Monday, December 2, 2013

"Bite off more than you can chew"

Thanksgiving break is over. Oh, what goals I had for it!

 I worked out an elaborate time management system. Every day I would:
1. write for an hour on my Nora ant farm book
2. grade five papers for my children's literature course
3. send reviewers' comments to two authors for my edited Ethics and Children's Literature collection
4. read for an hour, either one of the books I was sent to review for the online book review service Children's Literature, or a book about ants, or Books 10-12 of Rousseau's Confessions for class.
5. have fun with my family and friends.

I started out so well. I think I actually did all five of those things on Monday. But then as the week progressed, I couldn't sustain this pace, even though a four-hour-a-day work schedule seems hardly daunting given how many hours a day most people in the world engage in toil. I also found that on some days I'd be overzealous in one category - I'd grade ten papers instead of five - and then the next day I'd be unable to face doing anything in that category at all. Once Thanksgiving Day rolled in, fun with family and friends was about all I could boast - though what better boast than that?

Now that the week is over, I give myself a mixed report card.

1. Nora ant farm book: I made steady progress, but much less than I had hoped. The best thing I accomplished here was emailing my editor to beg for an extension from my original December 15 deadline to a deadline of January 1. That thirty seconds of effort, which yielded a "Yes, of course" reply, rendered the impossible possible.

2. I graded all my 34 papers with lots of helpful comments on all of them, or at least I think they are helpful. They'd be more helpful if my handwriting were more readable. But still, I feel that each paper received a careful, thoughtful assessment.

3. I sent out reviewers' comments on all the easy chapters, the ones where I didn't need to do any thinking myself, but just had to cut and paste the comments from the two reviewers into the email. The ones where thinking was required remain to be done. I couldn't THINK this week on top of everything else!

4. I read all five books I was sent to review and wrote five pithy 250-word reviews on each one. I did some reading about ants, but that reading stressed me because I'm still so sad that all my ants in my ant farm died and uncertain about I'm going to address certain ant-shaped holes in my plot. I finished reading Rousseau's Confessions.

5. I served a lovely family brunch on Thanksgiving and a lovely traditional Thanksgiving dinner on the day after, to accommodate family logistics. I walked every day with my friend Rowan, her son Asher, and my son Gregory; the four of us have been walking together for years. I supervised the putting up of the Christmas tree at home and helped with the "hanging of the greens" at church. I went to a family reunion with a long-lost nephew and his extended family. I had tea with a friend. I ate a lot of pumpkin pie.

So my verdict is: pretty good, all in all.

I memorized a little ditty when I was a child that has stayed with me:

Bite off more than you can chew,
And chew it.
Plan for more than you can do,
And do it.
Hitch your wagon to a star,
Keep your seat,
And there you are!

I'd revise this to:

Bite off lots of pumpkin pie
And have fun chewing it.
Plan for more than you can do,
And do a fair amount of it.
Hitch your wagon to a star,
Preferably a fairly low-hanging one,
Keep your seat,
More or less,
And there you are,
Or at least you're closer than you would have been otherwise.

Not as snappy as the original, but a concise summation not only of my past week, but of my strategy for accomplishing whatever work I've ever accomplished in my long and happy life.


  1. I can SO sympathize with the way your good intentions lasted only one day! Some of mine don't even last that long. But just listing the good intentions often has a positive effect even if you don't follow through, and it sounds like you're being very productive, so *something* is clearly working.

  2. Tracy, I owe everything I've ever accomplished in my life to those good intentions, however short lived they are. That's why I start a new life every month, to start over again with more good intentions, and then more after that...