plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

February 9, 2009

beating the winter blues

Filed under: productivity — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 12:19 pm

There’s a recession on. That’s fairly depressing in and of itself. In addition, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s still pretty wintry. Here in the UK it’s actually the most wintry it’s been for 18 years. Although there’s joy to be found in all seasons, lots of us suffer with mild depression during the winter months.

Self-medicating against depression is generally not a good idea – alcohol is a depressant, cannabis induces lethargy and *up* drugs are generally more quickly addictive. Herbal antidepressants aren’t necessarily safe because they are *natural*; deadly nightshade is natural, but you wouldn’t go around taking that.

Like a broken leg, serious depression is not cured by pulling yourself together and getting over things. Mental health problems should be investigated and appropriate treatment pursued which might include talk therapy and/or medication. An excellent resource in the UK if you are worried about your mental health is the charity MIND which has a whole range of fact sheets and is currently sponsoring an ad campaign (which I fully support) aiming to remove some of the stigma from mental health issues.

However there are quite a few things you can do to help with mild depression, and most of them are frugal:

  • get out in the fresh air and sunlight – SAD is exacerbated by lack of natural light, so take advantage of your lunch break and go for a stroll in the fresh air.
  • take some exercise – depression makes you tired and lethargic, but exercise actually helps you sleep better and can make you more alert. Something small like a 30 minute brisk walk is fairly achieveable and could really make a difference in how you feel
  • eat well – yes, I’m one of those people who spends much of their waking life thinking about food. But, eating the right foods (healthy balanced, including 5 fruit and veg a day) helps give you energy, which you can often lack in depression
  • talk to friends – human beings are social animals. Sometimes just talking to someone yabout the weather, or whatever can really lift your mood. And of course talking to someone you like about a topic that really interests you can do wonders. If you haven’t got any friends to meet up with, then make phone calls. Avoid the draining people though (you know who I mean) as they’ll only sap your energy and make things worse
  • plan something to look forward to – sometimes just the realisation that this will pass can lift your spirits, especially if you are feeling low because of the season / weather. A weekend away, or a day trip, or trying out a new hobby, or anything really that feels positive to you would probably be good.

Of course, one of the problems of depression is that you don’t really feel up to doing anything. Why not give something a try anyway? And honestly, any postive decision or movement is usually good for your mood, which means that it becomes a virtuous circle and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

August 14, 2008

time budgets

Filed under: productivity — Tags: , — plonkee @ 1:37 pm

Just like you have a fixed income, you also – but even more so – only have a fixed amount of time each week, and I’m guessing that you’re operating on the same 24 hours a day that I am (if not please let me know – I’m a sci fi geek). Keen to apply my budgeting skills to a new topic, I was inspired to plot out my typical week, which you can see in the beautiful diagram here. It turns out that I’m quite a busy person.

productive and unproductive time

There are a couple of things to note. You’ll see in the key that I’ve defined fluff (purple), and faff (white) as two separate sections. What do I mean by those? They’re both blocks of time when I’m not sure exactly what I do.

Fluff for me seems to consist of surfing the internet (especially icanhascheezburger, and Stumble Upon), or watching tv or reading a book – the key thing to note about fluff is that it happens when I’m too tired to be productive. I have tried being productive then, but actually the only reasonable alternative to mindless stuff is sleep. Which I also do sometimes.

Faff can also be those things, but it can also be productive, it’s when I do my grocery shopping or tidy up the house. About one weekend in three I’m doing something particular – meeting up with friends, or travelling or whatever which tends to take up all the fluff time that weekend.

not every week is the same

Another point is that this is a typical week. On average I travel on business one day a week, and do three activities. In reality there are quite a few weeks when I don’t travel at all, and others when I travel more than once in the week. If work clashes with activities, work will take precedence.

given my current outgoings, what can I afford?

I should pin this up so that I don’t get fancy harebrained schemes about adding another activity to the mix. I only have fluff time available – in a typical week there’s 11 hours of it, but a third of the time that’s taken up with my social life. Which leaves about 8 hours a week for tidying up, grocery shopping, other [fun] shopping, plus any new activity.

That crazy idea that I had for starting another degree part-time looks like it really is crazy. It was going to be a distance learning humanities/arts degree but completing it on schedule would require at least 8 hours a week, for 8 years. And if I don’t want to drop anything that I’m currently doing (and I don’t) I’d be more on the pace of 4 hours a week. Which means either making a half-hearted effort, or spending 16 years on it.

This is also why any great idea I ever have for another website turns out to be too time consuming, and why I’m feeling the need to take random days of leave just to catch up with myself.

I recommend figuring out what it is exactly that you do all day. It turns out that even thought I think know I’m lazy I actually don’t have all that much free time. On the other hand, my jam-packed schedule doesn’t mean that there isn’t time disappearing in a black hole. See the stuff in green? I’ve called that grooming, but I honestly have no idea what I do that takes me so long in the morning. All I know is that I never manage to leave the house before 8, and yet my alarm goes off at 7.

What do you do all week? And have you got any time-stretching tips?

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