During the semester, there are rarely any un-busy moments. At the start of the semester, I am usually crafting my syllabus until the last possible moment. Or, I am hastily tying up loose odds and ends from a project or paper I worked on while I was not in the classroom. My advisor has helped me scale back my expectations tremendously. I did not understand her work habits when I first met her, but her dedication to carving out and protecting her time (and also sharing her time) has left an indelible mark on my work life.
Yet, no matter how much time you might dedicate to your work and how much progress you have made on your work, sometimes, it overtakes you. That is the story of my February. As the start of semester stress began to fade, I had to reorganize everything to get to editing the draft of my dissertation. And the work began to overtake everything, so much so, that over eight straight days until I finally clicked “send” I really did nothing but eat, sleep, and dissertate. I hardly even parented my little ladies.
A few lessons learned about carving out that kind of time:
1. Your project (whatever that project might be) will not get finished unless you devote time to it. Dissertation editing is no picnic but it’s productive and exciting work because every edit you make brings you one step closer to finishing. The more you get in your own way by distracting yourself or procrastinating, the longer the process will take.
2. Even if you can devote more time to your project, that does not mean the work will happen any faster. I know this because I have worked for the last eight days straight, through the weekend, through my nephew’s seventh birthday, through a visit with the in-laws, in the car en route to and from Boston, on my teaching day, in the cafe at the library, you name it. The work is going to take as long as it takes. Having more time means you can do more than if you had less time.
3. When you get myopically focused on your work, you will become one-dimensional for a little while and that’s okay. Right now, my professional life is all about higher education. I work in higher education, teach about higher education and research about higher education. When I’m not working on my teaching or research, I am reading about higher education. I wrote a freelance essay for an online publication about higher education. Right now, I’m extremely focused on what I do. It will not always be like this, and in order to stay focused, it’s alright if you get a little one-dimensional from time to time.
When the work overtakes you, it can feel like you’re drowning. It may also feel impossible to take care of yourself or others who depend on you.
The other sobering conclusion I’ve come to realize is that the only way to get out from under the work is to finish it. So that’s what I’m trying to do.