Now I am Become Death, Destroyer of Dustbunnies

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything in these parts; I’ve been transitioning into my new position as the Director of our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning over the last two weeks, with all that involves– new office, staff retreat, oodles and scads of planning. It’s been a rich kind of busy, in that what I’m doing has substance and is setting the table for-hopefully-a great upcoming year.

Like most academics I know, summer is far from a vacation. We may not be teaching, but we are researching, writing, prepping, planning, rediscovering how to breathe, and all that. In addition to my new gig’s stuff, I’m prepping a new course outside of my main field (Medieval world history! Woooo!) in which I’ll be using team-based learning; exciting, but also new for me. I’ve got some of my own projects in the hopper, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a paper for next month’s SHEAR confab.

So I’m busy. And June is halfway done. And soon will commence the annual rite of academe, the Lamentation of the Dwindling Days of Summer. So what did I spend six hours doing today? (Hint: not the 200 pages of medieval reading I had targeted). I cleaned house.

And not any lame lightly-dust-and-straighten-the-shelves cleaning, either. I scrubbed baseboards and walls. I vacuumed air ducts and drapes. I threw out three bags of clutter. I used a double-digit horsepower shop-vac to terminate dust balls with extreme prejudice. In a ninety-year-old house with two kids, two cats, and three dogs, this made a big difference. That’s why I did it, instead of the reading and course planning I need to be doing– because it was a task with an immediate sense of done-ness, a tangible payoff, something over which I had CONTROL. And isn’t that why we procrastinate? Don’t we often sub in a discrete, mindless task for a more open-ended, abstract one?

Well, that’s why I procrastinate, at least. It’s the epiphany I had today, while dusting cobwebs and listening to German heavy metal at top volume: for me, procrastination is all about wanting to control something, ANYTHING, in the face of a deluge of open-ended tasks and commitments that have indeterminate schedules and are influenced by external factors as well. That’s useful information. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but sometimes the simplest observations are the hardest ones to see. So now I can combat that all-powerful instinct when I need to… if I can just figure out ways to render the unmanageable manageable.

In the meantime, I’m going to read tonight in the comfort of my sparkly-clean, linen-fresh-smelling living room. And the dogs and cats will begin to replenish the hairball population, to begin the circle of life anew. And when those reach critical mass, I’ll probably have an article or something that can wait while I unleash the fury of the shop-vac in my neverending quest for tidiness and control. Understanding your problems are the first step towards fixing them, right?