Morning routine of a mildly successful 36 year old

I must stop reading these types of list. It’s a list of the morning routines of a bunch of successful under 35’s in the US, who either run businesses, are writers and presenters or are simply at the top of their games in some way.

I won’t force you to read it all, but here are some of the “highlights”:

  • Waking up at 3.30am/4.00am/5.00am
  • Eating breakfast (usually avocado on toast it seems)
  • Meditating
  • Exercising
  • Playing with babies and toddlers and being happy about being woken by them at 5.30am
  • Arriving at work fresh, informed and already several hours into their working days

What world do these people live in?!

I’m not doing too badly at work. I’ve just started a new role and have done well at my previous roles (or at least well enough to step up each time rather than sideways). My routine, however, looks very different to theirs, which makes me wonder where I’m going wrong.

Wake up and decide how long I can get away with laying in bed for

I set my alarm for 6.58am to give me time to turn my radio on to the local news, grabbing the headlines and then listening to the traffic reports so I know whether I’ve got a hope of getting into the office or not. Or at least I try to; often I make it through the news and sport and then fall back asleep at the very bit that would actually be useful.

My wife and I then play a game of chicken; the last person out of bed needs to make it, so the challenge is leaving it to the very latest moment to maximise time in bed but not so long as to let the other person get up first. It’s a fine line. She usually wins.

Try to get food into little mouths

After three or four circuits of the kid’s bedrooms to get them up we then have the daily fight to get them to eat breakfast. I’ve yet to work out their secret roster, but they somehow know exactly whose turn it is to play up. Generally speaking, one is brilliant (in uniform and almost ready by 7.15am), two are indifferent and one has the role of “little s**t”.

Despite having seven different types of cereal or them able to have toast, crumpets, muffins, pain au chocolat, brioche or pancakes, somehow we never have exactly what that one wants. Then it’s trying to drive the herd back upstairs to brush their teeth and hair, before trying to grab ten minutes to get ready myself. This cannot be at the same time as my wife, as four unsupervised children equals arguments. Guaranteed.

Finally is the chasing and getting them out of the door. “Have you got your homework?”, “Where is your bookbag?”, “No, you can’t take your rocking horse to nursery”, “I told you to pack your PE kit earlier”, “Why didn’t I know that form needed to be signed last night?”, “Brush your hair”, “I said, go and get your homework”. This often continues throughout the entire run to nursery and to the school playground, interspersed with questions from the children on ancient Egypt, why dogs don’t wear nappies and comments on Pokemon Go. Time to focus, meditate and think through work problems? Nope.

Commute. Commute. Commute.

Once the kids are in school it’s time to hop into the car and get into the office. I cross my fingers that traffic isn’t bad, but really there’s not a lot I can do about it. I actually enjoy my drive in, even more so in my new car, as I get the chance to catch up on podcasts. These range from football, to economics, to comedy, to hobbies, to interesting ideas and more; an hour or so to listen and either learn or simply enjoy.

You see, other than a glance at my phone when I wake up, I have no opportunity at all to spend hours working before breakfast (as if I have time to have breakfast myself?! Those kids lunch boxes don’t fill themselves!). Yes, I could start getting up a lot earlier, but I like my sleep! I’m a night owl generally, so rarely sleep before midnight; six and a half hours is as little sleep as I can usually get away with.

Nope, I’ll just have to stop looking at these lists and the stylised, over-perfectionised, probably fake versions of sucessful people’s mornings and get on with living mine. Only eight more years until they are all at secondary school or older, when they can look after themselves in the morning, and I can start my own power-morning routine. Sort of.


Poor Simon

I wrote this helpful message to Big Motoring World in Wrotham’s Facebook page, but it looks like they must have accidentally deleted it. Can’t imagine why. I’ll be helpful and repost it here for them to see (and will even add in the pictures I mention in it too).

Hi Simon. I have no idea if your name is actually Simon or not, but that’s the name of the first car salesman I ever met, so to make my life easier I’ll use the same name for you – I do hope you don’t mind.

Well, Simon, I wanted to let you know how incredibly happy I am with my new car. I wanted to share a photo or two with you, but you don’t seem to let people share photos on your Facebook page and I can’t track down an e-mail address, so instead I’ll have to describe it.

