Running Music

My original approach to running music was a heady mix of dance, pop, rap and rock.

However, I have recently found that the tranquil ambient sounds I use for ‘recovery’ runs work just as well for longer high-tempo runs.

The music is less intrusive. It is there and not there; fading into the background – allowing me to listen to my body and focus on my form. It may be simply happenstance but it has coincided with me posting personal best times for 10km over three consecutive weekends; including my fastest individual kilometre yet (5m 6s) this morning.

As such, I began to compile the various albums and tracks I have been running to into a playlist. It is a work in progress, but this mix might work for you too.

The Secret of Success

Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honourably.

~ Jiro Ono

I just finished watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi; a fascinating documentary about renowned Japanese sushi chef Jiro Ono. His opening words (above) sum up my lack of writing here and reduced engagement with social media over the past year. Work has consumed my time, or rather I have dedicated my time to work.

On Chasing the Right “Zero”

Yesterday, Merlin Mann shared his most recent thinking on ‘Inbox Zero’. You should read the whole post, but I wanted to share this bit in particular…

Put to best use, Inbox Zero is merely a philosophical practice of learning to be parsimonious about which and how many inputs we allow into into our lives—and, then, to responsibly but mindfully tend to those inputs in a way that is never allowed to hinder our personal commitment to doing the work that really matters to us.

Learning to "tend" (manage) multiple "inputs" (inboxes) effectively is important. However, it should not become "the work". Anything that vies for your attention is an inbox: RSS, Email, your todo list, Twitter. With so many inputs it is not hard to see why the idea of ‘Inbox Zero’ captures people’s imaginations. It is a goal and a tangible one. However, the truth, as Merlin so eloquently explains, is not so rosy. The time and attention that is often given to achieving such a goal directly reduces the time and attention given to the things that matter.

I have been guilty of tweeting with glee when I have emptied my email inbox or read through every item in my read later list. However, in listening to Merlin talk about time and attention on his podcast Back to Work, I have come to understand that there is a better way to achieve ‘Inbox Zero’. I have learned to live with keeping a few items in my email inbox; I have learned not to fret as I keep adding items to my read later list; and I have also learned not to get stressed out if I have to keep putting off a job in my todo list.

You see, most importantly I have learned to "tend" my inboxes less frequently. I think it still panics some of my colleagues when they ask me "Have I read this or that email yet?", and I answer "No", explaining that my email has been closed while I have been teaching. During my lessons I am giving "zero" attention to my inboxes and 100% attention to my students. After all, that is why I am there right? So, why would I put my time and attention elsewhere?

To do "the work that really matters" you have to find focus. You have to give it the time and attention it deserves. So, please close your other inboxes and take a moment to read Merlin’s post… there is much to be gleaned from his words.

Why the rush?

Stop what you are doing.

Close your eyes and listen.

Listen to yourself breathe.

Do you hear it?

Keep listening. Listen for two whole minutes.

What happened?

Your breathing slowed, and so did your heart rate. It returned to normal.

The speed at which your heart was beating when you first began to listen was not normal.

You were breathing quicker; your heart was beating faster becuase you have bought into ‘rush culture’.

Deadlines, fast food, email, Google, notifications… all work to put you in a state where you think it’s normal to rush; to expect things to be fast; to be instant. They demand your attention and your energy.

‘Rush culture’ will leave you out of breath. It limits your ability to think, to reflect, to ponder. It raises your expectations falsely, increasing disappointment. It makes you believe that fast is best and instant is even better.

The truth is that ‘rush culture’ is distracting you from the things that matter. And perhaps more pertinently, ‘rush culture’ is bad for your health.

So ask yourself: ‘Why the rush?’

If you leave five minutes early and drive to work a little slower, will it make the journey worse?

If your food takes a few more minutes to arrive at your table, will your meal be any less enjoyable?

If you check your email twice a day instead of every five minutes, will it really make you less effective at your job?

If use a dictionary instead of Google, will the results be any different or less valid?

If you turn off notifications on your phone, will you really miss out on anything important?

The answer?

No!

In fact, you will find that taking a slower journey to work makes you more mindful of your surroundings. You’ll take pleasure in the journey, enjoying the scenary as you travel.

You will find that saying no to fast food, not only improves your health but you begin to enjoy the wait. As the chef prepares your meal, you will have the time to reflect, or to enjoy the company of the person you are dining with.

You will find that only checking your email twice a day makes you a more productive person. You will be distracted less, allowing you to focus on ‘the work’.

