If you have a long-term project for school or for work or whatever, and you don’t know how to begin, or continue, or wrap your brain around it, or make it good, commit to working on it for 90 minutes each day.
(Or less, if you need to…60 minutes would probably work. You just need enough time to really get into the project for awhile. 90 feels good to me - long enough but not too long.)
Set a timer. Watch the clock. And just commit to staying focused for those minutes. (You can take breaks, but add the break time to the end of the session to keep yourself honest.) Just keep working, even it if means staring at the computer screen or painstakingly typing out a paragraph you know you’ll have to heavily edit later or rereading an article you looked at two months ago but can’t remember.
The act of working consistently, every day, will do a couple of things.
First, it’ll help you chip away at the project. It really will - a page written here, a decision made there, a new article discovered, a new insight gained. Each of these actions gets you closer to the finish.
Second, it’ll keep you from avoiding the work. My course outline - the project I’m currently using this method to complete - is really hard for me to write. A lot of days I approach it with a dull feeling of dread…I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing or where to go next. But now I just tell myself that all I have to do is open up my computer and work for 90 minutes, even if I’m not writing well that day or don’t come up with any good ideas. The anxiety dissipates pretty fast once I actually get going, and although some days the words flow better than others, I’ve never felt that the time was wasted.
Third, it’ll eliminate the “should I or shouldn’t I” game. If you commit to doing it every day, you know you’re going to be doing it every day. No procrastination or tricking yourself into believing that tomorrow or over the weekend will be a better time to crank out some work.
And finally, it’ll keep your head in the game. I don’t have to struggle to remember where I left off a week ago. I just open the documents and go.
I have one more suggestion. When you’re done, reward yourself. I like to take a little Tumblr break. Or you could go the cupcake route. Or maybe a nice latte? Your choice, but celebrate having an awesomely productive hour and a half.
(It’s important to note that I got the 90 minute idea here and have kind of adapted it to suit my own needs. It’s worth clicking through the site!)
I went to a play at Steppenwolf the other night that I loved (in contrast to the Goodman show I did not love but which got a solid write-up in the Tribune - I was right to suspect my boredom was just my own lack of sophistication…). It was called The March and it was about the Civil War, but that’s really beside the point.
The point is that after the show when Kevin and I were waiting for the bus one of our favorite Steppenwolf actors - Ian Barford - walked by. We both just kind of stared without making it obvious that we were staring, and he quickly passed and ducked into a nearby bar and it was over.
And I think, instead of standing there like idiots, we should have said hello. He’s a local Chicago actor, not a paparazzi-hounded movie star. I’m sure he would’ve appreciated two big fans telling him how much they love the work he does.
I do this all the time. I chicken out and find excuses not to speak to people I admire. I’ve done it in a bar in Hollywood (with some actors from Second City who’d apparently moved out to L.A.) and a restaurant in New York City (Charlie from Lost) and in both of these cases I came off like a total creeper because they caught me staring. I’ve done it at conferences when I’ve seen rock star academics. I even avoided a professor from my own school who I saw hanging out at The Green Mill even though I’d actually met him once or twice.
And I hate it! I absolutely hate this about myself. I guess in the NYC, Charlie from Lost situation I don’t think I would go back and introduce myself if I had the chance. He’s a big enough star that I bet he gets stopped a lot, and it looked like he was having a nice private lunch with his parents. But in every other case I should have said hi. In every other case it would have been good for me, good for the other person, or good for both.
When I was at my conference in Vancouver I vowed to be better about this, and I was. I said hi to this semi well-known professor that had come to speak to our department once, and I introduced myself to a young prof whose talk I loved. I’ve also made an effort to always say yes to these optional lunches we can attend when big-time speakers come to campus. But it’s always a struggle. I always have to fight back a million reasons why I shouldn’t, convince myself that I won’t be bugging the person and that I won’t act like a spaz and that this is an important thing to do for someone who cares about her career and thinks people who do good work deserve to hear it.
That was great, reading Tumblr for a bit.
Then I had a very nice, very productive meeting with a student.
And he left me the dark chocolate he didn’t want anymore - half a bar.
I’ve already eaten all of it.
The last couple of weeks have been rough. Life is better now.
- Midterm turned in.
- Papers graded.
- Article revised.
- Inbox organized.
- Conference reimbursement processed.
- Miscellaneous paperwork filed.
- Sleep (mostly) caught up on.
- Workout schedule reestablished.
I can finally, finally spend some time looking at Tumblr guilt free.
My April resolution was to change my relationship with my stuff - particularly my clothes and our apartment. I wrote about how sometimes I get self-conscious that what I have isn’t cool enough or stylish enough.
The clothes thing was pretty easy to let go of. The apartment thing, though, continued to bug me. I felt like there was too much going on in our place…too many colors that didn’t really go together, in particular.
I tried to just let it go. I tried to focus on the things I loved about the place - that we reused all of our stuff from Indiana and didn’t have to buy a bunch of new things, that all of the pictures on the wall are taken by people we know or bought in places we’ve visited - but certain corners of our place still bugged me.
I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money to redecorate. So last night, I took the opposite approach. I started taking stuff off the walls, using less, making it more simple, trying to make the colors fit better. And although it’s not a dramatic change, I think it worked well enough. I think everything just fits a little better now.
SO. I would call my April resolution a success.
My May resolution is to make my impact on the environment as tiny as possible. I’ve gotten into some bad habits - driving up to campus and buying too many coffees in paper cups and taking showers that are too long. I love the natural beauty of the Midwest so much in May, so I thought this month would be a good one to feel inspired to do an eco-resolution.
The thing that made yesterday special was that I got to show my baby girl where I spend my days
where I go to think hard/problem solve/hustle like hell doing work I am passionate about (before rushing home to the people I love most).
There are times I feel guilty that I don’t stay home with my nugget like my mama did with us. But then there are days like yesterday where I have the opportunity to share my professional life with my daughter
and I am hopeful that someday, she will be proud of (inspired by?) the commitment I have to not only our family but also my career and it will encourage her (and her little sister-to-be) to contribute….and make their marks on the world.
That is my hope, at least.
Ah…to be as fabulous as Ms. Emily. I’ve always loved her blog, but her posts about life as a working parent have become my favorites.
My mind’s a good place. I’m not playing my usual “reread and revise 100 times, changing approximately 1 word with each revision, can’t let it go because I’m so OCD about classes” game.
I do this every once in awhile. I get excited and make plans and before I know it every single weekend in the foreseeable future is spoken for.
This weekend we go to Minneapolis to see one of my good friends from grad school.
Next weekend is Indiana for my parents’ anniversary and because I won’t see my mom on Mother’s Day.
The weekend after that we go to New York City for some family time.
And then two weekends after that is a camping trip up in Wisconsin.
And then the summer brings weddings (to Wisconsin again), family trips (various places in Indiana and to Vermont), and a conference (to Edmonton, in Canada).
I’m going to love every single minute of each of these trips, but with all the traveling I’ve already done these past few weeks (Florida…Vancouver…) and all the work this quarter has brought, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at all the time and money we’re spending away from home.
I know it’s a good problem to have. But I’m putting the rest of the spring and summer on lockdown. No more plans, no more commitments.