Three things

I am on sabbatical again. That means, for the third time in my career I have an extended period of time in which I am in completely in charge of my own time, which also means that for the third time in my career a vast abyss in space and time has open up in front of me, completely terrifying me.  (The first two times being my dissertation fellowship period and the first time I was on sabbatical). But that’s not the three things of my title. I will get to that. (Side note: The Third Abyss would make a great band title. Punk? Metal? Norwegian Death Metal? Anywho…)

Everyone keeps asking me how sabbatical is going (after less than a month!) and I’m all like: (Darn, that gif showed up itself in the editor. Oh well. Click on the URL — it’s worth it, I swear!)

Last time I was on sabbatical, I had a kind of concrete list of stuff to do, because I spent it tracking down every instance I could of a particular variety of Middle English verse that I was interested in. Originally I had wanted that research to tell me what exactly it was going to turn into during that first sabbatical, but mostly all of my time was taken up with the “data gathering.” And since gathering that “data” meant going to manuscript libraries all over the place, that’s mostly what my sabbatical consisted of: making lists of possible “verses of interest” (groan…I read too much detective fiction and like puns too much), making plans to go see them, traveling to see them,  then transcribing a ton of manuscript pages, and then organizing what I found.

It took a long time for that bunch of information to start to turn into something interesting, so here I am seven years later looking at forming that raw material into my second book. Eek! Do I even remember how to write a book? My last one came out ten years ago! And its genesis was *twenty* years ago — gulp! (Duuude, I am old.) A book that’s just an idea is such an amorphous thing, a big, gaping hole that I need to fill. *Shudder*

I’ve got another project I have to finish this summer, too, and it’s a little more concrete — the edition of the York Corpus Christi Play that I’ve contracted to do and really should have finished last year, but got an extension on because it’s taking me much longer than anticipated. As concrete as it is, it’s somewhat tedious work, and thus causes me to procrastinate and get distracted. So while I should be able to edit a page in an hour, sometimes all I accomplish in a day is editing two pages and ordering shit on Zappos and SocksAddict (because the perfect shoes and socks *will* make your life better, right?).

Clearly, I need some kind of system to a) give a graspable shape to the abyss and b) to focus the work of the edition to get through it more quickly and efficiently. Those are two different problems to solve, so it wasn’t clear that one system was going to solve it, but I finally chanced upon one that I think will help. At least it helped me make a plan.

The system is the “three things” system — Notorious Ph.D. actually talked about it awhile back — hence my post title. I’ve also seen it called “The Rule of 3,” which I like because of its nod to all sorts of aesthetic and mnemonic and cultural rules of threes and thirds. And hey, 3 is a Magic Number, right? Anyway, according to the productivity gurus who invented or use this system, you’re supposed to start with the day and make a to-do list of three things to accomplish that day, and *then* move to bigger units of weeks and months and years. While I understand the concept of “one day at a time” for some things, that ain’t gonna work for a book project and a sabbatical. So, instead, like Notorious, I started with the time left on my sabbatical (which technically started in mid-May, but I took some time to ease into things), which is from now until mid-August, 2018.

So here are my “three things” for sabbatical:

  1. Finish the edition of the York Corpus Christi Play.
  2. Revise a big 45-minute presentation that I gave — and also workshopped elsewhere — into an article and the first chapter of my new book project.
  3. Do further research for and draft Chapters 2-5 of the new book project. (OK, I suppose that’s 4 things, but collectively it’s “research and draft the rest of the book project.”)

Then, with that list in mind, I got out academic calendars for the rest of this year (this summer) and next year (fall, spring, and summer), and apportioned weeks to the bigger specific tasks that needed to be done for each of these things. So for Thing 1, I’ve got weeks for editing the remaining play texts themselves, writing introductions, editing contextual material, and so on. I also counted how many pages of editing I have left, and figured out how many pages a day I need to finish to reach these goals. For Thing 2, I still have some details to work out, but there’s a much-neglected action list from earlier this year that I can turn to for that. The work on it is going to be simultaneous with finishing the York edition. For Thing 3, I had 45 weeks of my calendar left, so I gave each of the chapters 9 weeks and saved the final 9 weeks for further research, revising, and writing.