Picture a brand new, Silver Seat Alhambra. Now add 15 years travel, wear and tear to it. Don’t forget to include 176,000 miles, Simon; it was a real workhorse. That’s what I drove to your showroom in just a few weeks ago. I didn’t know at the time what I wanted to replace it with, but I knew I needed something better than that. It had done us great service, but I had a brand new job and wanted to treat my kids and wife to something a lot nicer, with a working radio and everything. I’m really ambitious like that, Simon; can you imagine it, a radio unit with a broken tape deck being its best feature. I needed something better, and knew just where to go.

Well, my new car is everything I dreamed of and more. It’s blue. I mention that as every other bloody car I’ve had has been silver. Not that I particularly like silver, mind you, but until now beggars can’t be choosers. Not only is it blue, it’s a brand new VW Sharan. When I pulled up at Big Motoring World in Wrotham and pulled up behind two Sharans – one silver and one blue – I knew which of the two I wanted.img_3690

Not only is it a blue Sharan, it has a digital stereo. Simon – I’ve got music in my car again! Admittedly I rarely get control of the dial when the family is in with me, but as long as we avoid anything Bieber related I can live with it. And when I say dial, it’s actually a touch screen, with sat nav and loads of other digital goodness. I feel like I’m living in Star Trek. On top of that it parks itself too – very modern. I’ve never been as happy parting with so much money.

Do you know how much I ended up actually spending Simon? I don’t normally share these things as it’s a little crude to talk pound signs on most occasions, but I want to share it with you as I’m sure you’ll be interested. I don’t have buckets of cash laying around as I’m sure you’ll appreciate; every spare penny gets sucked up with paying the bills and replacing children’s trainers after they leave them in the garden overnight for the foxes to eat. Yep, that happened this week.

No, for me it was the finance route. The drive-away price of my lovely, brand spanking new blue Sharan was £24k. £24,000, Simon! I’ve never paid anything like that much for anything; not even if you added up every piece of clothing I’ve ever owned would it come to that much (although I have my suspicions about my wife’s shoe collection).

Once you factor in finance repayments – a necessary evil I’m sure you’ll agree – the total cost will be something like £31k over four years or so. That’s a lot of money, Simon, and I’m not entirely sure I appreciated at the time how big that would look if you stacked it up in front of me in pound coins. I’d like to think it would look like a scene from Scrooge McDuck, though admittedly I probably wouldn’t need quite as big a vault.

And do you know why I wanted to share this all with you, Simon? It’s because I just wanted to let you know how much a single, short conversation with one of your sales reps cost Big Motoring World. You see, despite me pulling up behind two – TWO – VW Sharans with stickers in the window (each for less than the amount I ended up paying I’ll add, so I’d probably have been a prime target for upgrades!) I was told by the young sales assistant there that you don’t do people carriers.

Yep, my eyes had deceived me. Those two out front (and perhaps more out back) were a figment of my imagination. It was quite a surprise, I don’t mind admitting, to know that I was seeing things. For a moment I wondered whether or not my 18 year relationship and four children had equally been made up, or perhaps were an elaborate Truman Show style fiction. But no; it turns out it was only the fact that you didn’t want to sell me a people carrier.

It’s a shame really, though it did mean I got to go to the VW showroom directly and met a wonderful, friendly salesman who not only knew what I wanted after I told him but had some in stock and knew that fact! A salesman who knows what cars he has available and who doesn’t tell customers that they are wrong when they disagree – you would do well to steal him from VW if you get the chance.IMG_3761.JPG

I don’t suppose there’s much that can be done for me now, Simon; as I said, I’m very, very happy with my new car and have been merrily whizzing around the South East for a fortnight now. I just wanted to let you know that you missed out on a £30k sales opportunity all because your salesman effectively said I was lying. I don’t like being told I’m wrong when I’m not. It might be worth you having a little word with your team. And perhaps my wife. She disagrees with me too sometimes.

For me it was one sale, but who knows how many you’re missing out on. I like supporting local businesses like yours and want to see you doing well; please sort this out soon Simon otherwise I fear for you in this scary post-Brexit world. Having to change your name to Little Motoring World would be a bit humiliating. Funny, yes, but humiliating.

Have a wonderful day, Simon, and if you do want to see those photos of my new car or the other two I pulled up behind do let me know and I’ll zip them over right away. If you want more cars like them, I certainly know a dealership with some in stock!

Your friend (and almost customer),


Working 9-5-9

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Being a working dad is harder than being a working mum. We have to balance out a high-pressure work environment with ever growing demands and needs at home without anything like the amount of sympathy and support offered to working mums, all without the network of local mums and friends to back us up and support us. Working mums on the other hand have it easy; plenty of sympathy and flexibility to deal with family crises, established support networks and usually a partner who is always on hand to tell them how awesome they are and how they could never balance life as well themselves.

