List maker

Want to know how I got my PhD by 28 while working a full time job, teaching overseas, traveling constantly, writing a new book, heading four student clubs and chairing or co-chairing two professional organizations at my school site, among other things? I’m a list maker. It’s a big of an obsession. For the past 15 years or so, I have been making these life plans, broken down by academic, personal and professional goals. Recently, I have put in a Jan Term to also take into account the academic terms at my current place of employment. I scratch things off, add others on. If a contest or fellowship comes up that I would love to get someday, but I’ve missed the deadline, I write it down for the right block for next year. I know that I am not going to get every fellowship nor win every contest for my work, so I dream big and then fill in alternative experiences. The ideal is when multiple things come in at the same time and cause me to have to do some juggling.


But it’s not just broken down by goals. I also write what I do every day. That is another obsession that has recently arisen out of the lack of time. I used to write about my life and day on trains, buses, as a passenger. In transit, I could relax and reflect, but when you live on campus and work on campus, and the commute between both locations is less than a minute, there just isn’t enough time to write and reflect. Besides, writing while walking is dangerous. I have tripped that way more than once, and I am already naturally clumsy. So, instead of recounting the day in prose, I list, on an academic calendar I buy at the start of each year. I started this last year when, as a new professor, and still a little paranoid and anxious from my last gig, I kept feeling like someone was going to want me to account for how I spend my time. As a new prof with no ties as yet, I should have relished the days to read and write, but I found myself building … but also still anxious that someone who call for plans. I started listing everything that I did each day. At one point, I even kept Post-Its that broke down how much time I spent on each task and how much time I spent on work-related issues each day, as if my dean, on day, would stop by and ask for my time card. What can I say? Maybe I’m just a product of the factory-style education system. I keep teaching to break the mold, but I am so accustomed to bells and whistles, I am still listening for them, even when outside. Prison/educational industrial complex tie in? I’m not going to go down that road of exploration, but suffice it to say that I list what I do. Good thing is that I used this data to feed into an article I wrote on the first year professorial experience and the divide between teaching, scholarship, service and a personal life. It is under review right now. I’m planning on doing an follow-up on the second year experience and then, God-willing, writing a follow-up on a success tenure review year (several years down the line). At least, I think it’s an interesting self-study idea.

So there’s my calendar from January 2013 above, and then there is my Running List, which I just started this academic year. I just realized that I am adding to my organization machinations. I may be building myself an android mind in systems. Perhaps I have been listening to too much Janelle Monae recently.
Anyway, my Running List, I update every few weeks or so by typing up the things that I have yet to complete. I try to order them by priority. Again, every few weeks, I re-prioritize. I am always thinking of other things to add, so I tote this list around like Linus totes his blanket. I have to type in the handwritten stuff that I haven’t marked off by my own accounting time, which I do when my mind is totally zonked from major brain overload activities like grant or article writing. If I don’t put the handwritten in stuff regularly, it just gets lost in the chaos and never gets done. When my brain is on shutdown, I give it a break with lists. There is probably a syndrome for this. Good thing I work in a building with lots of counselors. 🙂

So, how do I get anything done? Put it on the list, check it off the list. Everything is strategic. Everything is connected. Everything can be accomplished that can be dreamed… well, not everything. Sometimes, I run into obstacles for a particular project, and even that is a mental challenge for me. How can I solve this problem today? And if I can’t solve it today, how could it be solved tomorrow or over a longer time? And if I can’t solve it at all, who can help me solve it or solve it for me? And if that doesn’t work, well, when can I play the cello, watch a cooking show, cook, or dance to decompress and do I still have some cachaca to make a caipirinha?


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