Friday, February 01, 2008

January 2008 in Review

IT'S WORTH LOOKING BACK AT the month just passed to see how my efforts to improve have worked out in practice. Here's what I've done right, and where I still need to work harder.

Good Starts

Setting a budget for the year: At the outset of 2008, I plotted out in Excel my estimate of how my take-home pay would be spent. I found keeping up with this easier than I would have imagined. I tried to make things predictable in my spending habits, such as buying gas in $20/week portions (itself a coup, because I actually budgeted for $30/week, and also made a run to Atlantic City amid this tighter rationing). Having one's expenses laid out in such fashion is an education.

Organizing a chore calendar: I assigned a minor household task to each day of the week on a 14-day schedule. This was a great success. The place looks like it did before my holiday party. I try to do the chore either immediately before or after dinner, so I don't get involved in some absorbing book or drift aimlessly on the Internet and let it slip out of mind. The only chore I've skipped (and which I may therefore replace) has been cleaning the exterior of my car. I'm not sure why I even put that on there. Maybe I anticipated having to scour road salt off of the car more often than I have. I'm not gonna run the beast through the car wash every fortnight, I know that much. I'm sure I can find something to plug in there. Looking at the desktop of my Mac, perhaps a cleanup/backup session might be a good replacement.

Gym visits: I began the year at 231.5, having gained a little weight back after being sick and navigating through the siege of holiday treats. Despite catching a minor cold late in the January and skipping 2 days, I kept my daily gym habit and got down to 227 as of last Sunday. The program I've set up proved flexible enough to allow me to restart after I got better from the cold with minimal fuss. But I still have a lot of work to do, both at the gym and in my kitchen (and I don't mean installing new cabinets). Losing football on Sundays will be rough, as that was my entertainment for an hourlong cardiovascular tour. I may have to dig up some interesting podcasts. I am open to suggestions.

Keeping normal work hours: At the beginning of the year, I resolved to leave each day at 5:00, unless I was doing something fun like writing or updating the website and needed an empty office to enhance the experience. This has worked out, even after my boss left, when I determined not to let her absence make me as crazy as she was when she departed. It's important, even with a job whose basic functions I enjoy, to set boundaries, because all employers will take as much as they can, for as small a price as they can pay, unless you resolve to take that time back.

Areas for Improvement

My dinners are made of fail: The number one barrier to weight loss has been the radical nutritional difference between my breakfasts, lunches, and work snacks, and the dinners I end up with. Much of the chili I made for the month came to work with me as lunch, especially because Trader Joe's seems to have discontinued the brand of lunch meat I'd been getting since I started my new job. (I am an extreme creature of habit.) I did teach myself a great new stir fry recipe with TJ's pork and a few other ingredients, which actually provides a great second and even third portion of food to fill in lunch gaps. But I need either to develop more dinners like this, or to eat a largish late-afternoon meal (vs. a snack like nuts or dried fruit), and then just have a small, simple meal before hitting the hay. Homemade nachos or frozen pizza from Trader Joe's is too much starch, too late in the day, to keep the fat-loss train rolling.

Better sleep schedule: The only way to keep a 7-day gym habit working at the hour I visit it (5:00–5:30 a.m., the earlier the better, to avoid the 6:00 spin class and its awful music), is to hit the hay no later than 9:00. If I actually train myself to go to sleep earlier, with the goal of writing before the gym or eating a small pre-workout meal, that might actually creep up to 8:00. Because it's tougher for me to get to sleep in the summer, and it takes a while for this joint to cool down (though I will get home earlier, if I am still at the same place), I need to develop a better sleep routine now.

Resume revision: I had hoped to get a new version of my resume written at this point, both to include my new experiences and skills, and to shoot over to, well, just about my whole gang of former coworkers at their new location. Haven't done so yet. No reason not to. Maybe I should place it on my chore calendar instead of cleaning my car's exterior. A fortnightly career checkup? Might work. But it has to start with a resume review.

All right, this is a slightly shorter month, even with the leap day, so maybe it'll work in my favor. I'll just schedule the days I veer off plan for February 30 and 31.

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