There. Now I’ve got an incendiary first paragraph out of the way, all of the indignant ranters and “you-don’t-know-how-hard-it-is-being-a-working-mother-s” can jump straight to the comments section and tell me how wrong I am. They’ll therefore miss the part where I say now that of course it’s not harder, nor is it a competition; this is obvious to anyone with a modicum of sense. What being a working dad however is bloody hard, and in a different way than I expected.

Six months ago my wife got her first full-time, salaried job since before our now-11 year old was born. Great, thought I; she’s going to fly! My wife is far smarter than I am and with a work ethic to die for. With a new career potentially in front of her she would do great things, and between the two of us we’d transcend into some sort of power couple that would put Frank and Claire Underwood to shame (if you’ve not been watching House of Cards then you’re missing out). Onwards and upwards; after years of struggling financially and never quite getting there, we would now see nothing but plain sailing! Everything would work out!

For the first month or so the novelty carried us through. I was doing my bit as a working father! I was doing the actual school run, every day!!! I think I even put a wash or two through the machine, just to see the look on my wife’s face when she came home. I was modern man incarnate. I was SuperDad.

The novelty soon wore off.

It’s a grind. It’s a never-ending, soul-destroying, schedule breaking, pressurised grind, with nothing but compromise every which way I turn.

I am lucky enough to be able to work from home as much as I need to, barring unavoidable face to face meetings which happen from time to time. I’ve taken advantage of this hugely, working from home three or even four days a week sometimes so I can do the school run in the morning and collect the children from nursery and the childminders at the end of the day. When it works as intended this actually works very well; I am typing away by 9.00am and log off at 5.00pm to start the pick-up runs, often working through lunch with some overly-British belief that as things are so comfortable at home I need to make up for it in some way.

Even then though, that hour after work is manic. It takes about 35 minutes to do the round trips to get our four kids, after which I need to quickly get some food on the table, get them all changed, get lunchboxes unpacked and uniforms in the washing basket and have them eating something remotely nutritious (or at least hot and quick). Then my wife walks through the door, mentions how untidy the kitchen is and asks why none of them have done any homework yet before they have to start getting ready for bed. Throw in the obligatory disagreements with my 11 year old about using small screens to consume several days’ worth of YouTube videos each night, shouting from my 3 year old about needing a new nappy, my 5 year old getting upset because I’ve not got time to read with her and my 9 year old gluing himself to Minecraft or FIFA and progress is challenging.

The increase in workload at home hasn’t affected my workload from the office of course. I’m still expected to perform every bit as well and as flexibly as I ever was. In fact, I’ve recently stepped up into a new role so if anything I am expected to perform at a higher level than ever before. Getting a report in late because one of my kids has chicken pox and I’ve had to pick up another from school as she’s been throwing up is just not an option; nothing but high performance is good enough.

Now I have to balance work programmes with washing loads, deliverables with dinner plans, service delivery with school runs and board meetings with bedtime routines.

And pretty much, I’m on my own. Unlike the other parents in the playground, I don’t have extensive networks of mums to call upon for a bit of help. Morning drop-offs need to be militarily planned if I’m able to get off and make a morning train to get to a meeting so there’s no chance to have a leisurely chat or make plans for a cup of coffee later in the day. I can’t go to daytime playgroups or library sessions as I’m either chained to a phone or running between offices to cram in as many meetings as I can before rushing off to beat the traffic, so all those informal support structures aren’t ones I can tap into. Even if I could, have you ever tried to break into the inner circle of an established group of mums?! I’m a man in a playground; as an oddity I’ll be tolerated; as a true peer I’ll never be accepted.

Talking of peers, where are my role models for all this? Where are the normal, working dads who manage to balance being joint income-earner and primary care giver? Look online for support as a working mum and there are countless blogs and forums out there, but most of the articles on being a working dad are discussing the concept of what a working dad actually is and the fact that they are important. I know that already! Now, who can show me some good examples to get some inspiration from?!

Things in general are getting easier – these days when I say that one of my kids is sick so I need to be at home to look after them I no longer get asked why my other half can’t do it instead. Well, I don’t have that verbally asked, anyway. It’s there however; an underlying societal norm that says I should be focussing on work and not family, while if there’s any need to rush home that my wife should be the first port of call. It’ll take decades to break this and I’m not sure we’ll ever get there, but we’re so early on our equality journey that there’s no hope at all for me to not experience this before grandchildren come along.

