It is easy for me to think that I am the busiest person of my acquaintance (I would go “in the world,” but that seems melodramatic, even for me). Day-to-day, week-to-week, especially during the academic year, I have this feeling of always being behind, never catching up. One misstep, one half an hour spent not time-on-task (TOT) and all is lost.
Of course I don’t spend every moment working. There is social media after all and fun articles about the Royal Family to read. One must keep up. I recently read a rather helpful article about people taking time away from Facebook and Twitter. It was helpful because it did not say give it up entirely – the opposite of all those people I met in grad school who told me scornfully that they don’t watch TV. (And I was in grad school before all this online streaming thing, so they were hardcore. Not like the people who tell me they don’t have a TV but watch EVERYTHING on their laptops.) Maybe I should do that. Maybe I should go on a social media break. But, I am supposed to have a presence on the interweb to promote myself as a historian or whatever. I must be engaged and the Twitter is the place to do that, professionally speaking. (And since I have very few followers on Twitter and even fewer here, I am not worried my presence will be missed.) There, however, are moments when it seems all this presence is a waste of time. If I am present here, I am not there. If I spend time on research, I do not get my students’ papers graded. If I spend an hour composing a post here, I do not prep classes. Not to mention the other things my job requires. I come to lead a cluttered professional life.
I lead an actual cluttered life with piles of whatever here and there in my house. The whatevers are the usual things: mail, books, that article I don’t need today, receipts from the bottom of my purse, and anything that falls into the category of Not Sure What to Do with That. (I am not alone in my dropping; I have an academic spouse, too.) I see this habit of piling as one of my many moral failings. I should have a clean and well-ordered house. It seems the right thing to do. People with clean and well-ordered houses are successful people, people who get their work done on time and get ahead. Yet, if I spend a weekend cleaning my house, I spend the ensuing week catching up. So, what happens? I don’t clean my house (enough) and I always have dog hair in my coffee. We seem to exist in a cloud of dog hair that sticks to the furniture, our clothes, and winds up in my coffee. Or water, or wine, and unlike transubstantiation, it does not transform into something better. It is just a floating, solitary dog hair. Always.
The reality is that I am not the busiest person of my acquaintance. I know many people who have much more grading, course prep, reading, meeting with students, committee work, family, social obligations, and on and on. And what’s worse, they are productive with their scholarship and they are active members of their communities. And they are nice, lovely people. The old so-and-sos…
Unless you think this is just a long-whiny rant about how I am a bad person, I can assure that is not my intent. (OK, so maybe 20% rant.) I do wonder how people get ahead in this game. I do wonder how people manage to complete their tasks, have something that resembles a social life, and occasionally get a good night’s rest. Or does everyone have dog hair in their coffee (metaphorically speaking) and they just hide it better?