And then I opened up my planner — yes, I use a paper one, in a lovely red leather zippered case, because handwriting helps me remember — and wrote down my daily “three things” for tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday on their respective days in the planner. Tomorrow’s three things are 1) Edit three pages of “The First Trial Before Pilate,” 2) Revisit “action plan” for article project and update it, and 3) Begin reading the secondary material listed on that action plan. And I will continue to make a “three things” daily list from now on, at the beginning of each week (or maybe each Sunday night — a friend and I were at one point using the “Sunday Meeting” method, which I might still use here), and update/revise it as needed as the week progresses.

And yes, there are more than three things I usually have to or want to do in a day — but the “Rule of 3” method is about prioritizing those three things. Everything else goes on the regular “to do” list and gets done after that.

OK, that was all a bit boring, but really, this is just an accountability post. It will be interesting to me to go back to it later at various points in the sabbatical.

How do you manage your time when you have vast, unstructured amounts of it (and I count summer as vast)?

So much to do, so little time

Oh god, it’s 11am and I’ve done nothing substantial today but answer e-mails.  I’m in one of those moods where I have so much to do, in such little amount of time, that I’m utterly paralyzed.  I figure that if I write this post quickly and then Step. Away. From. The. Computer., I’ll feel better.

By the end of December (some things sooner than others), I have to:

  • Finish reading two academic books and write a review essay of them.
  • Write and send out three letters of recommendation for students applying to Ph.D. programs, and finish sending out the one I’ve already written. In two of the first three cases, I’m the primary letter writer, so it will take some time to write a bitchin’ letter for these students, which they totally deserve.
  • Make some headway on the literary text editing I’m doing as a co-general editor of a forthcoming anthology.
  • Finish drafting that companion-to article so that I can spend January revising it
  • Write and grade two final exams
  • Grade some final projects and optional revisions of others
  • Calculate and turn in final grades
  • Write a darned profile for the digital humanities workshop I’m attending at MLA and think about what I want to get out of that.

Why isn’t December known as “exploding head month”?  And then, in the first weeks of January I have to:

  • Attend MLA — thank god I’m not doing a paper there
  • Plan my three Spring classes (we start January 9 – ack!)
  • Read another book, the review of which is due at the end of the month (this one should be easier/ It’s an edition of a literary text, so that means reading the intro stuff and sampling the apparatus throughout. Right? Oh, and not writing a Helen Vendler-style review.
  • Get those revisions rolling on the companion-to article
  • Continue with the editing for the anthology and have a phone interview with the team.

You know, I was going to write that post about whether or not tenure removes the incentive to work hard, but I think I’m working too hard to find the time!

And then there’s the personal stuff.  Bullock and I just met with the “stager” who works with our real estate agent, and if we’re going to put our house on the market by mid-January, there is so much we have to do! Ack! Mostly it’s de-cluttering — good thing we have the new house to move stuff to — but some of it is painting and fixing and replacing. And that will cost money.  We also just came to the conclusion that we’re going to have to replace more flooring in the new house than we realized; there were some nasty puppy-pee stains in the bedrroom carpetting (previously hidden by furniture and massive doses of Febreeze) that we didn’t know about. My attempts to clean them with the Resolve pet stain remover only revealed how much chemical stuff had already been fruitlessly applied to them. That carpet has to go.  And the family room carpet may have to go as well, but first we’re going to try to get it professionally cleaned — it’s at least not as old as the bedroom carpet. We may not get new bedroom furniture after all. And there’s other stuff, like getting the locks changed and getting the ball rolling on the renovations we’d planned when we made an offer on this house.

Oh, and Bullock’s birthday is on Saturday. And then there’s this thing called Christmas that our families celebrate and expect us to celebrate with them.  Perhaps you have heard of it.

OK, as I suspected, writing this out has me charged up to tackle it!  Aaaaaaand I’m off!


>Not looking forward to August

>On the day before I leave for the UK for two weeks of Famous Medieval Author conference, visiting with friends, and whirlwind manuscript consulting, I am getting anxious about what faces me upon my return, one item of which I just learned about 10 minutes ago.

As you read the following August to-do list, keep in mind that our school year begins on the 25th. Thank god I got my syllabuses done at the beginning of the summer (though details need to be fine-tuned).

