College semesters, like so many other things, have an ebb and flow to them. In the past two weeks, the flow of papers, exams and concerned students has been steady enough for the work waters to rise to flood level.
This is not a surprise. It happens every semester. And, when it does, my I need to see it/drop and run styles show their ugly side, in the form of piles that seem to usurp most of the flat surfaces in my house. This is hard for me to watch, since I should know better — I write about organization, after all! — but no amount of “should” is going to give me more time.
So often, when we find ourselves in rising waters, figuratively speaking, we concentrate only on keeping our heads above water. While this is essential, how we manage our mental state amid the deluge is essential as well.
Clearly, my stacks of papers and stuffed inbox are not life-threatening, but my attitude about managing them can make a big difference in the quality of my life and the lives of those around me. Here are three keys I try to keep in mind.
Some time lines are flexible. There are many deadlines at this point in the semester, so the last thing I need to do is impose more deadlines on myself, especially if those deadlines are unrealistic. Makes sense, right? But every semester, I need to remind myself of this and fight the urge to think I can read 30 papers in one sitting and still remain a semi-functioning human. Giving myself the time I need to not just do required tasks but do them well benefits both me and my students.
Baby steps. Some days, I think this will be engraved on my tombstone (right beside “it’s a process”). Breaking a task down into smaller chunks not only makes it more manageable, but it enables me to build in breaks — a wonderful, restorative feature necessary when the finish line seems far off. Powering through seems as though it will get us to our destination faster, but it can be overrated, and it might even backfire, causing us to hit a wall, unable to go any further.
Some things are not expendable. Sleep. Sustenance. Time with family. Okay, so I rescheduled a hair cut, and a massage (both of which I should have had the foresight not to schedule this week in the first place) and I begged off choir practice so I could recapture that time to check tasks off my list. These were trade-offs so I could make time to do things like talk with my daughter on the phone, have dinner with my husband and sneak in a nap when my eyes couldn’t focus on one more paper. Knowing our limits isn’t weakness. It’s wisdom.
Two weeks from now, all of the papers I’ve collected will be graded and returned and I will have listened to my last presentation of the semester. Meanwhile, I will never have this particular combination of students again and I owe it to them — and to me — to give them my best self. Without the right mindset, she’s nowhere to be found.
Copyright 2019 Lisa Hess