A post about my first official talk as a volunteer speaker for JDRF
Earlier this year I trained as an official volunteer speaker for the JDRF, the leading charitable fundraiser for research into a cure for Type 1 diabetes, which affects both my husband and our daughter. The training day was held at the the London headquarters of the UK branch of this global charity, bringing together dozens of volunteers whose lives had been affected in some way by this incurable, serious disease. We had an uplifting, inevitably emotional day sharing our experiences as we practised our talks. For some participants, it was the first time they’d ever talked publicly about their illness (or their child’s, depending on who had it).
For the start of the new academic year, a new post outlining a way of using school timetable methods to manage an adult’s workload
Enviously examining my daughter’s beautiful school journal, provided by her new secondary school to help pupils manage their school timetable, homework and extra-curricular activities, I realised that I’ve been missing an obvious trick for my own time management: using an academic diary to manage my workload.
If, like me, you work from home, or just want to get more out of the hours in your day, I hope my new time management plan, outlined below, will help you.
My Working Day
During my many years of marching to the beat of an employer’s drum, I often had to complete time-sheets to demonstrate how many hours I’d worked on various client contracts. Now those days are behind me, and I have the luxury of working full time from home. My natural antipathy to housework ensures I’m not tempted to leave my desk other than for a mid-morning tea-break and lunch, scheduled to ensure I stretch and breathe, and to reassure my retired husband that I haven’t forgotten his existence.
The pattern of my working day is geared around my eleven-year-old daughter’s school timetable. Since she started secondary school (high school) last week, I’ve gained an extra hour, as she leaves homes nearly an hour earlier than when she was attending the village school. It’s as if the clocks have gone back an hour: I’m normally at my desk by 8am.
Everyone tells me that as children get older they need you more, rather than less, so I take time out when Laura gets home to talk to her about her day, supervise homework and take her to evening activities (flute lessons, Guides, Youth Club, Stagecoach and tea at Grandma’s – phew!) But I can usually grab an hour or two of time in the evening after she’s gone to bed.
My To-Do List
A combination of regular paid work, short-term contracts, public speaking gigs and speculative personal writing projects means my workload is busy and varied, and I’m never, ever bored, but trying to squeeze such a mixed agenda into a fixed time-frame is challenging. It can be frustrating to feel that I’ve worked all hours, cutting corners on sleep, without achieving all that I need to do. As a result, my to-do lists can often be classed as works of fiction. I’m also conscious that I should be getting more exercise, and would like to squeeze in a thirty-minute daily walk.
It’s a classic problem for self-employed creative types: to be full of ideas, enthusiasm and energy, but to fail on the practical side, overpromising and underdelivering. Even if your only client is yourself, rather than a paid customer, as when you’ve committed to yourself to write a short story or novel, it can be disheartening, and end up sapping your creativity as well as your income.
My New Plan
I’m therefore uplifted by by new plan, which is to follow the structure and principles of a typical school timetable to make the finite number of hours more productive:
start with a grid of available time slots, broken down into short segments that match a realistic concentration span (no more than two hours each)
create a list of “subjects” (e.g. blog posts, articles, fiction or non-fiction writing projects, contract work, planning, financial management)
allocate an appropriate number of periods per week to each subject, according to their priority (writing projects every day, financial management weekly)
schedule the slots into a grid in a varied pattern that reflects when the different parts of my brain work best (creative writing first thing, admin later in the day)
include some free time for rest and refreshment (mid-morning playtime, sociable lunch break)
allow some free periods for contingency e.g. for rescheduling an activity if I need to go out for an appointment during its allocated time slot (I usually go out at least once a week to meet an author friend for coffee or to take a brief for a new contract)
I’m resisting the urge to dash out to the shops now and buy a shiny new academic year diary, complete with timetable to fill in. Instead, I’m going to create a template on my computer and print it out at the start of each week, adding details of the specific projects I need to complete each week. I’m also going to schedule a series of “school bells” on my phone to make sure I move on to the next “class” as necessary during the day. If not, it’ll be detention time for me!
