Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, but lately it's feeling that all my days are far too short.
There's the coming of Christmas, of course, which stresses most of us. I've just finished organizing our church's Mitten Tree for the homeless and caroling to neighboring retirement communities; I decided to send Christmas cards for the first time in a few years; holiday baking has begun. But I'm also facing yet another relocation to Indiana for the spring semester. I start driving on January 2. I'll be teaching three courses, two of which I've never taught before. Ordinarily I'd devote January to getting the courses prepared. But this year I'll be spending January teaching a study abroad course called "Enchanted Spaces: Children's Literature Sites in London, Oxford, and Paris" - how thrilling is that? But it means that I have no time for course prep in January. Course prep needs to be done now, in these short, short days.
I like mixing up my time management strategies, so they don't lose their efficacy. My most recent one involves focusing not on my time-tested unit of the hour, but the even more manageable and less threatening unit of the half hour. (I own both an hour glass and a half-hour glass to use for timing). For the past week, I've told myself each morning upon waking that I needed to do four half hours of work, on four different tasks. The tasks on the menu were a mix of hard and easy, challenging and comforting. I could choose which four to do. And then I had to pick one of those four tasks and give it a follow-up hour, capitalizing on the first half hour's momentum.
So a typical day went like this:
1/2 hour handwriting messages on Christmas cards (easy, but tedious, as the messages begin to get repetitious, so half an hour is plenty - usually I can get five cards done in that span)
1/2 hour reading books for my judging of the Children's Literature Phoenix Award (it's criminal to use a prime half hour of the day for a task like reading, which is perfect for curling up in bed in the evening, but desperate times call for desperate measures)
1/2 hour working on the sermon I'm giving on December 27: my son Christopher and I always lead the worship service on the Sunday after Christmas - I adore writing sermons! Working on it only for half an hour a day allowed ideas to percolate for the other 23 1/2 hours, giving it greater richness and depth
1/2 hour working on reviewing an article on "The Ethics and Politics of Child Naming" for a philosophy journal. I meant to say no when they asked me, but the topic was so cool I couldn't refuse.
Little by little, through the week, I finished and mailed the Christmas cards; I then substituted that half hour for wrapping presents; when all the presents were wrapped, I (sadly) turned to course prep in that slot. Little by little, I finished my sermon, finished my review, read a friend's manuscript, and made solid progress on two of the three courses, with only (naturally) the most heinously difficult one awaiting (I always go first for low-hanging fruit to keep myself encouraged).
It's all getting done! It really is! Now all that is left, alas, are the two biggest tasks on my list: finishing a book proposal for my publisher and tackling that third course for DePauw. I'll need a different strategy for those two, as the half hour system has played itself out on this go-round. But I'm ready to think of one now. And to start baking cookies!