Thursday, July 9, 2020

Peaceful, Pleasant, Productive Plodding

I have a long to-do list every day right now. Maybe you do, too.

I'm teaching an intensive Advanced Creative Writing Tutorial for the MFA program in children's literature at Hollins University in Roanoke (which had to switch to an online program this summer for the obvious sad reason). I also had to take over an online children's lit course for the University of Denver when the designated instructor was hospitalized for what turned out not to be COVID. Plus, I'm WILD to be doing revisions on my verse novel. Plus, there is Real Life which make its own demands on me.

So I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed right now.

One strategy I have for feeling less overwhelmed with work and life projects is to break down tasks into their smallest elements, so that each one is less daunting to face. But the flip side of this is that I get a much longer to-do list. Instead of a short list of huge tasks, I now have a huge list of short tasks.

For example, I have six students in my Hollins course. I know, six students doesn't sound like a lot, but they are all producing substantial chunks of their work-in-progress manuscripts each week, and posting critiques on each other's work, and I am trying to read and process all of it. So I have to read five critiques on six different manuscripts, or thirty critiques total, where I want to take notes on each one, so that I'll see patterns and know what to focus on in our twice-a-week ZOOM classes. Thirty of anything is a lot of that thing! Plus some students submit two different projects for the week - a chapter, say, plus a detailed outline; or a new chapter plus a revision of a previous one. The number of tasks on my to-do list continues to mount!

Plus, we have discussion boards to marvel at two chapters a week of editor Cheryl Klein's mega-brilliant (but also overwhelming) book The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults, and I want to comment on everybody's posts there. Plus I am doing a one-on-one ZOOM session with each student each week.

My new way of handling an overwhelming to-do list is what, with my fondness for alliteration, I'm calling Peaceful, Pleasant, Productive Plodding. After all, I do have all day to do the 42 items on today's list. (Admittedly, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are three of them; one long walk and two tiny walks with the dog are another three; putting out the trash and recycling made the list, too, as two separate items as they involve two separate collection processes, though I exercised restraint in NOT making a separate item on the to-do list for putting the cans away afterward). So I just need to do one item after another after another, calmly, steadily, no rushing, no fussing.

Inch by inch, row by row.

Take one step, then another.

First one foot, then the other.

Occasionally I try to organize my day like a math problem. If I have 42 tasks and seven hours, that means six tasks an hour (and, oh, how satisfying it is when some tasks, like sending one short email, take less than a minute). But the math-problem approach can make me feel frantic and frazzled, with my eye constantly on the clock, and so NOT on the task at hand.

In contrast, Peaceful, Pleasant, Productive Plodding generates much less stress. I just do one thing, then another thing, then another thing. And then another thing. And then another thing.

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard quotes Goethe as saying, "Do not hurry. Do not rest." That is the spirit of my PPPP Plodding.

"Ah," you say, "but what if I do all that PPP Plodding, and my work STILL doesn't get done?"

Well, then, it doesn't get done. Not all items get crossed off all to-do lists every single day. But if PPP Plodding doesn't get them crossed off, a frantic, frazzled frenzy is unlikely to score any better, and it will come with a lot more wear-and-tear on your nervous system,

"But don't I need to rest a LITTLE bit?" you wail.

Clever girl that I am, I build episodes of rest into the list (e.g., breakfast, lunch, and dinner - and time with my Duolingo French app on my phone - and time to sit and luxuriate in my church's summer women's book group).

Oh, plodding, I have become such a fan of you! My day has been so peaceful, pleasant, and productive so far, the best kind of day.

And now I can cross #29 write blog post off the list, too.

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