Friday, 6 November 2009

Productive Time vs Baggy Writing Time

I haven't been posting since term started, because I've been busy. Which is a very nothing word, particularly in the modern world of today - I've just been reading lots of books by Barbara Ehrenreich, including her lovely Bait and Switch and Bright-Sided, in one of which she talks about the way that academics have elevated the idea that 'busyness' is a virtue to almost religious levels. And I do try to resist that; I'm not sure why working enormous amounts of unpaid overtime and donating extra surplus labour to an institution should be seen as morally worthy.

So what I really mean by 'busy' is that -- well, okay, actually I do mean that I'm working quite a lot of unpaid overtime. But! More interestingly, I also mean that I'm occupying two quite different kinds of time/flow -- neither of which are very congenial to blogging. I'm trying to finish my book by the end of January, which is pretty tight, given that I'm teaching three units this TB and supervising three PhD students, and then there are various other demands on my time - grant applications, bits of organizing for the Desiring the Text conference, mentoring, personal tutoring, lots and lots of meetings (as well as being a member of two departments, a School and a Faculty, all of which are having lots of meetings at the moment to talk about The Situation, I'm also on one Committee, two Boards, and a Steering Group). What I'm trying to do at the moment is get all my non-writing work done on the three days a week when I have teaching scheduled - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - in between my six hours' teaching, two 'consultation hours' (drop-in for students) and two hours at the weekly Classics departmental research seminar. Which is making for a really, really busy start to the week - to the extent that if I have a whole hour and a half continuous unscheduled time, I jump on it gratefully and (eg) write a 50-minute lecture on The Divine Comedy or bang out a 3000-word 'Case for Support' for my AHRC grant application. So it's tiring, and to some extent it has those rewards of high-productivity in (I get to cross lots of things off lots of lists very fast!), but the thing is that it really just isn't enough time, which means that I'm having to do a slightly faster, shoddier job on lots of things. Which is hard to take, sometimes, because like many women academics I'm a bit of a Hermione Granger, and I really hate not doing everything perfectly; I hate looking less than competent in front of colleagues and students, eg because my Powerpoint for a lecture is ugly and last-minute (or because I forgot to bring it altogether), or because I need to be chased up by everyone for everything because I'm working right down to the wire on all my deadlines (and, it has to be confessed, letting the less strict ones drift right past me). Which is a low-grade waste of everyone's time and energy, I know. But the thing that I'm realizing is that learning to get by is a skill in itself. I could call it 'prioritizing', I guess, and that's part of it, but that sounds like a fun thing to do, like you get a little thrill out of being ruthless and effective. I'm talking more about the other side of it - about learning to live with the consequences of what I have to deprioritize, learning not to beat myself up when I just don't have time to do a really good job.

But what all this does is buy me (on a good week, which is about four out of the ten weeks of term, when I don't have extra teaching or meetings scheduled on my 'free' days) three days for writing: Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. (Usually I am adamant about having two days off a week, but I've gone down to one day a week till the book is done.) Which is the other kind of time/flow that I was talking about: Baggy Writing Time, time where you get up and down from your chair and wander into the kitchen looking for the perfect sentence to bridge into your next paragraph, and end up spending forty-five minutes on the washing-up. Or when you realize (like I did yesterday) at 11am that you can't do any more work on Chapter Two today because you've just torn it down and restructured it from the ground up, so you have to give your undermind time to get used to that before you get to the sentence-writing part of the writing process. But part of the discipline of keeping time free for writing, I'm figuring out, is that that didn't mean I could open the rest of that day onto Productive Time, because that would throw my brain off track for the writing. (As it happened, I discovered that I had to redo the maths on a grant application very fast that afternoon, which neatly solved both problems, because it meant I Got Stuff Done that wouldn't then eat into Baggy Writing Time next week, but didn't involve having to wrap my brain around any new kind of intellectual stuff and thus distract it from thinking about Julius Caesar.)

So that's where I am at the moment: either on a weirdly Fordist kind of production-line for academics, where my time isn't my own to command because every email or knock on the door is like the next thing going past on the conveyor belt, organizing my workflow at the pace of the university machine, or on baggy writing time, where I have to protect a space for my thinking and my writing to go at their own pace as far as possible, not to be disrupted by demands from outside. Either way, it means I'm not blogging much. Normal service will hopefully be resumed in February.