Maria T. Accardi is Associate Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction and Reference at Indiana University Southeast. She is the author of Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, for which she received the Association of College and Research Libraries Women and Gender Studies Section Award for Significant Achievement in 2014. She blogs about burnout at Academic Library Instruction Burnout and tweets @mariataccardi.
|Cherokee Park, Louisville, KY|
In the fall of 2014, I enjoyed a semester-long sabbatical. A paid semester off to think and write about stuff I cared about seemed like an unimaginable luxury while I was toiling away on the road to tenure, and when the time rolled around to lock my office door and leave campus for months and months, I was pretty sure that someone was going to halt my hasty retreat and inform me that a grave error had been made and the promised sabbatical was a figment of my exhausted imagination.
This, of course, did not happen. But what did happen is that I suddenly had days and weeks and months unfolding before me, with no structure, no rules, no meetings, no anything.
On my first official day at home, I had that anticlimactic, day-after-Christmas-ish “now what?” kind of feeling. The logical thing to do was to make a schedule to organize my time, lest I fritter away my time off on frivolous matters. And while I did manage to go to a bunch of movies during the day, and compulsively read Anna Karenina in three days, and plan my day around watching General Hospital, and sleep in when I felt like it, I also had a basic structure to order my day. I relaxed, I rejuvenated, but I still got things done.
When I returned to work in January of this year, I was immediately overwhelmed by everything I had missed and needed to catch up on and accomplish. I usually ended up immobilized by indecision and did nothing and subsequently felt terrible about it, which was not a particularly useful or productive way of managing my stress and time. The guilt over not getting stuff done only cultivated more guilt and more indecision. It’s not a very nice place to be. So when I saw the announcement that Jacob was organizing a faculty writing group designed to enhance writing productivity, I jumped on the opportunity to join. I needed help. And I also needed community. While my sabbatical was restful, it was also unexpectedly isolating and lonely.
I don’t know why it was such a surprise to me to learn, though the writing group discussions and reading How to Write a Lot, that the key to getting writing done is to simply make time to do it, to carve out that time and protect it and show up for it, and not to just sit around and wait for time to magically materialize. Since developing a schedule was essentially how I accomplished stuff on my sabbatical leave, one would think that I could transfer that same knowledge to returning to my work life and professional writing projects. But no, it still was a revelation that it turned out that this was still the answer. My days were not going to organize themselves, and there were always going to be multiple competing interests that were only too happy to take and take and take time and mental energy and intellectual labor from me.
The motivation and accountability made possible by our regular meetings inspired me to experiment with devising a writing schedule that blocked off protected time to write, but also allowed for flexibility in case something urgent did arise, or if I honestly just wasn’t feeling it that day. I examined my calendar each week and then scheduled multiple 30-60 minute writing appointments in my calendar, and then my goal would be to meet a certain number of them. I might schedule seven blocks for the week and then make a goal to hit four of them, for example. If I met more of them, then great! If I only accomplished the minimum, that was great, too.
And you know what? I got stuff done. I had a bunch of goals and projects and deadlines, and I powered through them and had the satisfaction of checking off boxes on my to-do list. I also had the satisfaction of finding a system that worked for me, a system that built structure, but was also forgiving and generous if needed. I already have a harsh and cruel inner critic, and I certainly didn’t need any additional self-flagellation if I didn’t meet my goals. By giving myself structure while also giving myself a break if I needed it, I could enjoy the pleasure of accomplishment and productivity without any guilt if I chose not to keep a particular writing appointment as long as I met my minimum.