doing nothing to do something

Back when I was in college (many, many more years ago than I'd care to admit), around this time of year I'd be in the throes of final exams.  I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that I was responsible for knowing, and I'd pull all-nighters, fueled by pizza and Blue Bell Ice Cream.

At a certain point on any given night during this time, I would get to the point where my eyes glazed over, and try as I might, the concepts I was trying to simplify into easy steps, or commit to memory, or get down on paper just would not make any sense. I'd find myself reading the same sentence over and over in a confused fog, even when I know I understood it back when the concepts were first presented to me in class. It was useless: there was no way I was going to understand it in the moment.

And it was at this point that I knew it was time to go to sleep -- even if the exam was the next day.

Then, every time, almost without fail, once I'd decided to shut down for the night, by the next morning my head was clear, the concepts I'd been struggling with the night before made perfect sense again, and I was usually able to head to my test feeling comfortable that I was as ready for the exam as I'd ever be.  For some reason, the act of going to sleep -- in effect, doing nothing -- made it possible for me to do something the next day.

Fast forward to May 2011, and it appears that I'm in the middle of finals week again.

I mentioned that I have some travel coming up, and that I had an idea of similar scope to writing The Beauty of Different.  Both of these facts, coupled with the many speaking engagements scheduled for the summer, plus I was still playing catch-up from recent travels and still had my usual responsibilities of maintaining this site and other personal relationships, and by the end of last week, I was overwhelmed, to say the least.  I'd stopped my daily journaling (a practice that generally calms me) for fear that it was taking time away from my Getting Things Done, and then, illogically, I'd spend most of the day sitting in front of the computer in a semi-catatonic state, too confounded to know where to start.

So this weekend? I decided it was time to do nothing.

And do nothing, I certainly did.  I read a book.  I did a ton of journaling -- but instead of doing much writing (a task which would have felt too much like work), I mostly just doodled (as shown above).  My dad came over on Saturday, and he, Marcus and I had some red wine and a cheese plate we put together.  Then on Sunday, we joined my parents for a leisurely brunch.  And then I did some more journaling -- broke out pens and paints and pencils and doodled and doodled and doodled to my heart's content.

And then finally, late Sunday evening, it seemed totally clear what I needed to do:  I needed to create a schedule.

So I whipped together a little agenda in about 15 minutes, detailing generally how I'm going to break down my time during the weekdays while Alex is at school, in order to maximize what I need to get done (sort of like the "study schedule" I used to make at the beginning of finals season back in university, when I was overwhelmed by the subject matter I needed to cover).  The agenda that I created means not responding to emails until the afternoon (especially since I find that email is one of my biggest distractions to productivity).  It means scheduling time when I will take and receive calls.  And it means blocking out chunks of my day devoted to one activity, and one activity only.

Now, I'll admit right now that I might not actually stick to this schedule, but it does give me a place to start.  Even more importantly, just by spending a couple of minutes outlining my days, I'm starting this week feeling so much clearer.  And the weekend was such a great reminder that sometimes I have no choice but to stop everything, in order to start again.

And with that, have a great week, everyone.  Also, don't be afraid to stop if you need to.


Images:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.  aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/200, ISO 400.


SongBlackbird, as performed by Dionne Farris