Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Arrange your Time - McLachlan

In my office I have a drawing of two dinosaurs sitting on a rock that
rises out of a vast expanse of water. They are staring at a retreating
ship - presumably Noah's arc - and one is saying to the other, "Oh shoot,
was that today?" Above the cartoon is the caption: the importance of time

I find this cartoon irritatingly applicable to my life. By that I mean, I
relate to the dinosaurs rather than to the waving denizens of the merrily
floating arc. I can imagine the dinosaurs writing a note for themselves:
ARC. Perhaps they carved this reminder into a tree, which they then
misplaced among a forest of other trees. They likely got busy tidying up
the fronds in the swamp (by mouth) or cleaning house with a few well-aimed
swishes of the tail, or giving the kids a mud bath, or even doing good
works, such as rescuing a slow-moving herbivore from a pack of small,
hungry carnivores. Every night they went to bed thinking, 'gotta board
that arc tomorrow,' and every day there were just a few things that had to
be done first.

We are not talking procrastination here. Procrastination is when you
deliberately postpone and put off an unpleasant or tedious task you are
reluctant to do. Procrastination is putting wants before shoulds. But I
take from the cartoon that those dinosaurs WANTED to join that merry,
floating carnival called the arc; that it was like a holiday cruise
awaiting them as soon as they finished their chores. At the very least it
was preferable to the alternative, which is just the opposite of
procrastination, where any alternative is preferable to the waiting task.

So, if time management isn't about finding the will-power to overcome
procrastination, what is it about? Well, on my desk under that picture is
a large glass jar. Beside that jar there are 3-4 largish rocks, a dozen
smaller stones, a handful of gravel and a dish of sand. The idea is to
remind myself, before I begin my day, that everything there - the rocks,
the stones, the gravel, the sand--can be fitted into that jar. But only
if I go about it in the right way. If I try to put in the sand first,
then the gravel, then the stones - well, I might be left with enough room
for one or two of the rocks; certainly not all of them.

But if I put the rocks in first, with the stones scattered in the crevices
around them, and then pour in the gravel around them, and finally sift the
sand through all the air pockets-then, I can fit in everything quite
easily. That's time management.

At least that's the theory. But when I wake up in the morning, I see them
all at once: the 3-4 big, long-term projects that I really care about,
like writing my next book, the half-dozen smaller projects, the handful of
ongoing tasks and the full bowl of little daily chores. Some of them are
wants and some of them are shoulds and all of them have to fit somehow
into my waiting day, which sits transparent and hopeful before me. I am
often tempted to start with the small things and get them out of the way
quickly- stroke them off my list-before I tackle the bigger ones. But when
I do that, I'm left with insufficient space in my day, and depleted
energy, so that the big projects seem even bigger, and the day already
almost full, and at last I go to bed thinking, 'gotta board that arc

But some days, the good ones, I start my day by setting aside large blocks
of time when I am most energized, for the big things, the things that
really matter to me, like 3 hours of solid writing time. And around those
big chunks of time I add in smaller but still significant items, like
editing, or sewing that baby quilt, or volunteering or visiting a friend.
Then, around those, I fit in the ongoing tasks, like eating and cooking
and housework and exercising. Finally, I filter moments of time for
relaxing, for a cup of tea, for a quiet prayer, for reading. And when I go
to bed on those days, I feel so satisfied and buoyed up, I could swear I'm
floating into sleep on an arc.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Jane, thanks for this refreshing take and distinction between procrastination and time management -- illustrated with a fun palaeontological-come-biblical touch! :)

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