Last October 2013, I looked forward on my Google calendar to September and October 2014 and put a 2-month-long “appointment” titled “Do not overbook! Fall = favorite season!”
As fall approached this year, I noticed my calendar filling up. Everything I marked down for those 2 months was good: a high-profile talk, a field conference & debut of a mobile device we have been developing, the national Geological Society of America conference where I am giving a presentation, a destination wedding in which my husband is best man, and three road races in three different parts of the country. I’m also planning on defending my dissertation and graduating this spring, which brings a whole different set of October tasks: job applications. Most of these are due November 1st so I have been had me busy polishing my CV, looking for positions I am qualified and interested in, writing research and teaching statements, and networking.
I am also working hard on my own dissertation research and manuscripts, and am excited to be lecturing my first “big” class: a 212 student Environmental Science 101 course. Before I knew it, September had past, and October loomed ahead, a haze of stressful deadlines.
After a single sleepless night stretched into a week of moonlit wakefulness (insomnia strikes when I become overly stressed), I decided to dial some things back, reprioritize, and spend some time taking care of myself.
I realized that I needed to better manage my time and prioritize my obligations if I wanted any chance of actually enjoying these fall months. This meant reining in some of my professional and athletic obligations: I opted to spend a single day at a conference, instead of the originally planned 4 days. After talking with my coach, I dropped out of the San Jose Rock n Roll Half Marathon, and retooled my training to focus on the Tufts 10 km in Boston a week later. I needed to spend some time with my brain not focused on work or running, so our family spent the weekend in the mountains, and even took some family photos (shout out to Extended Play Photography !). I plan more hiking this weekend, to rejuvenate my mind and body, and have a great time in the woods before winter arrives.
These adjustments might seem small, but they are huge in my mental schedule. Every single minute from the time I get up in the morning to the moment I fall asleep is valuable to me, and I use to a purpose, whether it is athletic, academic, or personal. The repurposing of – or giving myself permission – to devote time to self care and mental refreshment is a huge relief. The physical response to stress lowering was so great I almost cried in relief when I decided to not race this weekend.
The rerouting of some of the time and energy allotted for work and running purposes to that of family and self-care has returned me to being optimistic, giddy at the excitement of looking to the year ahead.
I’m now excited to be racing the Tufts 10 km instead of dreading “another flight,” and am excited to be heading to Canada for a conference to present my (really thrilling!) work. My running, too, has rebounded: the feeling of being flat and low-energy has been replaced with my looking forward to the dark mornings, and I am loving stepping out into the chilly mornings to do up-tempo workouts.
In my work, I’ve been able to shift focus from barely staying ahead of the next immediate deadline, thinking in frantic, 1-sentence-at-a-time craziness, to being better able to compartmentalize my thoughts, marshal my energies, and remain more present in whatever activity I’m participating in.
In full disclosure, I love to be busy. While it’s not enjoyable to go overboard on commitments, I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to my limit. However, just as in training an athlete must make training adjustments to balance enough work with too much work, I find myself responding and making necessary life adjustments to find a momentary balance too much and enough professional and personal “good work” to keep myself sane, energetic and moving forward.
What do you do when you find yourself dropping balls in life’s juggling show? How do you actively work to respond to the changes in your life/time commitments?