Today, in one of my classes, I was told one of the best, most important skills to have as an academic is to be able to shift quickly from thing to thing. The ability to keep a bunch of metaphorical plates spinning at the same time, from writing articles to dealing with students, is a large chunk of academic work, along with being self-driven. Being able to work in those little gaps of time is something that I need to learn how to do.
Right now, my “Planck” time is about an hour – any less, and I can’t get anything done. Lovely Wife is a ninja when it comes to using odd bits of time to further other goals. An extra 10 minutes before dinner! Input some stuff into Quicken. A few minutes before we head out the door? Send an e-mail to a friend. These kinds of things, for me, require advanced planning and a large chunk of time. Once, I decided that I couldn’t possibly throw clothes in the laundry because I only had 2 hours before I had to be somewhere else. 2 hours to throw some clothes in the washer and pour soap on them.
That seemed reasonable.
Part of this is due to my poor time estimation. Here are some ballpark figures in my brain.
- Washing dishes – 2 hours
- Writing a 1 page paper – 5 hours
- Checking e-mail – 1 hour
- Writing a blog post – 2 hours
- Practicing for 30 minutes – 2 hours
It goes on like that. My brain constantly thinks that I don’t have enough time at any given point to accomplish anything. It’s like I’m dealing with some weird time dilation effect, except I’m not moving at relativistic speeds. I don’t think anything can fit into a 15 minute gap. That’s 1/2 a TV show, barely long enough to sit and relax.
Even worse, while Lovely Wife can move back and forth between tasks with the ease of an apeman in the jungle on vines, I turn like an oil tanker. To write a blog post, I have to turn off the TV and focus. If I need to shift to something else after I write my blog post, I have to take some time in between as a mental cleanser before I move on, even if it’s another writing task.
Brain: “Whoa, you want me to write something else?! Hey, let’s watch some TV/read a blog/play a Flash game. You did something good. You deserve an hour break for your 15 minutes of work.”
It’s even worse if it’s more mentally intensive – and all of this is in addition to being incredibly distractable. It’s easy to shift gears out of real work and into fucking around on the internet. That hardly takes any effort at all. I remember at one point in my life where I was adaptive and able to move back and forth between tasks and obstacles without much effort. It seems like in the past 5 years, I’ve completely lost that skill. If something difficult comes up, I get bogged down like I’m American in Vietnam. I just. Can’t. Move.
After that little bit of conversation today in class, I kept thinking, how can I practice this? Do you have to just try to work 15 minutes on different things and get used to being able to fill up little gaps of time with important stuff as opposed to nothing? So, if after writing this post, I have 10 minutes before I have to start dinner, should I ramble off an e-mail and do some simple calf stretches?
Or is this engrained? I don’t know if this is a skill I can learn, or if it’s just something I can’t do. I have a 3-pager due tomorrow at midnight, but to do it, it’s going to require me to block off a giant amount of time (fucking around time included), clear my brain, and only do that for those hours. Any sort of distraction will derail me for extra time. Why can’t I just pop into it now, read a little bit for it, and then come back to it later after dinner?
On the positive side, I wrote this post in the time between when I got home and when Lovely Wife got home. Unfortunately, a rambling stream of conscious blog post doesn’t have the same weight as an academic diatribe.