I have somewhat of an obsession with productivity. And that doesn’t mean that I’m super productive. In fact, I more often chide myself for not being more productive. If I’m relaxing at home, soaking in quiet, or spending time with friends and family, I’m likely to feel guilty. Surely, there’s something productive I could be doing. But, I’ve learned that my productivity ebbs and flows. I often can’t be super productive for days on end, packing every last minute with some kind of work. Eventually, my brain gives out, and I can’t think straight anymore. Any “work” that might be getting done is not going to be the same quality as work done when I’m fresher.
Mondays tend to be productive since I tend to spend weekends in a kind of half hibernation state. Or at least one day on the weekend. For me, that means, several hours on the couch watching bad tv or playing video games, basically doing anything that doesn’t really require thought, or decisions. A colleague of mine once used the term “decision fatigue” to describe how she felt when she got home. Yep, yep, exactly how I feel. And by Friday, that fatigue has really set in.
I also find the need to take short breaks during the day. Increasingly, I don’t always have time for lunch. Meetings of various kinds have encroached on that time, but when I do have time, I spend at least 1/2 hour if I can, and more if there’s room in the schedule. I find that 1/2 hour-an hour can be productive in a different way. It’s often an opportunity to have conversations with people I don’t see that often. Pretty frequently, I find out about an issue that needs to be resolved through a lunch conversation, or I learn something cool about teaching, about something someone is doing in the classroom, or just get a general sense of how everyone is doing. That’s pretty important. If lunch isn’t a possibility, there are 3 coffee pots in the building. A visit to one of them for tea or coffee also ends up in good conversations.
This past week, I adopted a new to-do list format, which I think might have changed my life. I’ve always had a combo digital/paper to-do list. The problem with digital lists was that I had to remember to actually look at them, even when I had them notify me via various methods. I learned to ignore the notifications. The paper lists, which were index cards, got messy pretty quickly. They were effective if I got everything on them done during the day, which was my goal, but if something didn’t get done, I sometimes lost track of it. My new paper list is pretty awesome. There are a couple of things I like about it. One, it’s simple. Two, I like tracking my work every hour. It’s allowed me to see how much time different tasks really take. It’s been quite revealing. I also like summarizing the day, though I don’t do that every day, and it doesn’t feel crucial to the system.
I am trying to work off of a set of goals I set for myself and create to-do items that are both proactive and reactive. Today, for example, I read 3 or 4 articles on girls’ education. I’ve set a goal for myself to have more solid information about girls’ education. And I planned meetings and responded to email, both more reactive items. I’ve cut way down on checking email, which now happens about twice a day. And once a week, I cull through my email, which I label fairly carefully, to make sure I’ve captured everything I need to do.
Now if I could just apply this to my housecleaning activities . . .