Protecting your time

Note: Another guest-post by dreadsci. Yay!

In the grad support group I attended, the theme of “protecting your time”—both for self-care and getting things done—came up a lot. It’s been something of a rough week and I’ve been fighting with myself over all the things I’m not doing. But since not-doing something is the inevitable result of doing-other-things, I’m trying to remind myself that I am choosing consciously to do the things that are most urgent and important, rather than just flaking on the million good and beautiful things I could be doing.

So, since I’ve been using HabitRPG with great success this past month, I put together a challenge. (And immediately postponed the first task, but that’s allowed.) I’m torn—it feels like a lot of work. On the other hand, the parts I have done have been incredibly freeing, and I need to restate it because the old “you’re being a bad aunt/student/friend/volunteer” chant is starting up again. Here are the pieces in more general terms.

The preparation:
Make a list of all the obligations and goals (at a high level) that are on your mind these days. Be honest—if you’re stressing about it at all, even if you haven’t done anything about it for ages or don’t really think you should be worrying about it, it goes on this list. You might want to put this off until you have a relaxing day. It takes a lot of energy and can definitely trigger panic-guilt. On the other hand, if you have a very clear set of obligations (I find this more common when I have teaching or a regular job rather than research/self-employment at the forefront), it might be quick. Whatever works for you. But get it out of your brain and onto paper.

Pick your top three. No more than three. Less is better if you can. This doesn’t mean you’re giving up on the rest, you’re just consciously highlighting the ones that really matter most to you.

Write those down on a post-it you can put by your work space.

Now comes the tricky thing, and this probably works best if we talk about it. You want to come up with your personal anthem, a short phrase that reminds yourself why you have chosen what you have. For example, my top goal is graduating, but *why* I’m doing it is a mixture of many things: wanting to be able to support my family, wanting to contribute to a project I believe in, wanting to finish what I started. For now my anthem is “You build interesting projects that benefit the world.” Look at how grandiose that is! Yet true. I can’t deny that my research project is interesting. I’m definitely (slowly) building it. And it really could be a good thing. So, there you have it. Some other ones that have come up: “You are helping people learn and grow.” “You are adding beauty and inspiration to the world.” “You are inspiring your students and colleagues.”

Daily:
Remind yourself why you’re making the choices you are with your personal anthem: repeat it to yourself every morning.

At least once every day, put what is most important to you ahead of everything else: this can be doing a pomodoro for your top goal, or it can be exercising rather than stressing about the todo list, or it can be taking a nap. Just at some point, make a choice that consciously puts your goals and well-being first.

Regularly:
Let it go: Reward yourself when you say “no” to something. Store the idea for later if you must, but any time you choose not to do something, good for you! I have places for storing specific things (blog post ideas, volunteer possibilities, business tasks) but I’m thinking of adding to the obligation/goal list too when they’re more general things.

​Share your triumph: Whatever your support system is, get them involved. Post on a forum, share with your friends, comment on this blog. Saying no and prioritizing *your* goals is something you should be proud of. When you make a choice to do anything because it matters to you, let your cheering team know so they/we can celebrate and be encouraged by your example.

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