Saturday, September 3, 2016

Avoiding Work Panic!

My besetting work-related sin, and maybe yours, too, is panic - that sinking, suffocating feeling of being totally overwhelmed, staggering under a too-long to-do list as the too-fast clock ticks its frantic beat into my desperate ears.

I thought September was going to be the month when at last - AT LAST! - I would have time to tackle all my accumulating work projects. My darling little granddaughter will start preschool, attending three days a week, MWF, 8:30-2:30. All of a sudden I'll have 18 reliable hours a week just for me!!

But then I remembered: I'm actually going to be gone mid-month on a week-long trip, first to Indiana and then to give three talks in South Carolina, leaving a week from Wednesday, that is to say, a week from the day that preschool begins on September 7. So now I have not a whole month but one week to prepare all three talks, write a children's book article promised with a September 20th deadline (now a September 13th deadline, as I leave on the 14th), face my overdue work on the Children's Literature Association's Phoenix Award committee, and also try to work up a proposal for a new chapter book series in the wake of another rejection, a few weeks ago, of my latest project. If I don't do it soon, I'll have zero - that is to say, ZERO! - books in the pipeline, and my career will be over, and I'll never be a children's book author ever again.

That was my panic last night.

This is my talking-myself-off-the-ledge post this morning.

1. Take a deep breath. And then another. And then another.

2. Remind myself - well, actually, I have my husband handy to remind me of this - that I always feel this way about my work schedule, and I always get it all done, and it always turns out just fine.

3. Don't make things sound/seem worse than they really are. Those three talks? One is on the ethics of immigration policy, for which I can recycle a good bit of my lecture notes from teaching last spring at DePauw. One is a creative writing talk, talking about what I know best in the whole world, which really needs only an hour or two of preparation. One is my standard school visit presentation, which just needs some updating of my Power Point slides. Why did I feel the need to make it all sound so huge?

4. Don't make tasks bigger than they need to be. The children's book article that is now due in a week and half? The person who asked me to write it did so because he had heard a talk I gave on the subject. He isn't expecting me to rip up that talk and start anew, just to tweak and embellish. And, frankly, maybe I shouldn't say this, but I don't expect the article will be read by more than a few dozen people. I want to do a good job, but I don't have to turn this into a whole year-long research project. Especially because I don't have a whole year.

5. My Phoenix Committee work isn't actually overdue (see #3 above); it's just that others on the committee (well, two of the four others) have done lot more than I have so far. So I'm now officially in the slower half of the committee. So what? Stop comparing myself to others. Yes, two members have done more than I have. One hasn't. Last year I was the eager beaver. This year I can let that honor go to others. Do I always have to beat everyone else to the finish line? Um, no.

6. That said: it really will be a problem if I don't start working on that new chapter book series idea. It's true that it doesn't have to be done this month, or for that matter next month, or really ever. If I don't get it done, I've broken no promises to anyone else on earth. But it means a lot to me to keep on writing and to keep on being published. This task is less urgent than the others, but of all of them, it's the most important. At least, it's the most important to me. So I need to find an hour here, a half hour there, to keep plugging away on it. Here I have to remember two things: Prioritize what matters most. And: Enough little bits of time add up to a lot. But I have to keep those little bits coming.

There! Panic dispelled! And off to work....

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