Monday, October 31, 2011

can you pick only 3 life priorities?

Although I swore never to read Mommy blogs again, I ran across a link to this one, entitled "The Myth of Everything" and a comment on the first, "Rejecting the Supermom Ideal".

The blog posts rehash some old ground, but I think we can all agree with their basic point: It's not possible for one person to do it all. We can't expect ourselves to do cutting-edge research, be full-time parents, teach 20 credits, keep our houses clean, run field projects, provide only home-grown and preservative-free food for our families, knit our own clothes from organic yak hair (preferably self-picked), etc., etc.

Fine, so we can't do it all. The "Myth of Everything" post suggests that we pick three priorities, and only engage in activities if they fit those priorities. (Does anyone else find it odd that the blogger doesn't name her priorities? I suppose it's very personal, but..) The "Rejecting the Supermom Ideal" post gives an example of three priorities. In her case: family, health, and writing.

I like the idea, but find the logistics difficult. Very vague priorities ("family") could mean almost anything. Activities related to "family" include everything from cleaning the house (so your family has a comfortable, safe space to live) to cooking healthy meals, to spending fun time with your kids. With priorities that vague, they would never serve to guide my decisions.

These kinds of priorities probably work better for someone who is not working, also, or whose work is freelance, or who works 40 hours a week and doesn't bring any work home. No matter what I feel about, say, teaching, my class prep and grading take up a huge amount of my time. To pretend it won't be a priority in terms of the time I spend (rather than in terms of my interests) would be to deny reality.

Still, I find the "three priorities" concept a useful thought exercise, but I want to add a twist. First, I'll list my top three priorities. Then, I'll list the top three things that take up too much of my time and discuss how I can minimize their impact on my life. Here goes:

Priority #1: Have some fun with my kids. This means arts and crafts, running around at the park, board games, cooking together, spending time that is enjoyable to all of us. We spend a lot of time together, but too much of it occurs while I'm keeping one eye on the kids and one on my computer. Too many of their requests for my time and attention are met with "Can you play with your brother/sister? I'm trying to get something done here."

Priority #2: More publications and external grants. Tiny U, like any liberal arts college, sucks most of my time into teaching and service. I need to prioritize that which will advance my career, whether here or at another institution.

Priority #3: More down-time, at least some of which is spent with my spouse. All work and no play... well, you know. I've struggled with depression for the last few years, and I think a lot of the problem comes from being too over-committed, and not having enough time to do what I want. When I do have time to do things for myself, I often feel guilty because of all the work piling up. Down-time, and my adult relationship, must be a higher priority.

Now, on to my plans to minimize the activities/needs that take up way too much of my time:

Time-Suck #1: Cleaning house. This includes laundry, dishes, and other tasks that much be performed daily or we're living in squalor. This does not include things I consider optional, like washing the windows or weeding the garden, which frankly can be ignored for years without greatly impacting my quality of life. My plan here is to minimize the amount of crap we have around the house. Our wardrobes, toy collection, kitsch, kitchen utensils, etc., should all exist in manageable amounts. My husband and I also dream of down-sizing our house (and cleanable space). Avoiding this time suck also, ironically, includes making clean-up a daily priority, rather than letting things fester until the weekends. We're also trying to more evenly spread the tasks, and insist that the kids help, even if it's just a little.

Time-Suck #2: Grading. Class prep can take a lot of time, but I generally enjoy it, and most of my classes are prepped already. What really sucks in my time is grading. One way I can minimize my grading is by continuing a trend I've already started, which is to create intro classes that have a strong on-line component, where all the on-line activities are computer graded. The other thing I can do, which I've really resisted up to this point, is to drop certain requirements. For example, every year I teach a 60-person Intro to Biological Anthropology class. In previous years, I've required two 5-page papers from each student. This year, I'm going to switch to only one. I don't have TAs who can grade those papers, and I find that grading 600 pages of undergraduate writing takes more time than it is worth, especially if I'm also grading the essays on their exams, their lab write-ups, weekly quizzes, etc.

Time-Suck #3: The Inter-tubez. OK, I admit, I have a problem. Twitter, Facebook, political blogs, cooking blogs, mommy blogs, anthropology blogs, random surfing...I have to get off-line more. There are a lot of good things about the internet. It helps me feel connected to the wider world, even from the middle of nowhere. It's also easy to surf while my husband and I spend our evenings sitting in silence in the dark dining room, while our kids sleep in the living room. (Long story short: we have no bedrooms due to on-going home improvement.) But time spent on-line can take away from true down-time - where I can do creative projects or talk to my husband - as well as research time. I've started limiting the blogs I can read, but I think the next step is to schedule more time away from the dark, silent dining room. My husband and I need a date night. (Not only does that help with Time-suck #3, but it helps with Priority #3! Double-score!) We need to create a space where we can spend our evenings while enjoying the benefits of light and sound. (This just requires bringing some comfortable chairs down to the kitchen.)

What are your priorities and time-sucks? How do you want to change your time budget?

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