You will find that using a Dictionary instead of Google, replaces the buzz of instantaneous results with a more wholesome pleasure. A pleasure that is punctuated by forgotten experiences, such as the smell and feel of the pages.

You will find that turning off notifications (even turning your phone off altogether) makes you more present; able to enjoy time with a loved one more fully.

The problem?

Instant results, fast food, constant connection, are all very appealing. It’s the appeal that is the problem.

‘Rush culture’ is like a drug, it appeals to your senses, promising the instant hit and the constant buzz. And too many of us, buy into it, without ever considering what it’s doing to our health.

There is so much to be gained from slowing down, from removing pressures and limiting distractions.

So, go back to the start, close your eyes and listen… contemplate, reflect, ask yourself: ‘Why the rush?’

Absence, Priorities, Focus and Reflection

Some of you will have noticed that my presence online, both here and on Twitter, has been significantly sporadic since September last year. This extended absence (for want of a better word) has been a choice. One that was predicated by my need to prioritise specific jobs, projects and interests over others.

While I will not be naive and proclaim that I am back full time blogging and tweeting, it is my intention, over the next couple of months, for normal service to resume. In light of this I felt it pertinent to give an overview of how I have been spending my time and what you are likely to be reading about in future posts.

The main reason that I have not been blogging and tweeting regularly is that I have been putting a significant amount of my time, outside of the classroom, into the MA in Education that I am studying towards. I am currently editing my final Module Assignment on Independent Learning, and have begun in earnest the preparation for my dissertation.

The current modules I am working through will be familiar to any of you who have completed an MA in Education.

As I plan to write my dissertation publicly online, I have also opted to write the multiple assignments (related to each of the above modules) publicly as well. The documents at the moment are in very rough form with ideas, notes and links being gathered as I research and complete reading.

I am thoroughly enjoying my studies. I did believe that I was already a highly effective learner in terms of research, reflection and criticality however the academic process has opened up a number of new approaches to learning for both myself and by proxy for my students. The impact my studies have had on my students is something I definitely plan to write about in future posts.

Moreover, I am particularly excited about the prospects of completing my dissertation and the depth of academic study that it is going to involve. I have tentatively begun to work on drilling down my research question. Currently it is too broad but as some of you may be interested, here it is in its current form:

Are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning in the 21st century?

In addition to committing more time towards the MA, I also felt that I needed to focus on two specific areas of my teaching. I am both Leader for Media Studies and Key Stage 4 English. Balancing the two roles can be quite difficult. They both demand my time cut come with very different levels of pressure.

While our A2 Media Results were excellent again, they were not up to the standard that I have come to expect. Having completed closer analysis of the results I found that the exam module was the weakest area. I decided that I would take on the teaching of this year’s A2 group on my own, in order to re-develop both the content of the exam module and to re-evaluate the learning structure that we have had in place for A2 students for over five years now.

The most significant change has been the development of the new exam module. I decided to move away from ‘Media Regulation’ and tackle something a bit more theoretical in the shape of ‘Postmodern Media’. While it has been time consuming, it has been a throughly enjoyable process completing the necessary reading and research before piecing together a scheme of work and resources. You can get an insight into how this is going (as well as copies of various resources) at: Media @ CCC.

I also wanted to focus on the continued development of the new KS4 English curriculum. It has been a significant (and welcomed) change for the department. Not only due to new texts and the introduction of the much discussed ‘Spoken Language’ unit but also, due to some restructuring in terms of Controlled Assessment and the timing of exam modules. I now feel that we are coming out of the back of that process far wiser and ready to develop it further in the future.

Finally, I am an avid reader of Patrick Rhone’s writing:

As a Minimal Mac patron, I have been fortunate to get a direct insight into writing of his upcoming book: Enough. As part of the research process for the book, Patrick would spend time evaluating his use of various tools and services – sometimes by not using them at all. I wished to get some perspective not only on my blog but how I organised/used my online life and the impact it was having (positive and negative) on my day to day life. To do this it was helpful to stop/tinker with the various facets of my online self. I am still reflecting on this and drawing conclusions. Sufficed to say that this will be something I will be writing about in future posts. One thing I am certain of. Blogging (reflecting) as a process is very important to me and is something that I plan to continue to evaluate my use of in the immediate future.

The time away from blogging/tweeting has been useful and allowed me to re-align my time and energy with what I believe to be my priorities. With that I will close. If you questions about anything I have discussed above please don’t hesitate to comment below or get in touch via Twitter @jamesmichie.