Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘capitalism

My adventures in time-blocking (as a freelance writer)

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I don’t know about you but I’ve felt fatigued and disconsolate as the boredom of lockdown, the repetitiveness of things, has dragged down my usually shiny, enduring sense of creative vigour. I just haven’t felt able or motivated to do things. Sleep has sometimes been deeply comforting, yet also fractious.

Wanting to get back on the game, to be once more motivated, I thought I’d try a productivity technique. It’s known as time blocking. I first heard of it, years ago, from the Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You author, and professional Email hater, Cal Newport. He is a computer science professor and a proponent of this practice.

Time blocking involves making the time to draw up a fairly well sketched out plan or schedule for the following day. And, instead of making a simple list of things you need to do, you set aside parts of the day for certain tasks — that is, you block out time especially for the important tasks that most achieve your long-term goals. This is supposed to help you commit to the focused, concentrated, uninterrupted blocks of time to make progress on these goals — rather than having those sundry, seemingly urgent, but ultimately arbitrary tasks take up all your energy. A diagram will probably explain things better.

An excerpt from the blocked out schedule I made for Monday 1st March.

On a Sunday, I drew up this flow chart (above), describing what I’d do the next day, with my time carefully allocated. You might notice that there are long breaks but with time-blocking the underlying principle is that you spend the work-blocks focused on what Cal Newport describes as deep work (writing a chapter of a novel, for example, or making real progress on a graphic design commission, say).

It felt comforting knowing that I wouldn’t need to expend unnecessary energy having to think “now what do I need to do?” once certain tasks were completed. I only needed to follow the plan, like a happy automaton. After all, there can be freedom and contentment in following instructions, as anyone who’s played with Lego will know.

Let us cast aside the ridiculous notion that creativity is best kindled in an unstructured burst of spontaneous genius. It just doesn’t work like that, for most people. But discipline, putting the work in, and following certain procedures, rituals, programmes, can be enormously fertile and productive. Freeing.

A sample of Ulysses, a poem by Lord Tennyson

So Monday started. And, of course, my lovingly crafted schedule was immediately blown apart by a chance connection with some copywriting work coming from China. The connection was simply too rich a possibility to cast aside, so of course I followed up on it. But no matter, I simply adjusted myself. And for the rest of the day, it did feel liberating to just follow the plan. To look down at the plan and know, quickly, certainly, what I needed to be doing next. I was not able to get to all my tasks – something which I did not beat myself over – and I added annotations to each time-block, noting what I did instead, what I had still to do, and what I achieved outside of the confines of the schedule.

Tuesday, and I just carried on with the unfinished tasks from the previous day and I neglected to make a flow chart, to time block. I worried.

Wednesday – I had a phone call with a news assistant based in Shanghai. Then, later on, I had an existential crisis. Again, I failed to make a time-blocked plan. I wondered about the need to constantly work – to be productive. I looked at all the advertisements crowding my social media, the webpages I visit, and re-embraced my deep suspicion of capitalism.

Do I really want those things? Should I work myself to the ground in order to afford these items which are so adamant about me wanting to desire to possess them? But what about my ambitions, my goals? HMMMMM.

Thank you capitalism for helping make these Bluetooth earphones, which give me joy.

Thursday was better. I cannot put my finger on exactly what it was, but it may have to do with the fact I was on a rather celebratory Zoom call, with heartfelt emotion connecting me with a host of humans, and it was a beloved feeling, far from the madding crowd of capitalistic greed. I also went for a jog, listening to Daft Punk (rip), feeling Alive and Discovered.

Friday, I did some work early on, then I cooked Moroccan lamb for my family, with apricots and cumin and the warming colours of North Africa displacing the gloom of British weather.

So, yeah, that was my rather unsuccessful experiment with time blocking. If you want more of my advice, I can send you a postcard.

Amid winter, I found there was, within me, a summer.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

March 6, 2021 at 6:24 pm

On David Cameron’s Visit to China

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David Cameron touched down in Beijing today, bringing with him Britain’s largest ever overseas trade and ministerial delegation. The 131-strong team will no doubt go all out in trying to achieve Cameron’s stated aim of making Britain China’s primary advocate in the EU.

Coming ahead of October’s visit by Boris Johnson and George Osborne, it heralds a major effort by the government to attract Chinese investment and cooperation with Britain. Since Cameron met with the Dalai Lama last year, Beijing has been noticeably cold with UK officials, a ploy often used to signal Beijing’s anger.

The EU is China’s largest trade partner, ahead of the US, and Cameron will be expected to talk up a free trade agreement between the EU and China in talks with China’s president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang.

Britain punches above its weight in China. Recognition of British brands and expertise is strong, and British companies are increasingly looking to expand their reach into China’s giant market. China’s GDP continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, growing around 40% between 2010 and 2012, basically adding the economic equivalent of India to its economy in two years.

Speaking to Stephen Phillips, Chief Executive of the China Britain Business Council (who is on the delegation) earlier this year, I learnt a lot about how British businesses are plugging into the developing economy of China. In all the big news and shocking numbers about China’s stupendous growth, perhaps it is forgotten that in some respects China is still a developing country.

China’s rural population numbers 656 million (the percentage of urban residents surpassed countryside dwellers in 2011). And daily expenditure levels for most of the population is still very low (I can quite easily eat out in China’s capital for all meals for less than five pounds every day).

Britain’s engineering and infrastructure businesses are looking to China’s emerging second-tier and third-tier cities to capitalize on infrastructure development. Healthcare and support for the growing elderly population is another opportunity. While on the higher end, public relations, fashion and product design are knowledge industries experiencing rapid evolution. Education remains one of Britain’s top exports.

Knowledge-led, high value industries are the UK’s forte and this is reflected in the list of Cameron’s delegates where engineering, education and finance are especially well represented. Brands such as Ted Baker and Marks and Spencer have sought to make their presence felt, although high street stalwarts like Topshop have been conspicuous by their absence considering H&M and Zara did so well in entrenching themselves so quickly.

Businesses and the individuals focused on developing trade concentrate on the vast opportunities China presents. But on the political side, commentators have voiced their disappointment over a seeming lack of moral authority, which once perhaps Britain may have had. Jonathan Mirsky, writing in the New York Review of Books, after Johnson and Osborne’s visit, said: “How gratifying it must have been to Chinese officials when Cameron recently said, “I have no plans to see the Dalai Lama”, a statement Osborne took care to repeat”.

Cameron and his advisors know just how important it is to develop Britain’s interests with the world’s second largest economy. If it feels like Britain is the junior partner, that is because it is, at least in this┬ásituation – the dismay expressed at the failure to highlight human rights and other issues is the liberal edge to the same sadness that pervades Britain’s sense of lost imperial glory. But it is right that people strive for their leaders to uphold principles of freedom and justice.

The United Kingdom’s moral authority on the global stage is being compromised for the sake of capitalism, a truth keenly understood by the ‘communist’ state of China.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

December 2, 2013 at 7:36 am