Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Getting Organized

I've been trying to get better organized. My major sources of help include:

Pat Dorff's File...Don't Pile, plus File...Don't Pile for People Who Write.

David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Robert Boice's Professors as Writers.

I'm reworking my filing system according to Pat Dorff's principles to keep my paperwork better organized.

I'm using David Allen's principles to design a way to handle the flow of paperwork connected with the things I have to do. "Active" papers have to be dealt with differently from "reference" papers, and I find Pat Dorff's system most helpful for keeping the reference materials well-organized, but Allen's system helpful for dealing with the more dynamic "active" papers.

Then, Robert Boice's system is excellent for designing a system for busy professors to keep space in their life for writing.

Pat Dorff has helped me to understand why, as an INFP (in some modes, but INFJ in other modes) I do have a hard time getting organized, and yet people tend to perceive me as organized (until they see the corners of my office!). I have trouble getting fully organized because I see the complex interconnections among the projects and ideas (and associated paperwork) I work with, and I am reluctant to "freeze" one possible organizing scheme in place. And I have not been terribly motivated to get organized because I tend to remember where things are. But not always -- hence my new resolve to get things better organized. I know I will be happier if I can do this. And the exercising of my "J" tendencies is good for me.

I have already been familiar with David Allen's principles, and have applied them to my life ever since I became Chair. My present system is a modification of his recommendations. My success in managing the immediate flow of tasks pretty well also explains why people perceive me as well-organized and why they like to ask me to do administrative-type things.

But what I need to give more priority to, because I love it and feel called to spend more time on this again, is write.

It was not good for me, actually, that I became chair of my department so early in my career. I took it seriously and have managed to keep our small department intact and moving forward reasonably well (given my inexperience and the extraordinary circumstances I have had to face), but all of the attention this has taken really did undermine my progress in my writing.

Still, I am glad for what I have learned, and I think we are now in a calmer, stabler state, and so I am optimistic that I can at last turn my attention more fully back to my writing.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have received is to schedule time on a daily basis for writing, holding this time as sacred as time in the classroom. I have already factored this into my fall schedule.

I used to be one of those people who thought I needed large chunks of time to make progress in my writing, and not being able to find those large chunks of time meant that I kept putting this off. I also like writing, and so putting off what I love oddly felt virtuous, in that painful sort of way that delaying gratification feels virtuous. But writing is part of my job responsibility, and so it is not really responsible to keep putting it off! This is why hearing this bit of advice was such a revelation to me. I am allowed to hold writing time as sacred as class time! In fact, I must! It is irresponsible not to!

It was Robert Boice's book that convinced me that even small chunks of time on a daily basis can be highly productive: if you do it daily, you maintain instead of lose momentum. People who've put it off too long feel the need for large chunks of time because they know that it will take a lot of energy to get things going again. But the truth is, if you have a daily momentum going, the daily start-up no longer requires huge effort. I've had fleeting glimpses of the truth of this.

But now it is time for me to really put this into practice in a real and permanent sort of way.

I had started to do that a couple of weeks ago, but got thwarted at having lost track of where some of my key research-related papers were. This is why I have shifted my attention towards getting better organized.

But I am making real progress on that, and so I am feeling that by the time the school year gets started, I will finally be in a position to turn over a new leaf, and institute new habits that will move my research and writing finally to the center of my work, where I have always wanted it to be.

This has been my summer of reworking my life from the inside out. I'm halfway through the process. Things feel quite messy and chaotic now, but if I keep working at it, that will soon turn around.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Well, after yesterday's posting, ironically enough, I'm suddenly feeling interested in my academic writing again and have been very productive the last two days.

If I had planned on this as the hoped-for result of my vacation declaration yesterday, it would not have happened.

But I didn't plan on it. I was sincere about letting go of my expectations and focusing my energy differently. The sincerity was key, I think. It allowed my energy to reconfigure itself in new ways I could not have imagined.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On Being an Animal

As a human being, I am an animal too. And so are you.

This summer I am feeling moved not to travel much. While my main plan had been to get back into my academic writing, I'm having a really hard time with that. I think I am just profoundly tired. Plus, my support system has been seriously diminished over the past year: from the ending of my music group, to the departure of two people in my life who have been really important mentors and guides.

After my busy year and these important losses, I'm now mostly focused on trying to reestablish a basic discipline of taking good care of myself. No one else can do that for me anyway. More and more I realize that this is a deep and fundamental animal responsibility we each have. It is exactly for ourselves, but not selfish. We are not just our own private property. We matter to others in the world. And so if we don't take good care of ourselves, we can bring considerable grief into others' lives, because they can do little to restore health and well-being if we are not ourselves cooperating.

I have come to realize this in myself, but I also see it from another perspective in my relationships with others. Those who are good at taking care of themselves are happy and healthy and their lives are in balance, which means that they have lots of energy to attend to others as well.

As philosopher Immanuel Kant points out, we have a basic duty to be happy, so that we are not so distracted by our unhappiness that we fail to attend to our other moral duties!

The key marker for my own self care is exercise. Happily, I am running again. This is a very good sign. This year, I will place this as one of my highest priorities. No matter how busy my life gets, I will try to regard this as essential as eating and sleeping and going to Meeting! (Hold me too this, my faithful readers!)

So I've made the radical decision not to worry about how "productive" my summer is. I'm going to live my days as aimlessly as I need to. I'll attend to anything urgent that crosses my desk. But other than that, I'll just do what I feel moved to do from moment to moment. I haven't had a real vacation as such in a long time. I hereby declare the rest of this summer to be the first really extended vacation I have ever in my whole life let myself have.

I feel open and in a data-gathering mode. What gives me life? I want to experience the world in a new way. I want to let the world fill me with healing and renewing energy. I want to pay full attention to everyone I see, but refrain from agreeing to anything that establishes a controlling dynamic in our relationships. I refuse to expect anyone to do anything for me in particular; and I refuse to agree to anything that means that others expect something of me.

(I must emphasize that this is purely temporary. When the academic year begins again, I will have no choice but to enter back into that complex network of relationships dominated by controlling dynamics going in both directions.)

But for now, I just want to be a wild animal, quiet and shy, alert and tuned mostly into the pure present moment. I want to eat and sleep and run in the woods. I want to watch beautiful sunsets and let them work their magic on my soul.

The summer, after all, is beautiful. The sun. The breezes. The freedom to walk straight outside without the fanfare of coats and hats and scarves and gloves and complicated shoes slipping on icy walks. This is the time store up health and hope.

The other things I care about will come to fruition in their own good time. Let me finally honor the wisdom of the structure of the academic year. Let me finally trust in the natural rhythms of life and nature.