Women have it hard in the workplace. They are paid less to do the same work, face more difficulty securing promotions and recognition, are branded as “dominating” and “bossy” if they speak up in meetings and are generally discriminated against by their bosses (even if their bosses are themselves women).

Men have it hard at home. We are expected to maintain our day job performance without a hint of drop-off while picking up more than our share of the household chores. We are expected to fit these chores into the time we are working from home, and provide emotional and intellectual support to our working partners. We also need to pick up almost all of the daytime responsibilities previously picked up by our other halves who previously filled their days doing nothing but this.

And we’re expected to not moan as “women are expected to do all this anyway, so now it’s your turn”.

I’m saying balls to that.

Balls to not being able to moan and say it’s a bloody tough job.

Balls to being expected to be a full-time worker and a full-time parent at the same time.

And balls to feeling bad for doing well in either of those and not the other.

A good friend once told me he would have been a much better chief exec if he hadn’t been a parent, and a much better parent if he hadn’t been a chief exec.

What a choice for any of us to have to make.

Mining for lessons

This weekend I decided to learn how to play Minecraft. It’s a game two of my children, Cerys and Oliver, have really got into recently, and until the last few days I’d never given it too much thought.

However, they regularly make an effort to get into things they know I enjoy, so I decided to repay their efforts by getting into something they enjoy. While I’ll never be quite as into it as they are, it was surprisingly enjoyable and therapeutic; mining resources and then creating something out of our imaginations.

This is a letter to both of my children about some of the lessons I’ve learned as you’ve taught me to play. Whether you read it now or in the future, I hope it rings true.

Think big

When we started you showed me your brilliant houses, made of rocks which are on fire, valuable gems, chests stacked high with diamonds and gold and jewels and food. These were amazing, and it’s clear you’ve worked hard to build them.

When I started I wondered what I would do, which led me to mining pretty much a whole hill to start building our castle, with a giant building for a home in the middle which is sitting on top of a narrow spiral staircase.

I wanted to demonstrate to you that now you’ve learned your skills you can put them to use on a much grander scale.

In life you’ll learn many things which will come in useful along the way, but unless you dream big and work towards those dreams you’ll fall short of the amazing things you will be able to do if you try. Just like in Minecraft, if you can dream it then you can do it; all it takes is a lot of hard work, effort and time. In the end you might not quite build everything you originally planned to, but it will be a magnificent thing nonetheless.

It matters more when you’ve earned it

I’ve learned that there are two ways of playing Minecraft; Survival and Creative. The former means you can only use what you mine or make yourself, you have to think about food and danger, as well as avoiding the bad guys who are out to get you at night. Creative mode allows you access to everything you could want, where you are limited only by your imagination.

You both asked at the beginning why I insisted on doing it in Survival rather than Creative mode. Well, for me, whilst learning about things with no restrictions might be fun, there’s something in the process of digging things up and crafting them before you can use them which makes it all count for more. Yes, we could have built all the walls out of gold, but instead we have started with dirt and are now replacing that with cobblestones as we collect enough of that; we worked hard to gather it all, so it felt good to have built what we built.

As you get older you’ll perhaps encounter some people who get given pretty much everything they want. They’ll be given all of the money they want, the best clothes, every gadget they can think of and later on given high level jobs without having lifted a finger. Some of these people will work hard and make the most of it, but some won’t.

You need to remember that your whole life will be based on making the most of what you have. You will need to work hard every step of the way, making opportunities for yourselves and then making the most of them when they arise. Of course Mummy and I will help you wherever we can, but it’ll be up to you to make yourself succeed, and when you do you’ll look back and appreciate it all the more for having had to earn it yourselves.

Work together

At first you watched me work while you both worked on your own areas. This was fine. I was just learning, and to be fair I didn’t ask for your help at the start nor did I explain what I was doing. However, soon you both joined in and helped me with our castle, which meant we were able to work much faster and achieve more than I could ever have done myself. You both also gave me inspiration for things we are adding; Oliver, you gave me the idea for the house on stilts, and Cerys, you gave me the inspiration to start planning an underground maze.

You, along with your other brother and sister, both will be able to achieve great things on your own, but like The Avengers it will all get even better when you come together. You’ll be able to bring your own skills and ideas to your projects, and complement each other brilliantly. And the more you communicate with each other and share ideas and suggestions, the better they will be. Don’t lose this as you get older!

