February 5, 2013

Why I Didn't Watch Even One Second of The Superbowl

Over the course of the past week, I realized something important about setting goals. I can't say that this realization was completely new to me: it's something I've understood for a while now, but haven't been able to really internalize in a meaningful and actionable way.

Every day, I make imposing TO DO lists. And every day, my to-do listing essentially sets me up for failure. Because my lists generally look like this one to the left.

This list represents the things that I feel I need to do in a given day, or cluster of days. Most of the things on this list are not five minute activities; they are complicated and involved.

There are a couple of things to note here. First, that this list sets up completely ridiculous expectations for a given day, at the end of which I will inevitably feel like I've failed. This list does not catalogue the inordinate numbers of things I need to do that I don't feel the need to write down. Before starting in on my to-do list, I have to teach a full day, eat, sleep, converse with colleagues, respond to email, attempt to inspire students to enjoy critical thinking and reading (and sometimes juggling and sonnet writing), get up and stretch, and maybe even exercise (if I get very lucky). Even if I had a full day at home in the quiet, sipping coffee at my desk, I don't know that this list is actionable. Even if I had two personal slaves personal assistants to help me, I don't think I could pull it off.

Second, its' important to note what tasks have remained unchecked. Which ones, you ask?

The personal ones: my writing and personal health goals. The ones that are really important to me.

Not to say that work-related goals aren't important to me. They really are. But are they always and forever the most IMPORTANT goals, the ones that should always get top billing? I'm not convinced.

My students are often lamenting the fact that they are given so much work and that what's expected of them isn't reasonable. They're right: it isn't reasonable to expect that they can give their very best to every class and every assignment on every given day. We only have so many hours in the day and so many iotas of concentration to contribute. That means you have to pick and choose where and how you expend your energy.  It's about making choices about what your priorities are going to be. It's also about knowing that you can't do it all. You can try, but you can't. At least you can't do it all well - and isn't that what we're striving for? Sometimes you have to ease off in certain aspects of your life in order to live the life you really want. It isn't an easy thing to do sometimes, but the alternative is feeling like you're always failing.

Which is why, instead of watching the Superbowl, I worked on revising my novel. Because I have a big goal of revising this novel in the next six weeks, and watching football isn't going to get me there.

Music I'm Writing To: Ben Howard, "Under The Same Sun"