lock yourself away like a monk, ignore the modern world and do deep work. This is how some of the great minds of our time have written the texts that made them famous. Unfortunately this is not practical for most of us. I don’t think that my employer would be happy for me to take a couple of months off to go and live in the woods.
In this philosophy you spend whole days at a time, with a minimum of at least one whole day, doing deep work. Again, this may not be practical unless you have complete control over your time.
Have a set time each day during which you do deep work. This may be achievable if your days follow a set format. Unfortunately for me, no two days are the same, so having to do this would make it difficult for me.
Fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. At the beginning of the week or the end of the previous week, have a look at your calendar and see where there are gaps that you can allocate to doing deep work. This is the method that I have been trying to use and which Cal himself employs.
Once you have decided on when you are going to do your deep
work, Cal then gives you tips on how to actually achieve it.
Decide on a specific location in which to do deep work. Open plan offices are not a good place to focus. I have never understood why employers think that they are such a good idea. If you work in an open plan office and want to do deep work, I would suggest that you ask to work at home on some days. Alternatively you could try to block out noise distractions with ear plugs, but you can’t shut your eyes to cut out visual ones.
I am lucky in that I can work at home a lot. My office is at the front of the house and although I try to minimise distractions I still lose focus when someone walks past the house. I don’t want to close the curtains and sit in the dark, but I have considered buying a roller blind which would let in light, but block out the world.
Include various rituals as part of your routine e.g. start with a good cup of coffee, have a break part way through to take a walk and clear your mind. I suppose it’s a way of signalling to your body and mind that you are about to do some deep work. It’s a bit like brushing your teeth and putting your pyjamas on before bed. Your body knows that it’s time to wind down and think about going to sleep.
Decide what’s most important to you and focus on that during your deep work hours. You can’t do deep work all day every day, as it’s hard and your concentration is limited. Therefore you have to select the most important parts of your work to undertake during this time. For me this is writing reports, which is the culmination of all of my smaller tasks and what other people see.
This may be not be relevant to your role, but if it is you could work alongside someone else to push you both deeper in your work. You will also need to make time for your own individual deep work. An example would be if you are working in product development and want to bounce ideas off of someone else. You may be a scientist and deep discussions with a colleague may help you to make that breakthrough you so desperately want.
Have a set shutdown time at the end of the day and forget about work. This helps recharge the energy that you need to work deeply. It allows the conscious brain to switch off and the unconscious mind takes a turn in sorting through your most complex professional challenges.
According to Cal Newport, any work undertaken in the evening will not be ‘deep work’ and so will be less valuable. Without a break you may not be able to achieve quality deep work the following day. When later reflecting on this I realised that for those with caring responsibilities this may not be realistic. I know many women who finish work early in order to collect their children from school and be with them until they go to bed. After that they turn on the computer again and finish their working day.
Deep work is a new skill and from my recent experience, not easy. You need to practise regularly and hone your skills. You should routinely review what went well and what didn’t. Then change your practice accordingly. Over time you will hopefully get better at deep work.
In our working day there are so many interesting distractions, such as checking email or looking at our phones. It’s tempting to busy ourselves with these easier tasks, but they often bring less value to our work. It’s the more complex tasks, which take focus and commitment, that you need to master if you are going to progress. Whether it’s career advancement that you’re looking for or an ability to focus on your side hustles, both of which may help you on your road to financial independence, deep work may be the answer.
Fancy trying out ‘deep work’? I’d love to know how you get on. I’ll tell you about the three other rules next time. Until then, thanks for reading and take care.