Finish things to the standards you’re proud of

I started by building the castle walls out of dirt because that was the only thing I could mine easily. It also gave me a way of getting rid of those materials I’d dug up to clear a space for it all.

You’ll have noticed me gradually starting to replace these dirt walls with stone walls. This might have seemed like a waste of time, but stone was what I originally planned for, so as we now have more stone than we know what to do with I’ve started upgrading things. That way, when I look at the castle it’ll be more like what I had in my head.

As you get older you’ll have loads of projects to complete. You could make them all from dirt blocks; perhaps that’s all you have to hand, perhaps it’s all you can do in the time available, but it’ll probably never be because that’s the best you can do. Look at everything you do and really ask yourself if that’s the best you can do. If it is, then be proud of it. If it’s not, then do it again and do it better. If you’re not proud of it, what is the point?

Don’t stop playing

Our castle will take ages to finish, and even then I’ve got ideas for other things we can do. You showed me a roller coaster you’d built somewhere else, so perhaps we could build one around the castle walls? Maybe a giant log flume, or perhaps a sports stadium? My point is that there will always be other things to do in Minecraft, and more fun to be had working them all out.

You are going to get older, and along the way people will try to make you stop playing and be more serious. They will want you to stop experimenting and trying new ideas out in order to do what you are told to do. Resist this. Don’t lose that spark of fun and adventure and creativity in everything you do. You are giving up your life to do what you are doing right now; make sure it’s something you are enjoying doing, which you are learning from and which allows you to achieve what you want to achieve. Keep playing, even if only in your imaginations.

Oh, and just to let you know, I might have started grasping the basics of Minecraft but I’m not quite ready for the Nether World just yet, one step at a time after all…

Writing about writing

As some readers may know, I used to write fairly regularly. A few evenings a week I would place myself in front of a keyboard and tap away until something resembling my thoughts appeared before my eyes.

Sometimes this task was very easy; those first-drafters, where you don’t notice yourself writing until you place the final full stop, re-read it and change practically nothing before hitting publish. Those are the articles which stemmed from passion, a sure opinion (if not always a correct one) and an article plan stuck somewhere in the subconscious.

Other times, however, things were not so straightforward. Whether it was coming up with a pithy opening or closing line, feeling as if more facts were needed or even simply coming up with an idea of what to write about in the first place, there were times when it became a little bit of a struggle.

It was for times like these that I started collecting little sayings, quotes and thoughts to either inspire me, motivate me or just make me smile a little. Many of these are a little random, but some were specifically focussed on the great and undervalued art of good writing.

Earlier in the week the criminally not-famous-enough Dan Slee shared some excellent tips about blogging he has garnered over the years. I’d recommend any aspiring or even regular blogger to read through these, and then if they are feeling like they are hitting a wall have a look at these quotes; you’ll soon realise that even the best don’t always get it the way they wanted first time around.

  1. The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.  Isaac Bashevis
  1. The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.  John Maynard Keynes
  1. I hate to write, but I love to have written.  Dorothy Parker
  1. I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.  Douglas Adams
  1. Easy reading is damn hard writing.  Nathaniel Hawthorne
  1. I may be the world’s worst writer, but I’m the world’s best rewriter.  James Mitchener
  1. Any damn fool who can read thinks he can write.
  1. Writing is easy. You just put a piece of paper in the typewriter and then stare at it till blood comes out of your ears.
  1. When you have a choice of two words, pick the shorter.
  1. Big emotions do not come from big words.
  1. Good words are worth much and cost little.  George Hebert
  1. I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.  Oscar Wilde
  1. Writing is the only thing that…when I’m doing it, I don’t feel that I should be doing something else instead.  Gloria Steinham
  1. There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.  W.Somerset Maugham
  1. I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.  Peter DeVries
  1. The words are all there, J.J., we just have to get them in the right order.  Monty Python

17. Great writing can’t be taught, but atrocious writing is entirely preventable.  Dennis A Mahoney

18. I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.  Patrick Dennis

  1. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  Mark Twain
  1. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.  C. S. Lewis
  1. Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad and, even more terrifying, the difference between it and true art. And after that, the whip came down.  Truman Capote
  1. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.  George Orwell
  1. There is not much to be said about the period, except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.  Edith Wharton
  1. Writing is a hellish task, best snuck up on, whacked on the head, robbed, and left for dead.  Ann-Marie MacDonald
  1. Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.  Margaret Chittenden