Will it work for me? Will it work for you? Only time will tell. I’m just trying not to be discouraged by the fact that I’ve just drafted this blog post in a time slot I’d allocated for fiction writing…
Do you have any top tips for time management that you’d like to share here? Please feel free to join the conversation via the comments box below.
If you liked this post, you’ll find my daughter’s attitude to action-lists entertaining, in this post from the archives:
A post about a curious incident after my daughter’s flute exam
Having long ago given in to the classic parenting trap of bribing one’s child through traumatic events, I agreed that after my eleven-year-old daughter Laura had taken her flute exam, I’d treat her to a trip to the nearest shopping mall, Cabot Circus.
Her flute exam fell at a bad time: the day of the annual school concert at the village school during her final few days there before moving up to secondary school. The exam was to be held at Bristol Music School in Clifton, in the centre of Bristol, 20 miles away from our village. Attending the exam meant she had to miss not only afternoon school but also the first of the two concert performances.
I duly collected Laura and her flute from school, and we drove into town. As we neared the Music School, we passed dozens of smiling new university graduates with proud parents, attending their degree ceremony in the Wills Memorial Building. As I watched them milling about, I did a simultaneous flash back to my own degree day, in my pink dress and grey gown with my parents up in York years ago, and a flash forward to Laura’s in 10 years time. Where did her first 11 years go? I wondered, panicking about finding a parking space with so many extra visitors in town.
Despite the heat, Laura was playing it cool: it takes a lot to faze her. She’d been practising hard on her flute for the previous few days, and if she was nervous, she was hiding it better than her mother was. We arrived in plenty of time, the exam was over quickly, and Laura remained calm throughout, focused instead on the promised Krispy Kreme doughnut that awaited her at Cabot Circus.
Parking at Cabot Circus was easier than in Clifton: we simply drove up the spiral ramp to the fourth floor of the multi-storey car park and straight ahead into an empty space. With one eye on the clock, as we had to be back at school for the 5pm concert, we did a quick tour of the toy shop to spend her birthday money, wrapped ourselves around a couple of doughnuts, and returned to the car.
The Missing Car
Or so was our plan. When we arrived back at the top of the ramp on the fourth floor, my car was not there. In its place was an almost-identical one – charcoal grey instead of smoke grey, a couple of years newer, and, I admit it, with fewer dents. But it was in exactly the same place. Laura, whose memory is much better than mine, assured me we had indeed parked on the fourth floor, but we agreed to check the exact same spot on the third and the fifth floors just in case.
My car was not there either. Realising that not only were we now on a tight timescale to get back to school for the concert, but that also locked in the car book were Laura’s flute, music and Heather the rabbit, her favourite and irreplaceable cuddly toy, I began to panic and theorise about this disaster. Perhaps the owner of the darker car had a key which matched ours, had parked next to us and got into the wrong car to depart by mistake?
The Search is On
Thinking as fast as my now pounding heart, I grabbed Laura by the hand and whisked her down to the attendants’ office on the ground floor to explain our plight. The couple of chaps in there were kind and patient. They took down the details of the car and where I’d left it, before running a very clever search by licence plate on their security camera, which played back a recording of us driving in earlier. They then despatched their junior staff member to find it. Moments later, he buzzed through to say he had indeed found our car, and we were instructed to meet him at the lift on the fourth floor.
So we were right, it was the fourth floor! But we were puzzled as to how he could have found it so quickly. Had the driver of the darker car realised his mistake just the minute before and returned ours to swap it back again?
All was revealed when we arrived back on the fourth floor. The waiting attendant patiently pointed us in the direction of our car, which was awaiting at the top of the ramp. But, it emerged, there were TWO spiral ramps on this side of the building: one going up and one going down. We’d looked at the top of the down ramp instead of the up. Well, who knew?
“We’ve never lost a car yet since we opened,” the attendant assured me, smiling proudly as he waved us off.
Relieved to retrieve car, flute and rabbit and to be on our way back to school in time for Laura’s concert performance, I wondered how I’d managed to be so stupid, when we were so geared up for action earlier on. Then it occurred to me: the minute the flute exam was over, our adrenalin surge had stopped, our brains had cranked down a few notches, and we’d relaxed and stopped thinking strategically. We were no longer primed for fight or flight, and in fact were not fit for either. No wonder we couldn’t find the car.
