Today is the first day in quite a while that I feel a sense of progress, rather than of spinning my wheels. I have finished the two big things that were on my plate for the last few weeks – proposal revisions, and grant work. We’re writing a grant at work, and it’s a team effort. I’m a small part of that team, and grateful to be part of it. I’ve learned so much from the job that I love, and am fortunate that my supervisor, mentor and staff are all good people, the kind who inspire me, and who really work together. That’s something I don’t take for granted, having been part of a lot of teams over the course of my work life. And the proposal…ah, dissertations. Such an undertaking. Same mentor, different project, and here too I am glad to have him guiding me through it all. In spite of all that support and teamwork, I get stressed out. I suppose we all do.
I find that when dealing with stress, it’s good to set some parameters around it. To set a rhythm, even. I will work on this project from hour X to hour Y. I write that down on my calendar, schedule it like a meeting with myself, and go to it, cup of coffee by my side, in my office or (more often) at home on the couch. Josh and I both work from home most days, and it’s usually quite companionable, music playing in the background, the pup nestled next to me on the couch. I set a timer to keep me working, and to let me know when to stop, and when it goes off, I find a stopping point and set the project aside. At dinner time, I stop for the day. Perhaps if there’s a deadline I’ll set the timer again and work in the evening, but I always stop to take a walk with Josh and the pup or watch a movie or play a board game later in the night. And at bedtime, I wash my face, brush my teeth, and curl up in bed with my book for a while, then turn off the light. “It is done for the day,” I tell myself. And – this is always true – it will still be there tomorrow. It is good to know what “enough” looks like, in the context of one day, and to have a sense of when we have done enough.
I also find that it helps to have a rhythm throughout my day. I try to get up around the same time in the morning, make coffee and brush my teeth, sit outside for a few minutes, get dressed, have a bite to eat, and then (this is important) check my list of tasks for the day and decide what’s important. What needs to get done, on this day? In what order? That helps me decide what to work on, and gives me a way to check back and know when I am done. In the evenings, too, I have a routine. I’m not married to it – if a friend calls and says “let’s get an ice cream,” I go and have an ice cream. Being social, cultivating some spontaneity and close relationships, is one of the keys to a well lived life. But in general, a daily rhythm has been good for me, when I’ve been able to maintain it. I think it’s good for the dog, and for Josh and our relationship, and while I think it’s important right now for our childless state of being, I think it will be even more important when we have children. For kids, daily rhythm is essential (for a great article on family rhythm and how one family goes about it, click here).
We decide how much of our lives we will devote to a thing, even work. I think it’s popular in our culture to talk about how busy we are, and to dwell on our stress. I think perhaps we should stop that. I was so inspired by a professor who told me she was “giving up busy-ness.” When I asked what that meant, she said “I’m going to do one thing at a time, and not talk about how busy I am.” Such a simple commitment, but such a revolutionary one.
I am giving up being busy. Trying to, anyway. I too will try to do one thing at a time, to set my tasks for the day, go to them, and then set them aside when the day is done, to take a rest. I will try to follow a rhythm in my life. And I will focus on how fortunate and grateful I am to be doing work that I love, rather than how busy I am. Busy-ness, as my friend and professor Jenny so astutely pointed out, is more a state of mind, a way that we choose to experience and approach our daily lives.