As the semester was winding down a few short weeks ago, I was standing in a colleague’s office with my grading to-do list, lamenting the length of said list and my recurrent failure to change the patterns that lead me to end of semester grading marathons.
We commiserated for a couple minutes, and marveled at the colleagues we know who manage to end the semester without these massive grading endeavors hanging over their heads. How do they do it?
Her answer, clear, insightful, has stuck with me through the holidays: rhythm. Instead of getting pulled into the students’ rhythm (a slow creep forward that edges around actual accomplishments and builds a mountain of work at the end of the semester), create a counter rhythm powerful enough to shift their work patterns and yours.
This makes perfect sense to me intuitively and pragmatically (and I have some clear ideas about how to shift the deadlines for assignments to help make this happen next semester.) But where this really resonated was in the other areas of my life that I always think of as time problems: I don’t have enough time to work out. I don’t have enough time to write. I don’t have enough time to read that Abigail Adams biography I keep starting and stopping.
But these aren’t really time problems, just like my grading problem isn’t really a time problem. They’re rhythm problems. I let myself be pulled by daily rhythms that meet my kids’ needs rather than my own, or that are easy rather than fulfilling, or that don’t generate conflict in my household. I don’t use small increments of time well (15 minutes? Scan a couple blogs, beat a level of Angry Birds, eat chocolate or Pringles surreptitiously around the corner in the kitchen where they can’t see me). I waste enormous amounts of time every single day, because wasting time requires less energy than rethinking the rhythm of my days to make them more fulfilling.
My goal for 2013 is to reshape the rhythm of my days, weeks, and semesters. No more mountains of grading during exam week. No more weeks passing without writing. No more stretching achy shoulders and wondering how long it’s been since I did yoga. These aren’t time problems. I have time. What I need is a commitment to rethinking the rhythms of my life. I need to get up earlier. I need to set firmer deadlines for my students and myself. I might even print out a giant calendar and try the Don’t Break the Chain method for working out.
I feel incredibly lucky to be starting 2013 with health, happiness, and most of my January bills paid. It’s time to stop wasting time, stop waiting, stop floating, start doing.