It was only later that I discovered that between leaving the exam centre and getting home that I’d also managed to lose my glasses.
But the good news is: we’ve just heard Laura passed her flute exam. Thank goodness for that! Parental duty done.
A post about my most recent appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, including a link to enable you to hear the show if you missed it
“Every Saturday we like to talk live to an interesting guest between 1pm and 2pm” said an email from BBC Radio Gloucestershire that popped up in my inbox last Thursday, inviting me to appear on Manpreet Mellhi’s show last weekend.
I’ve blogged previously about my appearance on this regional BBC radio programme, and it’s always been a pleasure to be asked.The presenters are pleasant, genuine and passionate about the local community, and the station is highly regarded.
My answer to this latest invitation had of course to be “yes please!”
And so it came about that late morning saw me heading north in my car, through glorious sunny Cotswold lanes, with my satnav pointed in the direction of the Gloucester city centre studio, having spent part of Friday mulling over the stimulating list of questions sent in advance by the programme’s researchers. Pet hates, personal philosophy, favourite place in Gloucstershire – answers to all of these and more were requested, to help Manpreet, whom I’d never met before, prepare for our live on-air chat.
A Technical Hitch
So far, so good – until, with five minutes to spare, and a couple of minutes way from the BBC studios, my satnav switched itself off without warning, leaving me floundering as to which way I should be heading. Naturally, this had to be right at the point where one-way systems and the no-stopping zones kicked in, making it tricky to pull over and solve the problem.
Making split-second decisions, I veered off into the first side-street I could find with a safe place to stop and to give my satnav a firm rebuke. Using about the only technical piece of knowledge that I have about motoring, I realised that the problem was a blown fuse in the cigar lighter, into which the satnav lead is plugged. Fortunately, the only repair I’m capable of making to a car is to change a fuse, and I happened to have a couple of suitable sized fuses in the glove compartment. (Just as well there were a couple, as the first one blew straight away too.) Trying not to look at the clock, I plugged in the second replacement fuse, snapped the cover back on the fuse box, and fired up the satnav again. I reached the studio seconds before I was due to arrive, heart pounding, adrenalin still flowing.
Luckily for me, I was welcomed by a calm and sympathetic member of staff who plied me with a much-needed glass of water in the waiting area while the on-the-hour news report ran its course, and one of the station’s reporters, Joanna Durrant, stopped to catch up on each other’s news. (By chance, she’d been reporting that morning on a farming issue from a field near the village in which I live!)
Then I was welcomed by Manpreet herself into the cool, air-conditioned, sound-proofed studios, where all was calm. I started my interview with a big smile, triggered by the introductory music they’d chosen for me: the theme from “Murder, She Wrote”!
Manpreet is an avid reader and we had a wide-ranging chat about books and the nature of reading, about favourite childhood books and the importance of also reading outside your comfort zone. While we had heaps in common – including a deep respect for the wisdom of independent bookshop staff – there were also new things to share. She was particularly taken by the idea of flash fiction, which she’d not come across before, and in how self-publishing is democratising the publishing process for authors. Manpreet also took an interest in my book about Type 1 diabetes, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise her listeners’ awareness of what it is and how it affects everyday life for those with the misfortune to contract it (like my husband and our daughter).
And We’re Clear…
As ever, I was impressed by how simple these professionals make it look to guide lively, wide-ranging conversations, within very precise time constraints, interspersing scheduled interruptions such as time checks, weather reports, news bulletins and alerts for later programmes – all while talking naturally and with as much warmth as if you were just sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend. By the end of our appointed hour – just the middle hour of Manpreet’s three-hour broadcast marathon – I was exhausted! But I left the studio with a smile and a skip back out into the sunshine, and when my satnav went haywire again on the way home, I didn’t care – I just enjoyed the scenic journey home in the sunshine, feeling grateful as ever to live in such a wonderful part of the country, served by our fine national broadcasting station.
