Chunked Time

I just put this book on hold at my library.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Why? Well, no, it’s not just the title resonating with huge echoes in my head. Typically, I would probably shy away from this title–it makes me think of people who say all the fault is in our era and that, if we just went back in history to when life was simple and children ran around in the grass for hours, we’d all be happy and at peace. Not that it’s a bad title, and maybe there’s just a bit of defensiveness in  my mind about the time I spend on Facebook, but whatever. 🙂

So why did I order it? Because I heard Terri Gross interview the author, Brigid Schulte, on Fresh Air earlier this week. You can listen here.

I actually haven’t heard the whole interview yet; I’ve been listening in bits and pieces as I fold laundry and tidy things. But I’ve heard enough to know I want to try the book. Schulte talks about waking up in the middle of the night, basically staring into the darkness at her insurmountable to-do list. She did research with people who study leisure time (yes, they exist) and talks about the man who labeled as “leisure” the time she spent playing tic-tac-toe with her daughter when they had car trouble and were waiting for help to come. Oh, yeah, that’s relaxing. She talks about what she calls her “stupid days,” when she forgets all she’s learned about handling life stress and spins back into frantic worrying. Sound familiar? It does to me. I tend to use the term “Tasmanian-Devil Days,” but “stupid” would also fit.

Note, I’m writing  this from memory and paraphrasing, so don’t quote me on the details.

Still, I doubt I’m the only one that will see themselves in Schulte’s stories.

One of the things she mentions that has helped her is doing tasks in chunks of time. I think what she means by this is giving yourself a single thing to do, perhaps in a set of hours, perhaps in a day.  So instead of coming home from work and spend the whole evening tackling multiple tasks, you chunk that time for one job. At least, again, this is my interpretation of the little bit I heard about this. (Obviously, this is why I need to read the book!) But the thing is, this is what I’ve been doing this week. I’ve been working on a temp project for the past couple of months, and when that finished up, there was this pile of paperwork. You know the kind. Oh, yes, you do! The stuff you push aside because it’s going to take more than five minutes, and you need that five minutes anyway to work on your main job, and when you’re done with that main job for the day, you really have to relax with a book because your brain is too tired to look at that more-than-five minute job. And so on and so on… The pile grows.

This was my week to do the pile.

No, I haven’t spent four days straight doing paperwork. I’ve done yoga all four days as well, and I’ve done plenty of reading (currently on The Merry Misogynist, in my reread of Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun series). And obviously the dishes aren’t stacked quite a mile high.  But mostly it’s been about this paperwork.

I also haven’t written.

My first reaction as I typed that line was that I actually felt my eyes tear up a bit. And my stomach wants to tie itself into a knot. It’s not that I write every single day, and I actually do agree with what Nathan Bransford says in his blog post about not having to do that. But here I was, with a free week stretching out in front of me, and I chose to exclude writing. It was a tough choice, but when I looked at the week and visualized both the pile of paperwork and writing time, it was like staring at a fractured mirror, the kind someone has thrown a shoe at and won seven years of bad luck. On the other hand, when I gave myself permission to gently slide the writing out of the picture and revisualize just the pile (and the therapeutic yoga), I saw a clean, doable path for me to walk. Calmly.

My theme for 2014 is Staying Open. And I think a big part of staying open is, sometimes, letting go–if not always of the writing, then at least of going auto-pilot on the way we have to do things. The way we have to do writing. I do honestly believe that if I had tried to tackle the pile and be creative, I would have done neither well. And the yoga would have become at once another demand on my time and the thing that was failing to relieve my stress.

It’s Thursday afternoon, and the pile is pretty much done. It is completely managed. The follow-up tasks are clear.

As is my mind.

I’m pretty sure I have another week of available time for myself starting next Monday. And I’m thinking that I’ll be chunking that week again. But this time it’ll be for writing.

Have you experimented with this method of picking one task for a chunk of time? Do you feel like you’ve reaped benefits? Or do you feel like that to-do list is still looming over you, shouting NOT DONE YET in your face? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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