When I started the Joyful Professor blog back in December (2010), I optimistically announced that I would write a bi-monthly posting. As the demands of the spring semester and other responsibilities kicked in, it has become clear that once a month is going to be my limit. Recently I took 13 students in my class to China over spring break, led a $25 million preproposal with 50 other participants, negotiated 3 potential new leadership opportunities (still ongoing), reviewed my student’s PhD proposal and got 2 journal papers out the door, finished one Joyful Professor workshop and started another, led the creation of a new program in my son’s Boy Scout troop, dealt with my sons’ ongoing school issues, and the list goes on. Despite this lengthy set of responsibilities, I still found time to meditate an hour a day (most days), do vigorous aerobic exercise 3 times a week and regular walking on other days, cook with my son once a week and play air hockey with him in the evenings, attend all of my son’s performances and contests (typically one or two a week), have regular family time and time with my husband each weekend, and sleep 7 hours a night.
People ask me how I manage to do so much. Certainly I get a lot of help from many collaborators and family, but I think the key is in what I don’t do. My husband sent me a great blog posting on the difference between leisure time and idle time that nicely summarizes some of the essential points. I set my goals (both professional and personal) at the start of each semester and summer. Once they’re set, I’m scrupulously careful about how I spend my precious time and routinely say no even to small requests that don’t meet my goals, as many small requests can add up to a lot of time. In terms of my free time, I carefully pick only the activities that bring me the most joy and connection with the folks I care about. I don’t watch TV, recreational shop, or spend time cruising on Facebook other than the occasional posting. If I’m too tired to do much, I take a nap and recharge my batteries so that later I have more energy for the things I care about. A recent posting on work-life balance by the Mayo Clinic has a great quote on this sort of time frugality: “When you quit doing the things you do only out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll make more room in your life for the activities that are meaningful to you and bring you joy.” There’s nothing wrong with being busy as long as you are spending the time in a joyful and productive way.
So, is life feeling overwhelming? Try keeping track of how you are spending your time for a week so you can identify any time wasters that you can weed out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and above all else don’t be afraid to say no. If you’re not watching out for your needs and treating yourself with compassion, you will be way less productive in how you do spend your time, so don’t start down that spiral of overwork and burnout. And lastly, be sure to allow yourself the spontaneous time to follow your heart. Yesterday we had our first weekend afternoon with sunshine and 70 degrees. I had great plans for catching up on some work (and writing this blog), but put it all aside to nap and read on the back deck. This morning I’m recharged and catching up quickly without being nagged by the lack of motivation I was feeling yesterday. Time for a nice lunch on the back porch in the sunshine again…
April 10, 2011