Monday, January 08, 2007

Never Despair, But If You Do...

I remain convinced that my not feeling well is a bad cold. But why? I seldom get colds. Is the cold a way of numbing me and protecting me from feeling as overwhelmed as I otherwise would feel?

A recent fortune cookie fortune: "Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair."

So, with this cheery thought...

At least my classes have not yet resumed. We have a couple more weeks of break. I very much need this time. Being chair of a small department that was understaffed last semester because a colleague was on sabbatical (and we don't do sabbatical replacements for people who are gone just one semester), I have a lot to catch up on. While it is more complex chairing big departments, the challenge of a small department is that there are fewer people to share the departmental work. Since I was alone with two visiting professors last semester, that meant that I did just about all of the departmental work. Or, well, most of it, which is why I have some catching up to do now!

To try to keep my complex life well-organized, I constructed what I called my "Master List of Everything." This document, a kind of comprehensive To Do list for my life, took up more than four pages, single-spaced. Then I color-coded the items according to the anxiety level evoked by each item. The entire document then displayed the distressingly high levels of anxiety that permeated my life. I realized that I would not be able to work effectively from this document, so I threw it away!

Actually, what I did was to revert the document's colors to plain black text again, and condensed it by distilling it to a "Master List of Projects," eliminating specific tasks and just leaving the major projects I have going in my life. (Now I got it down to two pages, but still...)

Here are some examples of items on my "Master List of Projects": "Courses." It takes up just one line, but represents a huge percentage of my time. Other examples: "Advising," "Assessment Plan for Philosophy Department," a line for each committee I serve on, my "Quakers and Science" presentation (now completed, but this item got moved to be listed as one item under "Papers in Progress"), etc.

Having this document works very well for me. I review it each week to determine the specific tasks I need to do each week to be on task for these various projects. When I have deadlines, I type them into this ever-evolving document, and highlight the most urgent tasks in red.

I share all of this only because I myself like reading and hearing about how others try to live in productive relationship with the complexity of their own lives.

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