If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In The Interlude

Probably the most helpful lesson I've learned since coming to SouthLite is how to write in the interludes. As with many people, graduate school trained me to section off large blocks of time for writing. For me these times occurred mostly late at night when Angel was sleeping. My old job reinforced this habit. No one had any teaching responsibilities and when a grant deadline loomed we were able to stop all other activity just to write. It was also common for someone to squirrel themselves away a few days before other important deadlines--reports, resubmissions, special journals. Both experiences also lent themselves to procrastination. My ex-boss definitely believed he worked better when pressed for time and we all fell into that last minute, late-night habit.

After graduating I slowly started learning how to write on a daily basis and to start tasks way before they were due. However I still needed long blocks of time and I often had them. Here at SouthLite there is no such luxury (except in the summertime) so I've had to learn to write throughout the day and whenever I have a few moments. I found it wasn't simply a matter of scheduling but also of rethinking how I approach writing. I think the two most successful tactics I use are to (a) write myself notes and memos throughout the day so that I don't lose the ideas that arise while reading or thinking about a project; and (b) to think about projects in smaller units so that when I have 15 minutes I can use it to revise a paragraph that I know needs attention or to write out one point I know I want to make in the discussion section of a paper. Of course I still need longer periods of time to write but I find when I can arrange the time I am much more productive. For example I spent most of Sunday writing Grant #2. By the end of the day I had 3-4 missing chunks. Monday was filled with meetings and people dropping by my office. In between the meetings and conversations I searched for and read articles that I needed to fill the gaps. I wrote myself notes from the articles and from random thoughts that would pop into my head as the day progressed. Today when I sat down to finish off the draft, it came smoothly and I was done in 2 hours.

When I was young I worked out every day for several hours a day. As my life and career progressed this was no longer a viable option and I was very good at setting aside chunks of time to exercise. Now I'm finding that approach isn't working for me as well as it once did. Large chunks of time devoted to anything don't really work well in my new life--at least not on a consistent basis and, like writing, I want physical activity to be a constant in my life. So I'm wondering if I can incorporate activity into small chunks of my day and rethink how I approach being active as I have done with writing. There is some data to support short bursts of activity being more effective for increasing metabolism than longer bouts of exercise. Of course this is not the way to tone up or slim down but quite frankly that doesn't seem as important to me anymore. I want my body to work well and work for me. My days of being a competitive athlete are way behind me. I've begun to think long-term--what will make my body feel best now and in the years to come?

I already walk to work most days and home from work every other day. I also try to take walks across campus in the middle of the day. I'd like to incorporate brief workouts at home in the mornings and evenings. I like the idea of getting out of my chair periodically and doing 10-15 minutes of gentle exercises throughout the day. I realize it is not just a matter of scheduling but of rethinking how I live my life.

1 comment:

Julie said...

You're smart to take notes during the day and to set aside time for writing. I'm actually very strict with myself about time spent writing, and it pays off.

I take long walks, but I take a small notebook with me. Some of my best ideas come to me when I'm walking, especially through the woods or up hills.

But I can't seem to get the discipline to do "workouts" every day. I wish I could. I like your idea of short bursts.