Listen To The Interview Here
UK residents may catch the programme on the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service till the end of this Friday, but thanks to kind help of the station’s staff, I am also able to share the broadcast with you here via an .MP3 file, preserved here for posterity.
Thanks again to Manpreet, Zoe, Gemma, Joanna and team for their hospitality and help, and to BBC Radio Gloucestershire for their kind permission to share the recording via my website.
(A post written to mark the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes)
Getting ready to celebrate my daughter Laura’s 11th birthday in 13 days’ time, I can’t help remembering that seven years ago on this day, I was hoping that we’d be out of hospital in time to celebrate her fourth birthday party.
What were we doing in hospital? We’d been urgently despatched by our lovely family doctor, Dr Mather. She’d alerted A&E (aka the Emergency Room) at Bristol Children’s Hospital to expect our arrival.
It was imperative that we were seen straight away to reduce the chance of Laura becoming dangerously ill.
“Are you in a fit state to drive?” Dr Mather asked. “If not, I’ll call an ambulance to blue-light you there.”
With adrenalin surging from the shock of the diagnosis, we were almost in a fit state to fly there, Superman-style, to save our baby.
All Change with Type 1 Diabetes
That was the start of a whole new way of life for us, accommodating the daily need to do things that fly in the face of maternal instinct:
to stick needles in in my child to deliver life-preserving insulin
to prick her fingers, lots of times, every day, to draw blood to test it was neither dangerously high or low
It’s a balancing act, always, 24/7, 365 days of the year. Until a cure is found, there’s never a day off, because if we stopped doing those things, she’d be dead within days. Managing Type 1 diabetes is not for the faint-hearted. But being faint-hearted is not an option.
Seven years feels like it should be a magic number. It’s a special anniversary when people are meant to become suddenly desirous for change or take off in new directions in search of freedom.
There’s no magic here today, except the evidence, as every day, of the wonders of modern medicine and the compassion of our NHS (National Health Service) that supplies us with the resources we need to keep Laura alive.
Another Sea Change
When Laura was diagnosed, we were just getting ready for her to move up from playgroup to school. That’s enough change to challenge any family without the complication of serious illness, but hey, when it’s your kid, you deal with it.
Now she’s poised to move up to secondary school. Next week, as her final fling at the village school, she’ll be doing her SATS exams – the tests that the government imposes on every child in Britain at this stage. The school has been preparing the children for SATS since January, and the stress of SATS is bad enough for children (and parents!) who don’t have special health care needs.
But for Laura, she’ll have the added challenge of taking exams while trying to keep her blood sugar level. Stress can have two effects on a diabetic – it can send them very high or very low. Either state is not ideal for sitting exams – it can make you feel faint, drunk, angry, scared, tearful. Or it might have no effect at all. Trouble is, you don’t know how it will affect you till you’re there.
The supposed treat of a class breakfast in school at the start of each examination day adds further complexity. Moving away from her normal breakfast routine adds risk: if we miscalculate her insulin dose to deal with whatever she chooses there for breakfast, it could scupper her blood sugar for during the exam. But we don’t want to stop her from going to the breakfast, because it’s important for her emotional and psychological well-being not to feel different from her classmates – another potential source of distress.
Fortunately Laura is the most laid-back person I know.
“I’m not worried about SATS,” she assured me yesterday. “I think doing tests is quite fun.”
She’ll be fine, I’m sure. She’s bright, she’s thorough, she has a strong work ethic. She’s not spending the weekend worrying about her SATS – she’s completely absorbed in setting up a Eurovision Song Contest final for her cuddly toys.
Yes, she’s doing fine. But I still wish we could ditch the diabetes, seven years on.
In November, I’ll be launching a paperback of the ebook I published last World Diabetes Day, to raise funds to search for a cure. All proceeds are going to JDRF, the leading charitable funder of Type 1 diabetes research. If you’d like to read the e-book in the meantime, it’s available exclusively via Amazon on Kindle for now, wherever you are in the world. (More info here.) If you’d like to be alerted via email when the paperback is available, please sign up for my mailing list here.