Monday, February 8, 2010


The life of those in academia is bound by time. It's the nature of an academic environment. Everything revolves around the clock. I realize this is probably true for many professions, but it seems particularly true in academia. Classes start at specific times. Classes run for specific times. They end on time. In longer classes, you have breaks that last a certain length of time, at specific times. Even meetings are controlled by the clock in ways they might not be in the corporate arena. They must be scheduled around class schedules - schedules that simply cannot be adjusted. In the corporation, a manager might be able to say "let me have my secretary re-schedule my meeting with so-and-so and we can keep working until this is done." The academic can't say - "Well, let me move my class back half an hour so we can extend this meeting." It just doesn't work that way. The clock is an inescapable presence.

While working on campus, many of us complain of the difficulty in getting some uninterrupted time to do work. There are too many distractions. Colleagues stop in your doorway to say hello and spend 20 minutes chatting. And while you'd like to be sanctimonious, you can't be because you must admit that you have often been guilty of the same behavior. Students drop in with a question (far less often than we would like) or a problem (far more often than is comfortable.) Even if you close your door, the ultimate 'do not disturb' message, it doesn't take long before someone is knocking. You just get going on a project and the phone rings or the alarm on the computer sounds reminding you of the meeting or class you must be at. Distractions - everywhere.

Working from home is quite a change from working on campus. There is no schedule. There are no classrooms full of students waiting for you to arrive, no meetings at which your attendance is a requirement or even an expectation. You have time - massive amounts of uninterrupted time - in which to accomplish all those things you cannot when you are on campus with all those distractions. There it is before you - an uninterrupted vista of time.

And then there are all those distractions. The distractions are different then they are at the office, but they are no less compelling psychologically. Yes, I could be revising that Interpersonal assignment OR I could be writing this blog entry. Yes, I could be writing out a new set of notes for that Intercultural chapter OR I could be working on that afghan I'm making as a birthday gift for a friend. But this all makes me sound pretty good, right? At least my distractions are somewhat productive. It's not as though my distractions are stupid things - Facebook, mindless television, trashy novels.

But they are. In addition to my writing and my gift making, I check my Facebook page, I've read a less than literary novel or two, and I admit to an addiction to America's Test Kitchen on TV. But it doesn't even take that much to distract me. I'm walking from one room to the next and by the time I'm there I've had 12 different things catch my attention. The dust bunny along the hallway baseboard, the drooping plant that needs water, the stray sock that I dropped on my way to the laundry chute, the neighbor walking his dog down the street, the sound of the mailman dropping the mail in the box, and on and on. I make jokes about having adult-onset ADD, but there's a part of me that isn't joking.

I've written before about my attention span - or lack thereof - and my use of lists. And the lists do help, but it seems that I might be one of those people who works most productively when I have some sort of a schedule. Don't get me wrong. The projects are getting done and, if I'm not mistaken, I'm actually going to finish ahead of schedule. Yet I am plagued by more than one guilt feeling about 'wasting' time. Maybe it's the Puritan work ethic instilled in me by my depression-era parents. Or, maybe it's simply the incredible gratitude I feel knowing that I have a gift that few people are lucky enough to have access to and even fewer will take advantage of.

So the current challenge is to work, but not overwork, and to take advantage of the opportunity to rest, relax and rejuvenate my mind. I'm working at being 'in the moment' and enjoying it for what it gives and trying to remember that the attention to other things is making me more creative and productive when I am working. And, a small part of me looks forward to being back on a schedule that isn't quite so self-directed.

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