The Point is the Doing

check list
Source: David Castillo Dominici,

Between getting to the bottom of my son’s health issues, the holidays, and the fun of setting up my new planner, I haven’t actually been that productive in the last month. That’s not to say I didn’t accomplish important things — and they were truly important, because they were about family — but I’ve barely touched my dissertation proposal.

It’s time.

I began this morning by waking a bit early to journal why I’ve been reluctant to get in there and DO the work. It was an amazingly helpful exercise, because it shifted my perspective from feeling pressured to feeling privileged to have the ability to do what I do…and, even better, I feel a sense of purpose. I’m trying to support teachers who want to provide all students with equitable access to a quality education. As I wrote near the end of my journal entry:

This is a gift…my work is not a task to avoid because someone will judge me a failure if it’s not perfect. My dissertation allows me to explore big issues, and I believe my work will be of service to educators, and more importantly, children. The process itself is beautiful: Each day I work toward my dissertation, I am able to study what I want, how I want. What an amazing privilege! At the end of the day, I’ll know I am one step closer to putting my research in the hands of people who believe in providing better teaching and educational outcomes for children who deserve our best.

Guilt and shame don’t actually encourage me to do the work. While lists are helpful in breaking down a daunting task into manageable pieces, they are only effective if I do what’s on them. It helps to remember why I chose this path, and when I remember my purpose, I can draw upon renewed energy.

Now that I’ve reminded myself about my values and how lucky I am, I decided to post a few strategies to make my daily work life run smoothly. It’s right there in my Filofax:

  1. Write from 6-7am.
  2. No Internet until 9:30am.
  3. Use Facebook on Saturday only.
  4. Check e-mail three times per day: 9:30am, 2pm, and 5pm.
  5. No screens of any kind from 6-8pm.
  6. Run errands after the work day ends, not when the kids are in school. 
  7. Get 8 hours of sleep.

The writing time is because I want to start the day knowing I’ve accomplished something before distractions hit. My husband manages the early morning tasks with the kids, but once I leave my bedroom, the world intrudes on my mind. If I start working, I’ve won half the battle. The notes about the Internet, Facebook, and e-mail are tailored toward preserving my focus. Once I open my e-mail or read the news online, I tend to get derailed. If something is so urgent that it can’t wait until 9:30, 2, or 5, that person would likely call me.

I need to remember that because I work from home, I need to establish clear boundaries for my work and family life. I used to work outside of the home. I couldn’t run to the market during the middle of the day. I need to work while I have quiet time to focus. That’s when my kids are in school. I can always run an errand in the early evening with my children or on the weekend. Because I am home a lot, work can creep into my family time if I’m not mindful. No screens from 6-8pm. That’s time I reserve for my family, and they deserve my full attention. Period.

Finally, when I’m tired, I have a hard time focusing. Get sleep. How else will I write at 6am?

If the point of planning is doing, I need strategies that set me up for success. These personal guidelines have the potential to get me back on track with work. I am so glad I took time to think them through.

Updated (6 Jan 2013): Oh, these personal “rules” are the bombdiggity! I love getting something (an hour of writing) accomplished first thing, because the “small win” makes me want to keep on track. acebook is easy, because I’ve weaned myself off it since October. The rule about no screens from 6-8pm translates into more reading with/near my children. Honestly, the hardest thing is not compulsively checking my e-mail every time I pick up my cell phone or open my browser. I think one of the reasons I have been more productive so far, however, is because I’m not getting sidetracked by e-mail. Onward! [Actually, I need to get to bed. The 8 hours of sleep thing is a wee bit tough, too. G’night!


8 thoughts on “The Point is the Doing

  1. clfharling

    I also work from home, and I have a very similar list of rules that came together over the last year. The one that inhibited my progress the most was running errands. It might sound silly, but I knew if I ran errands while six of the boys were in school and I only had to take the baby with me, those errands would most likely be quicker. However, that meant I missed the work time I would gain when the baby took a nap. Then I’d feel guilty when I tried to work in the evenings when the kids were all home. Now, I try to stay home during the day to work and I leave those errands until after school; this affords me the opportunity to spend time with just my nine-year-old and my toddler.

    1. Mary Post author

      It doesn’t sound silly at all. I relate to it a great deal. My mom was actually the one who said, “Don’t run any errands during the work day that you could do if the children were with you or your husband.” I’m glad to hear that “rule” has made a difference for you!

  2. Tina

    Depending on the phone, some allows you to set it to manually sync the email accounts or sync every x hours instead of automatic. That helped keep my compulsion to check my email on the phone all the time. Now, 3 times a day my email accounts sync and I get an alert if I have new email in the “important” folders (you can set this up in gmail). If I am expecting something critical, I can manually sync but I rarely have to do that. I find the brief delay from manual syncing remove that instant gratification. I don’t check emails on my phone as much anymore.

    1. Mary Post author

      Oh, Tina…that is very cool! Thank you so much for sharing. This has been the hardest for me. I pick up my phone and before I realize it, I’m pressing the e-mail icon. I’ll have to find this option on my iPhone.

    1. Mary Post author

      I think it comes down to two things: What is your biggest priority and what is the task you find you find more difficult to stay on track…

    1. Mary Post author

      Thanks! So far it’s working well…fingers crossed! P.S. Would love to see how you end up tackling your research project later this year. The planner geek in me loves hearing how other people break unwieldy tasks into manageable pieces 🙂


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