Before my sabbatical began I did lots of reading in the Chronicle and on academics’ blog sites and also asked friends for advice in hopes of planning and executing the World’s Most Perfect Sabbatical. A lot of their advice addressed the basic issue of what to do with yourself on a daily basis; how to stay focused on your project without burning out, how to flourish as human-person without getting sidetracked. For several weeks now I’ve hit a pretty great stride, getting tons of stuff done on my project but at the same time engaging in enriching, even fun (!) activities that I would normally skip due to scheduling issues. At least, I thought I was doing well until this morning, when I turned the page of my day-timer and realized I have said yes to a few too many things this week. None of these things are bad, and indeed they are all really pretty good: an overdue checkup at the doc, which requires blood work before hand; driving the kiddos around town so they can join debate club and get to string lessons and what-have-you; a coffee meeting with a uni administrator to discuss an idea I have to improve a policy issue; that jewelry class which also requires, can you believe it, homework; a brief presentation at faculty colloquium; preparation of serious vittles for a welcome-back-to-school meeting of the honor society at my house.
See, all those things are good things–just maybe a little less good when they are all crammed into the same stupid week. Individually, they might not even take that much time, but the real problem is that they bust the routine, break the concentration, skewer momentum, decrease efficiency, upset the apple cart, spoil the pudding. They invade the Mind Palace, which I have been lax about guarding.
One of the bits of advice that I read about months ago, but only now really understand, is to get to know what kind of writer you are, and do whatever you have to in order to be that person. I have crammed my writing into awkward bits of time for so many years that I really didn’t know how I do it best. These first full weeks in Sabbatical-land have shown me: I need to start the day with coffee and the dog, then get writing within an hour or so. If I manage that, I can go for hours. If anything intrudes on the routine, it’s pretty much over.
I think the new approach will be to think of my day-timer as the guard or, maybe something more glamorous: the bouncer at the door of my concentration. Maybe one or two things can be admitted before–snap!–we’re full. This weekend, I wrap a velvet rope around the Mind Palace.