You know that little voice in the back of your head that tells you that you don't need to take your Ritalin right now, you've already started doing such a tiny little task that will be over soon and surely you can go and get your Ritalin once you're done because it won't be long?
That voice is wrong. So very wrong.
Another time, I would have beaten myself up for that. And I sort of am, a little, out of habit -- but I'm also recognizing that and stopping myself (and not beating myself up for beating myself up, because that's just a counterproductive spiral I've fallen into too many times already). It's not about how few mistakes you make, I tell myself. Mistakes are part of life and learning. It's about how well you recover from them.
"Perfectionism is the opposite of good time management," Sally said this past Saturday. We talked about how it's high time I submitted something somewhere that wasn't FIE or ASEE; after a couple entries in one venue, you're considered to have figured out how to publish there, and subsequent CV entries in that venue are less impressive for a recent PhD grad, so it's diversification time.
I said I could write abstracts for some other venues. Sally asked how many. "Three?" I said, lowballing it.
"Um... because... it seems like... a good small number..."
"What's wrong with one?" I had to admit that nothing was wrong with one other than the fact that it seemed so small.
But that's part of what I'm working on too -- having realistic expectations. I usually expect myself to perform at the best level I've ever performed at all the time -- I've done it, so I know it's attainable! But that's like Roger Bannister telling himself "I will now be terribly disappointed every time I run a 4:01 mile!" Expecting myself to doing less actually leaves room for me to do more.
Except that these days, I'm taking that extra time to do what I'm doing better. Or even -- this is weird! -- to not be "productive" in the slightest, and it feels fantastic. I can talk with Andrea in the kitchen and not feel guilty about it? Linger in the coffeeshop and not be "behind" because I'm already done? Not get any work done when I'm hanging out with my cousins and be perfectly okay? (Actually, I did a bit of reading, and it felt like a total bonus because I was exceeding my zero expectations for productivity!)
Wow. I thought I'd have to schedule in having a life. And it's good to schedule in certain life-things (dinner with cousins! phone calls with friends!) to make sure you do them, to know that you'll have something there. But sometimes if you leave room for nothing in particular, you find that "a life" has grown up in those spaces, in those little cracks, when you weren't looking...
I grew up reading books that were all about Doing Things -- you don't write about the times when you sat around and drank punch, usually -- and thought that life was supposed to be nonstop, or you were one of those lazy slacker failures that would never be successful. I thought I had to stay in perpetual motion in order to prove myself -- that if I paused, I'd somehow be less than all I could be, and that if I failed I'd never know how much better I could have gotten.
I know this is probably obvious to 99% of humanity, but you'll have to forgive me; in matters of Being a Person, I am sometimes a little slow.