Sunday, June 1, 2008

Enough, already!--Month four

Alright, how the heck did it get to be June?

It’s now the beginning of month four of my “Enough, already!” project. In the first month I declared “Enough, already!” to procrastination. I’ve learned that I procrastinate when (a) I am overwhelmed with things to do, (b) I lack confidence in my abilities, or (c) I am tired. Or (d) there’s a cat on my lap and I just can’t get up to load the washing machine.

The theme of month two was garbage (I mean real garbage, not that the theme was worthless). It’s been pretty easy to follow through on that one and we continue to find ways to cut back.

This brings us to last month, when I was supposed to stop neglecting myself. If this project came with grades, I would get a big fat F. In red ink. With a big circle around it.

Early in the month I could see that this theme wasn’t working, so as I counted the days until May was over and I could stop feeling like an abject failure, I thought a lot about why it’s so hard for me to take care of myself. I have come to the conclusion that I just have too many damn commitments. Other people might be able to say, “Sorry, but I can’t do this thing that I’ve already said I would do,” and maybe I should do that for my own good, but I am who I am (not to mention that I’m self-employed), and that’s something I can’t do unless there is no other alternative.

For me, the answer to this dilemma is a two-parter: (a) finish the things I’m already committed to and (b) stop myself from getting so overcommitted in the future. I blathered on about this in a recent email to Hayley (yes, I may be an editor, but my emails to Hayley really do go on (and on) like this):

I can’t seem to dig out of this hole—or rather this unending warren of tunnels through which I run and run—of having too many urgent things to do and not getting them or the non-urgent things done. It reminds me of partway through a school term when you have big projects to work on and daily homework to do and exams to study for and quizzes every week and it’s all overwhelming. Plus your house is a mess, except for your closets because you’ve been cleaning them out to avoid your overwhelmedness.

So maybe instead of trying to do everything all at once—neverending (OMG, they are NEVERENDING) projects and real life and taking care of myself and blah, blah, blah—maybe I should pretend it’s the end of term, when just the big projects are left but they are HUGE because you didn’t work on them earlier and now you have three weeks to write a publishable-quality paper on Spanish syntax in a theory you don’t really understand, along with three other major papers (real-life example), and all you want to do is knit.

In school, at this point, I had to do whatever it took to get these things done or I would FAIL, because in many of my courses, 100% of the mark was determined by these papers I had left until the last few weeks (dumb, dumb, dumb, but I did get to watch a lot of hockey while avoiding them). That usually meant that only the very necessary non-paper-writing-related stuff got done. All of my other energy was devoted to getting these papers out of my life. Often I worked 14 to 17 hours a day for a couple of weeks straight, including weekends, taking showers whenever I thought I would fall asleep at the computer. And you know what? I pulled it off every time.

So I think I’m at the do-anything-to-get-done point. I obviously can’t do the 14- to 17-hour days and what counts as very necessary non-work-related stuff is much more than it used to be, but what if I stop trying for balance right now and go for the work-your-butt-off-even-if-you-think-it-will-kill-you approach for a few weeks until it’s all done? And then I would be free—free, I tell you!—of these projects. The neverending would be over!

And then I could go for balance, building a schedule from a clean start.
In order to accomplish this, I need focus, so June is “Enough multitasking, already!” month. As a student, and especially as a mother, I developed an amazing ability to multitask, doing things like grading student papers while nursing my son while eating dinner with the TV on. But I’ve noticed lately that multitasking isn’t working so well for me anymore. I have so many things on the go at once that it’s difficult to build up momentum or finish any given project. I feel like I’m constantly flitting here and there and seeing very little progress anywhere (I didn’t mean to make that rhyme).

I’ve been reading a bit about this and apparently studies are showing that multitasking is often inefficient, because so much time and focus is lost switching back and forth between tasks. The growing buzz is now monotasking—doing one thing at a time.

Now, I’m not going to sit down at the computer and work for a month straight. I have a family to take care of and my son is too young and too short to drive his sister and himself to their activities. Plus, having had a blood clot in my leg several years ago, I need to get up and walk around at regular intervals. But during my work time I will concentrate on one job at a time and keep my email closed. I will choose one relaxing or uplifting thing to do during my clot-preventing breaks each day. And I will put the big questions of balance and taking care of myself and fixing up my house aside for one month until I get out from under the shoulder-crushing weight of these commitments.

I have a hunch that if I can once again pull off an end-of-term success while (and this is very important) not taking on too many future commitments, I will be setting myself up for a more relaxed summer than I’ve had for years. Then I can actually enjoy the process of creating balance in my life instead of failing miserably and beating myself up about it.

1 comment:

Hayley Townley, Breast Cancer Survivor Extraordinaire! said...

Mono-tasking. An interesting idea. You know I can't do it, but I am rooting for you. As I always am.

Although I DO love the idea of picking one thing to work on per day. This makes tons of sense, rather than having all the projects strewn across my desk, overwhelming me.

Alright, I might try that one with you too.

May the force be with us both.