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Friday 3rd October 2008

I think I might have worked harder this week than at pretty much any point since about 2002. Certainly in terms of variety of what I've been up to, but I have successfully written a treatment for a TV comedy drama, written links for two episodes of "Batteries Not Included", made some serious adjustments to the script I have been script-editing and done 3 interviews for the radio 4 show about bad habits, which I today discovered is to be called "Bad Habits". Not forgetting the Collings and Herrin podcast (which I nearly forgot), plus there have been a couple of gigs and one more to come, as well as the one in Belgium tomorrow. And I didn't really get anything done on Tuesday, so it's all the more impressive. It's been all go.
This morning I was up at the same time as all the norms as I had to head down to Vauxhall to interview the Post Office chief medical adviser about how they had overcome their problems with absenteeism. Dr Steve was a jocular man, laughing about the fact that he was ill with flu himself at the moment - physician heal thyself - and that he had had to head a recent campaign about obesity, despite being no stranger to pies himself.
I had been a bit cynical about the Post Office's campaign to get people back to work (in 2007 at any one time 7% of their workforce was absent at any one time), by offering a prize draw giving away cars and holidays for anyone who hadn't taken a day off in a certain time period. But talking to the slightly nervous Dr Steve (not only having to contend with being interviewed by a comedian, but also having a man who I presume was his boss hovering to the side of him, making sure he didn't say anything wrong) I was quite impressed that most of the initiative had been about trying to create better working conditions for their staff and to start listening to their complaints - something that was borne out by a later chat with a guy in the sorting office called Basil, who was a natural for the radio, very positive about the campaign (though again the bosses lingered in the background). Treat people with respect and they will respect you back. Most people want to do a good job, but it helps if you are appreciated.
It was fun being in the sorting office as well, though walking down the corridors to the canteen reminded me of the few jobs I had done at the end of the 80s and I felt slightly sick - and fortunate to be my own boss, something which I often forget. A man called Dave demonstrated one of the machines that automatically sorts business mail by the use of barcodes. It was an incredible bit of kit. Luckily most letter don't have barcodes, so Basil and his mates still have to do a lot of it the old fashioned way. I think I would find it hard to be as cheerful if I worked here - especially if I got the dreaded night shift. It's no wonder that so many American postal staff go crazy and start shooting the place up. The British though seem to face the drudgery with wry humour rather than bullets. Plus you're not going to win that car if you shoot people.
In the afternoon I headed to a very different working environment, in the rather more salubrious surroundings of Kensington Square to see if my procrastination and laziness could be sorted out at The Mind Gym. Basically they run 90 minute workshops to help business people run their businesses more efficiently. Again I was a little bit cynical about how this would go and very slightly concerned that they might somehow brainwash me or worse cure me of all my troubles, making me comedically useless. On the way in the bus I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's new book (and kudos to him for managing to write a new one despite being dead) Armageddon in Retrospect. In the introduction his son was saying how his father feared that therapists might cure him and that would be the end of his writing. And there have been a few comedians who have seemed to become a lot less funny the more sorted out they have become. But on the flipside the Mind Gym might make me more efficient and actually mean I get more done (if only I had achieved as much in the last 300 plus weeks as I have in this one - I'd be a millionaire!). My guess was that the truth would be somewhere in between these two eventualities.
I was really bloody tired when I got into the light, bright offices of the Mind Gym and worried that I might not be able to concentrate on whatever was coming up. My prejudices meant that the bright smiles of the friendly staff made me think that I was possibly entering a cult after all. But I was impressed that the room we'd be doing the workshop in had a two way mirror, meaning we could, if necessary be observed by some unseen persons (or aliens).
And though the 90 minute session involved some interaction and participation on our behalf, which I was worried I would be embarrassed by, I slowly lost my cynicism and reluctance and got into it. Especially as the basic causes of my procrastination were being described one by one, in simplistic terms.
The exercises were really common sense, but backed up with some clear research and a bit more scientific than some of these self-help things can be. Just talking through the issues of why I hadn't yet started my book or my script was very helpful, as was realising that all the other people taking part were just as bad at procrastinating as me (well maybe not as bad, but then they had a boss who at least made sure that they did something). I actually left feeling like a bit of a weight had been lifted, and a bit more equipped to get on with my stuff (though next week is almost as busy as this, so it might have to wait).
But my mind did feel refreshed and Seb who ran the course was talking sense and made a couple of specific points that really helped (he said that at the end of the day productivity came down to being mature about your responsibilities and I did tell him that it wasn't in my interests to start being mature now). When I said it was harder to motivate oneself when one worked at home alone, he said that it might be an idea to get an office with some other writers, just so we could interact a bit. It made me think of my idea for having a school for comedians. Not where they came to learn how to be a comedian, but where they had to come every day and sit at desks and work at appointed time. Having to be in a place and actually work at certain times is probably all I need.
I loved the institutionalisation of school, plus the social and competitive aspects and the way you had to do things at certain times. I started thinking of having a headteacher who would operate the bells and make sure we were getting on with our stuff and even mark it if necessary. But there would be break times where we could all go out into the playground and kick a tennis ball around. And maybe even an actual teacher who could give some lessons in grammar or French or something, just to break up the day. And there could be a canteen we all got lunch in. And we could have after school activities...
I was half joking and half serious as I thought this. It might actually be awesome. I even came up with the name "School for Fools". I bet I'd get loads more done. Or loads less. But I'd have a really terrific time.
Of course I can't afford to buy a school to do this in. And I don't know if there are any available to rent. But maybe a TV production company would like to set it up as some kind of experiment and see how we got on.
The important thing though was that being at the Mind Gym had made my mind start whirring and working, even after a hard week. I had had an idea and thought it all through. It might not be realistic, it might even be in itself a form of prevarication. But it was an idea. And that's all that matters in my job.
That you keep thinking of stuff.

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