Tackling the Pile

work pileThe picture here is my current work pile. At least the one my kitchen, that is. I have several smaller piles that have taken over my guestroom. Anyway, this is what I am contending with during my time working from home and it has proven to be one of my many, many sources of stress, even though this amount of unfinished work in my life is par for the course.

I have always been a being of organized chaos. I say this instead of “messy” because while I’ve been more or less a slob since I started the first grade, I could always tell you what was in each pile of work clutter in my room, office, or classroom. I also know how to, and quite frankly, enjoy Amy Santiago levels of hyper organization. Oh yeah, give me a binder and some divider tabs and there is nothing I cannot do. Unfortunately, any outside observer to my life probably wouldn’t see beyond that clutter in my immediate surroundings or my tendency to procrastinate on even some of the more menial tasks, and as I have said before, I am certain that I have had and still have ADHD since those grade school years.

So, if organized chaos is my norm, why is this towering pile of ufninished work now such a source of stress? The armchair psychologist in me says that because this current time of quarantine is unprecedented for our current society andvthere is so much out of our control, we latch on to what we can control and if that is not going the way we want it to, then … well, I’m stressing out over a pile of notebooks and papers. I’m nearly a full month into this time of working from home and social distancing, and since teaching classes isn’t getting int he way of my work getting done, then there is no excuse beyond my own inability to be productive as to why this pile isn’t absolute zero at this point. I should have already finished writing an entire book by now.

Okay, I know the response to this, or should I say, responses:

  • You aren’t supposed to finish everything, especially when there is so much uncertainty in the world. Cut yourself some slack.
  • Your complaining about not getting all of your paperwork done comes from a place of privilege. You should not be complaining about anything when there are people less fortunate than you who literally put their lives on the line. You should be ashamed of yourself.
  • You are not spending eight hours a day doing your exact job from home while getting paid by taxpayer dollars? It is a complete outrage that my taxes are paying for this. You are destroying our entire economy and are the reason for every ill in our society.

Seriously, all three of these ping pong through my head on a regular basis, the result of tightly wound anxiety coupled with a belief that I have not and will not measure up to what is expected of me. And the pile is there, an unfinished reminder o the burden I put upon myself and others. I have moments where my energy is up, and I tap away at my keyboard, turning a page of notebook scribble into an essay draft or a blog post. I also have moments where my sense of non-accomplishment gets so crushing that i stare into space trying not to burst into tears and trying to find one piece of evidence that proves I am not a drain on my family and society.

It was during one of those moments this week that i got a little fed up with wallowing in my misery and started to think about ways I could remedy this situation, because cycles of feeling productive and crushing depressive episodes can and will become untenable. And normally, in a narrative like this, I would be able to tell you that I found the exact solution, put a very specific system in place, and am now so changed that I will be giving a TED Talk about it next week. But really, the solution I came up with–which I am not sure will even work, by the way–was so idiotically obvious and simple that i should be ashamed of myself for having taken so long to think about it.

It always comes back to shame and embarrassment with me, doesn’t it? Seriously. It’s like I have this voice in my head that chastises me for not “getting it” right away or doing something a certain way. Okay, it’s not “like” I have a voice in my head; I do have that voice in my head and lately it’s sounded like a guy I roomed with in college who was constantly a shit to me.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the idiotically obvious and simple solution to my problem, which is breaking my pile into small chunks that are manageable and achievable.

I told you it was idiotically obvious and simple.

I’d gone into this period of working from home by telling myself that I was going to do two things: first, keep to my daily routine of when I wake up, what I do in the morning, when I eat, and when I sleep; second, accomplish or finish everything i had ever set aside ever. The first of those was incredibly easy. The second? Well, the pile. So I have started literally scheduling my day hour to hour and filling those hours with tasks I know can be done in that time. If they can’t, then I put them aside, move on to the next thing, and put them on the next day’s schedule. I honestly cannot say if it will make me more successful in life or anything, but I’m hoping it will at least make me feel a little less useless.

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