I am a very routine-oriented person whom life rarely allows to fall into a stable routine. I compensate for this by planning. Planning is central to my strategy for overcoming my travel anxiety, for instance — if I spend enough time imagining myself on the trip, the steps required, the ideal things to pack (for me it’s a kind of game to pack the absolute bare minimum required), etc., then the trip becomes part of the plan, and suddenly not going on the trip is the disturbing break with routine.
Planning is also how I manage to get non-teaching work done during the semester. For me, the biggest obstacle is the sense that I shouldn’t even bother trying because I’ll never finish whatever I start. But if I plan it out, I’ll see that over three weeks if I spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I’ll get X done, and that can be almost as good — almost — as the monasticism of summer. With the time that remains in this semester, for instance, I’m currently thinking about how I can do revisions of the portions of my translation that I’ve already completed, draft at least one more section, revise the devil chapter I’ve done, and write at least one more chapter. There seem to be enough nooks and crannies in the semester that I’ll be able to do most of this.
The problem comes when I overdo it, when I invest too much intellectual energy in studying the calendar. At a certain point, I turn the corner and instead of enjoying a calming exercise in realizing how much time I (perhaps unexpectedly) have and how under control everything is, I begin treating the whole list of priorities as a single complexly articulated task — one that must be completed in toto before I can ever know rest or freedom again. This leads to self-undermining behavior as I attempt to get everything done much sooner than I need to, just to get it out of the way — things like trying to force myself to write when I’m drained from teaching, a pointless endeavor that results in no actual writing and significant stress and anxiety.
I know someone is going to come along and say I should learn to relax. I promise I do know how to relax. I almost never work evenings or weekends. Even at my most monastic, I take naps during the day, go for walks, watch some TV over lunch. I take days off, I indulge in TV marathons, I get drinks with friends. And you’re all familiar with how much time I spend dicking around online, which is not always relaxing but is mostly fun. You just don’t hear much about that side of things, because the first rule of relaxing is that you don’t elaborately plan out your relaxation. Nor is it the case that I experience all my goals as a huge burden — except when, as described above, my methods for juggling a variety of tasks backfire and produce what Derrida might call auto-immune effects. I’m enjoying my symptom for the most part.
Does any of this resonate with you, dear readers? Do you have your own bizarre strategies?