When workhorses say stop

A few years ago, one of my mentors described me as a Clydesdale–a creature that is capable of accomplishing a tremendous amount of work until it hits a limit, at which point the heels dig in and productivity stops.

Now, I’m not sure if that description actually fits the Clydesdale temperament–I’ve only really seen them in beer commercials–but it certainly resonates with this workhorse, especially after toiling 12 days in a row.

Malvini Redden Dossier
One of the non-negotiables from last week: My first year tenure review file. In case you want to know what I’ve been up to in my first year as a tenure track professor, I can tell you exactly!

Some folks might talk about 12 straight days of work in humble-brag terms. But when I realized last week that due to conference travel and a major work project, I would not be able to get through the better part of two weeks without substantively working every day, I felt trapped and frustrated. At the end of the 12 days, I felt like a truck had run me over, backed up, and rolled over again.

Per usual, the situation was caused by a combination of self-over commitment, travel, a little procrastination, and structural factors out of my control. Also per usual, I asked repeatedly: How did I let myself get into this situation again?? 

It was just last year that I lamented similar busy-ness and reflected on coming to terms with my “seasonal selves.” In that post, I talk about the self-guilt tripping associated with prioritizing some goals (writing/grading/work) over others (flying/gardening/blogging). While I still like the idea of considering the seasonal elements of work–some parts of the semester are just way busier than others, for instance–I am now trying to figure out how to keep these occasional, but detrimental, work slogs at bay.

One thing I do know: The culmination of big work projects deserves celebrating. Case in point, tenure file celebration cupcakes. They may have been followed by celebration sushi.

While spending the weekend recuperating (read: naps and netflix), I wrestled with competing discourses of work. For instance, no one told me I had to work that much, or for that matter, accomplish most of the tasks on my plate. Much of it was my idea. And I do get serious pleasure from crossing items off the to-do. And no one would have died or even noticed if several tasks were left unfinished. But I felt compelled to complete them, and then annoyed at the compulsion and frustrated at the whole situation (I put myself into). ARGH.

So I wonder: Do I need to dial back ambition? Find ways to work smarter? Recognize and reject the “ideal worker norm”? Or just embrace the fact that occasional intense work periods are a crappy part of the wonderful, privileged, professional life I’ve chosen and that it usually evens out in the end?



Links you might like:
Coming to terms with my seasonal selves
 Road rage sparks conceptual clarity: Remembering emotions are multi-faceted
 2016 theme: ‘Bitches get stuff done’
 I suck at resolutions and it’s okay
 Words with friends: Collaboration makes better writers


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