Making work manageable

These last two weeks I’ve been working rather a lot.  The start of school is always pretty busy, and I find a lot of things other than work slip by the wayside (hence the radio silence here, and the pile of canned tomato sauce and baked beans sitting in my recycling bin).  Recently, I’ve found myself groaning a lot about work.  True, there’s a lot that needs to be done, and not all of it is completely wonderful.  But the truth is, I think my feelings about work have made the things that I have to do feel a lot worse than they actually are.

Given that I’ll be teaching more than twice as much this year as I did last year and I have brand new courses in the mix as well, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the work more manageable.  This is to help preserve my sanity, but also to make sure I have time for things that also matter a great deal.  Friends and family.  Rest and downtime.  Cooking and preserving food.  Applying for more secure jobs.

I’ve been making a list of things that have worked for me at various points in the past and that I’ve been trying to use this last week.  I thought I’d post it here as a reminder of things to do, to keep it fresh in my mind for when the work really hits.  I imagine this year will be a good test of how effective they are (or how good I am with sticking to them, I suppose), but perhaps they’ll be helpful for someone else as well.

Give up on perfection:  I am a perfectionist.  Always have been.  But trying to make something perfect takes a lot of energy, and if I put in all that time, I don’t have as much left for other, really important things that do require more time and effort and will hopefully have a much greater payoff (job applications, I’m looking at you).  And so I’m trying now to accept that some things don’t have to be perfect, and that good enough will be…well, good enough.

Don’t think about it first: this was a trick that I used when I used to run.  if I let myself think about something for too long before doing it, I can always find a way out of it, or work it up so much in my head that it’s nearly impossible to get going.  So instead, I sit down and start on whatever it is without allowing any thought in advance.  This works even better if I can prep what I need to work with ahead of time – the night before, I’ll leave the word file that needs to be edited open on the computer, or set out the papers to be graded with a pen, pencil, eraser, and calculator.

Make it pleasant: as much as possible, making work more pleasant – or, more accurately, making the place that I work more pleasant – can make a difference in how I perceive work.  Having nice candles on my desk, a cup of tea in my favourite mug, and a really nice pen make the experience of working that little bit better.

Break it up: I’m not so good at this yet, but I’m working on it.  Rather than seeing things as one monolithic thing that needs to be done, I try to see them as a series of small steps to be done one at a time.In general, dividing projects in to smaller tasks makes them a lot more approachable.  It can also feel like a lot more is getting done over time.

Make lists:  lists are great for two reasons.  First, getting things down on paper means that you don’t have to remember it, freeing up a bit more attention for what’s at hand.  No more nagging feelings of “what was that thing I had to do…?” is really very helpful.  Second, lists mean you get to check things off.  Finishing something and crossing or checking it off the list can be rewarding and pleasurable, and make you want to do more to get the feeling going.  This is especially helpful with a lot of smaller tasks (like above), because it feels like a lot is getting done.

Celebrate: okay, maybe don’t celebrate with something big every time something small gets done (although a nice celebration for the end of big projects is rather lovely), but enjoy the moment.  Have a stretch or take a walk.  Make a cup of tea or a hot chocolate.  Enjoy a chapter in the book you’re reading.  Taking the time to positively associate getting things finished with something nice can be a powerful motivator, and make it that much easier to keep up with the work.