Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Constrained Choice

Although I didn't raise my own children this way, I know from reading (and ignoring) many parenting books that the way you are supposed to get your children to do something is to give them a certain kind of limited choice about how to do it: "Do you want to brush your teeth with the RED toothbrush or the BLUE one?" I can't quite remember, now that I look back to those early years, what I did instead. I think I just told them to do whatever it was and either they did it or they didn't.

I'm now structuring my workdays by giving myself constrained choices about which particular piece of work to do. This morning I set off for my office at the Prindle Institute, planning to spend the whole entire day here, from 8 until 4. I brought with me a totebag filled with various work possibilities:

1) a book to read in preparation for organizing my Ethics of Life Writing reading group (Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser)
2) three already-read children's books for which I need to write reviews
3) my Rousseau class syllabus to finalize
4) a recommendation letter to write
5) a book to read for a reading group in which I'll be participating (American Grace: How Religion Divides and United Us, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell)
6) today's New York Times - okay, this is not really work, but if I'm going to be spending a year at an ethics center I should have some idea of what's happening in the world, rather than just gathering clues from friends' Facebook posts ("My prayers are with the people of Japan" - oh, did something just happen in Japan??)
7) my blog to write.

I was allowed to work on any of these. There was no particular one that I HAD to work on (though organizing that reading group has a self-imposed Monday deadline, and the first meeting of my Rousseau class is at 10 tomorrow morning). And I was permitted to check email only once an hour (my post-retreat resolution).

So far this has been a lovely productive day. I ended up reading - and LOVING - the entire book on the art and craft of memoir and now feel very inspired about canvassing the other possible readings for the group. I finalized the Rousseau syllabus. I'm writing this blog post. So three out of the seven are done. I don't sense any energy left in me today for writing the book reviews or the recommendation letter. But now American Grace and The New York Times beckon.

Maybe I should have raised my boys this way, after all.

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