Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mandatory vs. Optional

I have too much to do. I'm willing to bet that you do, too.

Here's the problem. The things that I have to do fall into two categories: mandatory and optional. I can't give up the mandatory things - things I'm contractually obligated to do as a result of my job, like teach my classes, serve on university committees, write recommendation letters for students (oh, so many right now! and each one has to be a little eloquent masterpiece!). Among the other mandatory things are probably things I need to do for my health, like walk and floss my teeth (every single day???). So that means I need to give up some of the optional things. But the trouble is that they are the things that make my life worth living: writing my books, engaging in fun writing-related activities (like the annual poetry retreat I attend every year back East), reading books just because I want to (not the books that I've ageed each month to review: those are mandatory).

I don't want to give up the optional things - after all, they are what I am opting to do. I want to give up the mandatory things. But I can't. That is what "mandatory" means.

Is there a way out of this dilemma? Here are some ideas for me that may apply to you, too.

1) Revisit the category of the mandatory. ARE all these things TRULY mandatory? For example, as a teacher I have to assign my students papers and exams - that truly is mandatory. But do I have to assign three papers? Could I assign two? Could I assign shorter papers? Would a five-page paper be just as good as a seven-page paper? Could I force myself to hire a grader as just about all my colleagues do?

2) Are there any currently mandatory things that I can move out of the mandatory category altogether? Along these lines, I just sent an email, at 5 o'clock this morning, resigning as Boulder events coordinator for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - just like that, one mandatory activity is no longer mandatory. But I did want to do it . . . so it was sort of optional AND mandatory. No. What I want is to ATTEND these events. I can still do that. But that knife in the gut, guilty feeling I had every time I thought about all the events I was supposed to be organizing but wasn't organizing shows that this is a good one to give up.

3) Can I find ways to combine optional and mandatory? I do this now when I walk every day with my friend Rowan: exercise is mandatory, seeing a friend feels more optional, but I can opt to do my walk with a friend, and so mandatory and optional fuse. If I have to do something anyway, why not do it in a way that feeds my spirit?

Blogging is probably more optional than mandatory. But I can blog about what is optional and mandatory, which helps!


  1. This reminds me of the advise from Stephen Covey who wrote "The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities." As for flossing, I once had a dentist who told me I didn't have to floss all my teeth. When I looked surprised she responded with "Just the ones you want to keep."

  2. What force is required for an activity to move from the optional to the mandatory category? Does the fact that this blog is titled An Hour A DAY entail that you have made a commitment to us readers to blog everday and thus failing to do so is a violation of this commitment? If so, it seems an argument can be made that it is mandatory for you to blog every day :)

  3. Oh, no! Is blogging now mandatory? Maybe the lesson is "Don't judge a blog by its title." I didn't mean by the title that I would spend an hour a day on the blog - but that I think most of the things we really care about accomplishing in our lives can get done if we spend an hour a day on them - or well, an hour almost every day.

  4. oho good dear !!!! very interesting blog and a good posting !!! you must maintain your blog, its interesting !!! Nice Buddy

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