Thirteen years ago, I was a PhD student at the University of Leeds, and I was really, really stressed – to the point where I finally went in for counselling at the university counselling centre so that I could stop having physical panic attacks. Luckily, I got a wonderful counsellor. She was a perfect combination of warmth and brisk practicality, and as we talked one day about how stressed I was about constantly feeling so behind, she asked me how I set my work-goals each month.
I said, “Well, I figure out how long I have until my next supervision meeting, then I figure out exactly how much I could get done if I work REALLY REALLY hard every day until then – and then I set that as my goal.”
…Then, of course, I got incredibly stressed as I neared the date of my next supervision session, realized how unforgivably, shockingly behind I was, and drove myself to the edge of burn-out (or beyond) desperately trying to hit that goal, every time.
This was something that, by now, my counsellor knew about me. So:
“Hmm,” she said. “Interesting. But…have you ever considered, instead, figuring out exactly how much you could get accomplished if you worked moderately hard on most days and didn’t get anything done on a few other days along the way – and set that as your goal?”
I stared at her, genuinely shocked. “I could do that?”
It was one of the most counter-intuitive – and revelatory – suggestions I’d ever heard in my life.
(And yes, I know that that fact reveals soooooooo embarrassingly much about my psyche. But you guys all knew I was a perfectionist overachiever long before this blog entry, right?)
That meeting took place almost 13 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it – and it’s resonating all over again for me now because we’ve just entered the kids’ 2-1/2-week school holidays, directly after a long stretch of kid-illnesses when a horrible stomach bug went around the family (and larger town), keeping one or another of the kids home for 5 out of the last 10 days of school. Those kid-illnesses meant I didn’t get nearly as much as I wanted done before the holidays began; the holidays now mean that most of my energy is going toward child-care (and that energy is even more limited than usual right now, anyway, because looking after sick kids took a lot out of me, and the M.E./CFS is demanding its payment now).
I did have really high goals for what I would ideally get done by the end of April. But today, I’m remembering that long-ago counsellor’s face, kind and ever-so-slightly amused, as she said, “Have you ever considered…”
…and I’m re-considering.
Today, my writing goal is to print out the critiques I’ve gotten for my adult novella and read through them…and that’s it. If I get started, that’s great. But if all of my other energy is used up when I take the kids out this afternoon for today’s mini-trip…well, then, so be it.
What about you guys? If you have any small, do-able goals of your own right now, I would love to hear them.