The past month or so has been one of the busiest times of the year for my academic position. I’ve consequently spent a lot of time feeling like I don’t have any time. When I think back over the past month, however, I realise that I have in fact made time to go walking most mornings and on every second weekend; to read several books and watch several movies; to join a few on-line classes and seminars; and even to have a few nights out. I’ve nonetheless kept up with all of my e-mail. So I haven’t really run out of time.
Perhaps it would be more correct to say that I’ve been running out of energy: clearly time exists in which I could in principle work on writing, course materials, and so on, but spending the best part of the day of answering start-of-semester enquiries leaves me without the energy to do anything but read a book or go for a walk.
Being used to a lot of freedom in how I used my time, I’m probably also feeling the lack of leisure (in the old-fashioned sense): around the start of semester I receive a more or less constant stream of enquiries that make it very hard to set aside blocks of time during which I can work on larger, longer-term projects. And even when I get out for a walk I know that I’ll have a bunch of tasks to return to when I get back.
Sometimes I wish I could push through and finish all of the little tasks on my to-do list so that I can finally get on with the larger items that I want to pursue, or just take a holiday, without having all these little tasks hanging over me. But (a) I can only push for so long before becoming exhausted; (b) there’s always a few to-do items blocked by some process beyond my control; and (c) I fear that pushing through will leave me forever processing a to-do list, neglecting things like friends and exercise, and never actually getting to those larger projects and holidays.
Perhaps the main thing that prevents me from going completely mad during these periods is an assurance that it ends: I recall previous semesters in which marking or student enquiries or even following up my own project ideas seemed an insurmountable pile of work. Yet, after a few weeks, I got through them, and I got to take a holiday and/or move on to the next project. I’m cautiously hopeful that I’m close to that point now—after all, I found time to write blog entry.