I’m Probably Not Going to Get It All Done

We just completed the fourth week of the semester here at my university — this is the time when, as they say, the s*** starts to hit the fan. The first student flake-outs, the big assignments, first exams (Thursday was apparently a big exam day on our campus as there was a TON more students hanging around the hallways and the majority of them looked super stressed out).

For me, this has been one of those semesters — I was scheduled to be out of the office in early February for a grant training, so had carefully planned my syllabi to accomodate the travel, scheduled meetings around my absence, etc., etc. And then my grandmother passed away the last weekend of January, which meant I had to fly home for the funeral during the second week of the semester. During the trip, I managed to pick up a cold. So my life has looked like this so far this semester:

  • Week 1: start classes and Women’s Center programming
  • Week 2: Work/teach Monday, fly to PA Tuesday, funeral Wednesday, fly back to KC Thursday, work Friday. Come down with cold on Saturday.
  • Week 3: Drag sick self to airport, fly to Birmingham, spent week at grant training sick as a dog. Fly back Thursday, sick day Friday.
  • Week 4: Try desperately to catch up on everything while dealing with a lingering cold.

It’s been a ton of fun, let me tell you. And it’s got me thinking about a couple of blog posts I read last summer — one by Kathleen Fitzpatrick “You Will Never Get It All Done,” in which she writes:

I find myself in the entirely privileged circumstance in which the opportunities are expanding astronomically. This situation requires a different kind of self-talk, because once I say yes, once I add the opportunity — the commissioned article, the invited lecture, the advisory board — to my to-do list, I’ve committed myself to getting it done. And one of the best ways that I can be kind to future me is by ensuring that those commitments are to the things that best support the work I want to do, in the deepest sense.

And the post she’s responding to by Jason Jones, in which he points out:

Since you can’t get it all done, one can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you can’t do anything. (“If I can’t get caught up on X, what’s the point?” “Since I’m behind on Really Important Thing X, I should also let minor responsibilites 1, 2, and 3 slip.” And so forth.) But no one ever wrote a book, or taught a class, or even revised a department’s curriculum in a single step. Focusing your productivity system on next actions can help you fight through procrastination-driving despair.

I have been thinking about both of these things — how often/should I say yes and how to “fight through procrastination-driving despair” — as I try to dig myself out of hole this semester has produced. And I, too, have finally been forced to admit that I probably will not be able to get it all done (or at least not on time). And that’s okay. I’ll finish those things that must be done because I’ve made commitments to other folks and accept that some things might just have to slide (or be done imperfectly). Moving forward, I need to keep in mind that saying yes and taking on more is not always the answer, that “no” is okay sometimes as well. And sometimes it’s even okay not to do something. Sometimes.

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