As I prepare for a new school year, my mind drifts back to a particular class from my middle school years. In hindsight, while the teacher was not stellar, my class really didn’t give him a chance. We were unified in our ruthlessness (and we were NOT easily unified). In fact, many of my policies and guidelines in my own classroom were born out of the inventiveness my class displayed in making this teacher miserable. (To be fair, he was not the only teacher my class made miserable. We were a pretty awful group of middle schoolers. And sometimes an awful group of high schoolers, too).
During this class, though, I honed a particular skill that I still have today. I learned to so deeply engage myself in a book that I quite honestly did not hear or perceive anything else around me. The room could have caught fire, and I wouldn’t have known. Someone could be shouting my name, but until the physically touched my shoulder or inserted themselves in my view, I would not have heard them.
I still have this skill, and I can apply it to a lot more than just reading. If you approach me and I’m working on something or reading something, it is best to assume that I have not heard a word of what you said. I probably haven’t even realized that you approached me. Seriously, if I’m not looking at you, it is best to assume that I have not heard a single word you have said.
I very much so want to be a great multitasker, but the truth is that I am great at hyper-focusing on one thing at a time. Just one. And when that concentration is broken, it takes me a while to get back into it. The benefit is that I can really get a lot done at one time without getting distracted. The drawback is that I don’t have a lot of balance in how I approach things. And it is hard for me to adjust and regroup when the focus is broken, or when something else demands my attention.
Going through faculty training for a new school year has me feeling overwhelmed because there are so many things that I need to focus on simultaneously and consistently to do my job well and to continue to grow spiritually and personally as well. I’m not great at that. I like to do everything involved with one task completely, then do everything involved with the next, and so on. That’s not going to work, though, because these aren’t tasks that have a clear start and stop. I need to be consistently improving relationships with students, finding new teaching methods, reading more, improving my health, strengthening friendships, and the list goes on.
We hear conflicting things about how to prioritize and manage our time, which doesn’t help the dilemma any. Some really emphasize self-care — you’ve got to make sure YOU are taken care of. At the same time, we hear sermons on being OTHERS-centered, emphasizing the importance of selflessness. We are told not to be lazy or idle, and then we are told that rest is crucial and biblical. We are told to say no more often. We are told to be generous and self-sacrificing with our time to serve others. If you are like me, task and goal-oriented, only able to focus fully on one or two things at a time, this is really confusing and really overwhelming. Should I just get up at 4 am every day to make it all happen?
Really, I just need to learn how to balance everything better. I need to realize that some goals are not about a final product but making steady progress. I need to understand that the expectation is not perfection. And I need to learn to budget my time and energy in the same way that I budget my financial resources. What are the necessary uses of my time and energy, and what can be deemed as secondary or recreational? Am I spending an appropriate amount of time and energy on each task, or am I overspending were I should be saving, and holding back where more is required?
I don’t want to be ragged and overwhelmed at the end of the semester – I want to be energized for the next one. My overarching goal for this school year is to find this balance and to learn to budget my time and energy in such a way that I am consistently making progress in many areas, rather than sporadically making leaps in one.