Sometimes it takes hearing the same thing a few different ways for something to sink in for me. Here are the three passes of the same message that’s leading me to think about my calendar and planning a little differently:
Though my sources here are variable, there’s a message to be found about the importance of down and off time to thinking and creative work.
Moreover, instituting this kind of practice can be done with the simple tool of a calendar. Too often, I find myself booking conference travel back to back with teaching, often running to or from the airport from my campus.
I love conferences. I love talking to smart people in my field. I love browsing the book exhibit. I fill notebooks with ideas for future classes, writing projects, collaborations.
But because of the way I schedule, much of that gets lost the minute I board my return flight and start planning the classes that have to be taught as soon as we’re wheels down. Or, at best, I get in on a Sunday and manage to throw in a load of wash before crashing to sleep.
But what if I (we) scheduled a little differently? What about building in time to reflect on what we’ve learned, to journal about future ideas, to send those follow up emails? It might be tricky. Maybe it would be better to leave the conference a day early in order to do some meaningful thinking about the experience. Maybe it means planning a really easy teaching day (an in-class video, a peer review set up well ahead of time, a guest lecture) for the return so at the very least the plane ride can still be spent in reflection rather than ramping up to the next thing.
Since we’re in the summer months, this seems a good time to stake out this precious territory in our calendars. There’s a lot that might be gained by clearing time to do “nothing.”
My fifteen-month-old daughter has recently developed the strength and dexterity to draw. Great, I thought, that’ll keep her busy!
Indeed, her crayons did keep her busy, busy drawing on the toilet, refrigerator, and walls (pre-baby, I thought it would be a good idea to paint everything “bistro white”). Now, there’s an exciting looking green zigzag that marks much of the house.
After a few times reprimanding and wresting crayons from the furious infant, I realized that the crayons and white walls were simply too much temptation for my girl. Now, we practice our art skills outside with chalk. The crayons are now out of reach and only come out for supervised play.
It’s summer break time here, which means that I’ve been lately faced with some of my own temptations. As any academic knows, there’s more freedom with scheduling over the summer and a bit of a relaxed pace, but we’re not necessarily “off.” I have family vacation and some work travel planned for late summer, so I need to use these early summer weeks wisely to make strides on ongoing writing projects.
But faced with a more expansive summer schedule, I find that I’m a bit more susceptible to time sucking temptations than I might be during the school semester during which I jealously guard my precious writing time.
Instead, during the unstructured days of summer, I’m tempted by shiny time wasters that I can’t quite handle, not unlike my daughter, who just can’t quite be trusted with those crayons. For me, though, the temptations are slightly less fun, and instead include light cleaning, online shopping, compulsive email checking, scrolling through twitter. I hope some of you have sexier temptations…these tedious ones are mine.
It’s humbling to realize that as an adult I have about as much self-control when it comes to these activities as my daughter does when faced with a white wall and a green crayon. I simply cannot handle them. In response to this realization, I’m trying to institute a grown-up version of putting the crayons on top of the refrigerator. It’s a plan that involves leaving the house and going to the office some days, frequenting coffee shops with no Wi-Fi, working with others to hold myself accountable, and when I realize that I’m really struggling, using apps with names like “SelfControl”—a chiding reminder that I have none!
So, if you’re a creative worker or academic writer, it may be worth asking yourself at the beginning of this summer season, what’s your green crayon? What’s the “on top of fridge” you can institute so that you can accomplish your most important work?
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