Pencil Me In

I’ve been struggling lately to get done everything I need to get done. I need more time, but who doesn’t? I constantly admonish myself with that old adage, “We all get the same twenty-four hours.” Some people are just better at managing it than I am.

I think having a schedule will help me.

I was recently rereading one of my favorite old self-help books, Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want. The author, Barbara Sher, believes strongly in the power of a schedule. She believes you should schedule everything, including frivolous activities, or what she refers to as avoidance patters. For example, if you tend to surf the internet instead of writing or grading, she believes you should actually write it into your schedule. Pencil in an hour of grading followed by an hour of web surfing. Most of us don’t want to admit to our avoidance patterns, whether it’s napping, reading magazines, playing Facebook games, socializing, or whatever. She writes,

“Setting a definite and regular time for getting certain things done makes it much likelier that you will do them.”

I tend to live, not by a schedule, but by inclination and deadlines. This is a recipe for procrastination, stress, anxiety, and failing to achieve short and long-term goals. That’s because inclination is pretty fickle. For me, it usually goes like this:

  1. Collect papers
  2. Tell myself I have a week to grade them and so why not get started on reading that new novel I just picked up
  3. Stare at pile of papers all week, feeling anxiety in the pit of my stomach as I turn away from the pile and mindlessly read blogs to quell my anxiety
  4. Wait until the last possible minute to grade, staying up late, or grading frantically before class begins
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat

This is not a healthy cycle.

The idea is, if I have a week to get my grading done, maybe schedule 30-60 minutes each day to grade, followed by the frivolous activity of my choice.

I have a friend who schedules each week and each day, right down to when she wakes up, does dishes, tidies the house, feeds her son, etc. I am full of admiration for this, but it won’t really work for me, because I don’t have a consistent schedule. During the school year, I teach two days a week, have one class online, do drop-in academic advising, and travel to supervise student teachers. Some weeks I see student teachers and some weeks I don’t. Some weeks I have meetings and some weeks I don’t. On certain days, students will call or email asking for an appointment, and if I have time to squeeze them in I will make an effort to do so. Sometimes a colleague or student will drop by to chat.

So, I’m thinking of solving the problem by making a new schedule each week or even each night before I go to bed, blocking out certain times for writing and grading, and not allowing myself to be free during those times. It’s not a perfect solution, but one that I hope will work for me.

I would also love to set aside time to write very early in the morning, and very late in the evening, but this requires a kind of discipline I don’t know if I have. Maybe if I actually write it down, like Barbara Sher recommends, I will be more likely to do it.

How do you manage your time? Do you use a schedule or go with the flow?

Letter to Oscar–Month Thirty

Dear Oscar,

Two and a half years ago I left our house with a bulging stomach and returned with a bursting heart.

I remember the first time I saw your face, especially your eyes, and I wondered what you would be like. Little did I know that your personality would begin revealing itself that day, the day you were born. Within hours of your birth you were looking around with those enormous dark eyes, soaking in the world. You are the most curious and playful person I have ever known.

Your energy and love of life are infectious. You run up to me, take my arm, and say, “Mama, up…peas?” How can I say no? You take me in the other room to show me that an elaborate drama has unfolded involving matchbox car pile-ups, train derailments, and plastic frogs trapped under furniture. You point and say, in plaintive tones, “Ooooh nooo!”

You know the way to the playground, the way to the library, the way to the store, the way home. Your sense of direction at two is better than mine at forty. You express all kinds of interest and disappointment depending on my route. When I turn onto the street that takes us to the playground, you shout “Yay! Whee! YAAAAY! WHEEE!” When I head to the library, you say excitedly, “Oh, play? Play? Books! Yay!”

You just finished up swimming lessons, and while at first you were timid in the water you became more and more adventurous, eventually loving to jump off the edge into my arms, again and again until you were a wrinkled prune, even when I dunked you underwater every time. But my favorite part of swimming lessons is that every time you got back in the water, you gave me a kiss.

You are energetic and outgoing, mischievous and melodramatic. But you also love browsing through piles of books, “reading” them intently for almost an hour at a time. You put your arms around my neck and squeeze, kiss my cheek while I read to you, and cuddle in my lap with your blankie. You are smart, funny, sensitive, and very, very loving. I hope that never changes.

Whatever you become, you will always be my baby boy and the greatest gift I was given in this lifetime.

Love, Mama