So here’s what my August will look like:

  • Re-write article due August 15th according to feedback from collection editors — some of which feedback I got orally at Kalamazoo, and have been working on, but most of which I just got about a week ago.
  • Finish academic book (on planes and trains while away) and write review for – gulp! – Speculum (my first ever for them).
  • Read dissertation and prepare for as yet unscheduled August defense. Thank god I’m the outside reader. Note: my first dissertation committee position ever.
  • Read MA thesis and prepare for early-August defense.
  • Correct proofs of article (possibly with stolen time at Famous Author conference if editors won’t give me a 5-day extenstion). I just got the PDF of the proofs 10 minutes ago and they’re due July 25th. I’m leaving tomorrow and I’m still fine-tuning my paper, doing laundry, packing, etc.
  • Prepare for and organize department orientation for non-TA students.
  • Meet with colleague with whom I will be the dramaturge for a 2010 production of medieval drama (he needs to plan the season this far in advance and we have to settle on which plays and what form of text — simply modernized or truly translated).

Oy. Feel for me.

But right now I have to take Pippi for her walkies and get back to getting ready to leave. Expect little to no posting in the next two weeks. Happy July to you all!

>Dog tired


I know how you feel, Wiley. I know how you feel. It’s hard sleeping on the floor of my study for days on end while I work non-stop from waking until sleep for week after week, isn’t it?

OK, for those of you keeping track, here’s what I’ve accomplished in the last two weeks. Note the passive voice — I don’t feel like I’ve been doing anything very actively:

  • Book proofs have been corrected, FedEx’d to India, and received there.
  • The book index has been written, e-mailed to India, and received there. It remains to be seen if they send it back to me, telling me it’s an incompetent piece o’ crap and that I might as well have said “see entire book” for most of the entries.
  • 25 Shakespeare essays have been graded.
  • 30 short close-reading exercises on Marie de France’s Lais have been graded.
  • Classes have been taught — some well, some not so much.
  • The Master’s Exam has been written (1/2 by me; 1/2 by Victoria) and proctored (by me); all 11 exams have been carefully read; and as of today, the fates of these 11 souls have been determined.
  • The graduate committee has met and decided on the major round of admissions and funding for graduate students next year.
  • Offer letters have been drafted.
  • Students with incomplete files have been contacted.
  • Many miles have been run.
  • Guidelines for student research projects in the medieval class have been written and distributed.
  • Feedback on failed application for an NEH Summer Stipend has been requested and received. Grumbling has been done, followed by realization that the feedback is actually very useful, even if it doesn’t come with $5000.

Things remaining to be done in the next week:

  • Grade 30 essays on various medieval subjects turned in on the 15th.
  • Grade 30 close-reading papers on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
  • Contact and give feedback to 11 souls who did or did not pass Master’s Exam.
  • Send out offer letters to admitted grad students.
  • Run 20 miles tomorrow.
  • Celebrate 38th birthday on Saturday night or Sunday (the actual day) — if there’s time and energy to do so. At least open presents. Thank people.
  • Buy cards and presents for April birthdays.
  • Write to recommenders for NEH Stipend to tell them I didn’t get it. Feel like loser even though the feedback was really useful.
  • Dammit, reserve hotel for K’zoo already!
  • Buy airline tickets for summer London trip before prices go up to $1500 instead of a mere $1200.
  • Once again start pulling my weight on things like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping.
  • Take Wiley to the park on Sunday if weather is gloomy (because that means fewer other dogs and fewer instances of me having to restrain an insanely barking Wiley).
  • Sleep. Maybe.
  • Continue teaching classes, perhaps with more energy. Try not to let discussion of I Henry IV suck as much as discussion of King Lear did. Try not to let enthusiastic but odd dude dominate discussion with bizarre theories. Write blog post about such students and what to do about them.
  • Watch final episodes of Rome (forever! boo-hoo!) and Battlestar Galactica (thank god it’s just a season finale, not a series one).
  • Shut down computer for entire day tomorrow for Shutdown Day.
  • Catch up with blog reading. (OK, how on earth is it that Dr. Crazy has some 30-odd new posts that I haven’t read yet? UPDATE: Good god, it’s actually 40-almost-50-something new posts! 49 at the moment, in fact, and that’s just in the last 20 days!)
  • Drink lots of wine.
  • Collapse.

But now I’m going to run out and buy some Gu energy gel for my run tomorrow, and *then* I’ll get started on the rest of that list.