In the US, the fall semester of most universities ends in early December with a break for the Christmas holidays. That’s not the case in Taiwan. Our 18 week semester ends sometime in early to mid-January in time for a break for Chinese New Year’s. (Which also means that, yes, I taught on Christmas). But the nice thing about the schedule here (other the fact that the semesters are 18 weeks long) is that when our break comes, I can use it to catch up on tasks that have been slipping through the cracks while classes are in session.
So I entered the month-long break with a list of things I wanted to accomplish. Now this wasn’t my usual crazy-ass mountain list where I try to climb Mt Everest, take 1st place in a cooking competition, and write my acceptance speech for a Nobel Prize all in the same afternoon. I was actually fairly reasonable, listing three major projects that I wanted to make progress on. I thought this would be a smart way to approach things instead of resorting to my typical over-achieving ways. I added a couple of personal projects that I was excited about to be used as a reward as I accomplished my goals. I even sweetened the pot by adding “fun” projects–quilting, blog posts, pleasure reading. We planned a couple of outings–a couple day trips and one overnight. A productive, yet restorative break lay out in all its promising glory.
The new 18-week semester begins on February 17, our opening faculty meeting is on Friday, the 14th. So, with less than a week of the break left, I wish I could report that my three main projects for the break have been completed, and that my “reward” projects are all moving along nicely. And that further, I’m refreshed, renewed, and ready to tackle the semester with gusto.
Instead, I am frustrated because during the past couple of weeks, I feel like I didn’t get enough done. And when I say “enough,” I mean the things that were on my “reasonable” to-do list. I sit here with one of the three projects finished, one at about 70% completion, and no progress on the third. What’s worse is aside from blog entries, and a tiny bit of quilting early on, I set those things aside. And my energy and motivation continued to fall.
With the help of a friend, I realized that I am actually being pretty ridiculous. I know the things that will energize me. Quilting, writing, reading. Working on projects that will further my long-range plans. So let me present you with two scenarios.
- Whenever I really invest in quilting, writing, reading, and other activities that energize me, I am able to tackle the things that need to be done. It’s like magic. I return to the deadlines and the results are very satisfying.
- When I tell myself that I need to finish my to-do list and THEN I can do one of the energizing activities as a reward for getting my work done, my already sluggish output eventually screeches to a halt or results in less than satisfactory results.
In the first scenario, I accomplish all kinds of things. My spirits are high, as is my motivation. I get lots of good ideas and am able to implement them without too much difficulty.
In the second scenario, I get even less done. I might slog through a few of the most critical things, but truth be told, it is not my best work.
It’s not that I need to play and take a total break. But taking significant things from my life and putting them on the back burner because they aren’t on the top of the priority list turns out to be self-defeating over time.There are things in my life that are not in the top priority list that are still a significant part of my life. Putting them on the back burner as an incentive to do the things that I “should” do first does not really work. But when I stop “thinking” and revert to automatic pilot, scenario two is the default setting.
If I incorporate the energizing activities as a regular part of life, I’ll end up being productive, less resentful. It turns out that getting everything done first before doing the things that feed us is actually counter-productive when viewed from the moments when I feel most alive and creative.
I can’t go back and get these last few weeks back, but I can sprinkle my life with the things that will make life more colorful and energizing.
The new semester is looking brighter already.