Monday, September 5, 2016

Invisible Labor

As this weekend approached, the labor I was most looking forward to was puttering around my house and getting it back into shape. Our summer ended up being very different from what I'd anticipated, and, in the last two weeks, as the predictable events emerged (we took my daughter to college and I began my fall teaching duties), the last bastion of organization collapsed, leaving clutter in its wake.

My progress is predictable. Slow to start, then on a roll. Mid-afternoon slump, followed by dinner preparation and a second wind in the evening that gets me wound up and makes it hard to fall asleep.

Still, as I turned out the lights much too late last night, forcing myself to pick up five things and put them away before I called it a day, I was disappointed. I felt as though I'd been chipping away at things all day, but there was very little visible improvement.

But I knew I'd done more than succumb to a mid afternoon reading session, and so I pulled out a notepad to jot down what I had done all day--and quickly overran the page of a small note pad.

In looking over my list, it was clear that my puttering had yielded results. I'd made two phone calls, both to people I cared about, and one of which had been on my to-do list all week. I'd gone to Mass. I'd spent time with my husband, not worrying about what I was or wasn't checking off the list. I'd read some of the novel that had been shoved to the bottom of the to-do list too many times. I'd fielded questions from my students. And, perhaps more apropos of my unwritten, vaguely stated goal, I'd taken care of a few household projects that had been on my list, but that sat quietly behind closed doors--the new shelf paper and weeded toiletries bin in the bathroom, the thinning of outdated paperwork in a previously disastrous (and now just messy) drawer in the dining room--or tucked away neatly on a shelf (the organization of the reference spot for my daughter's school). Oh, and I'd finished one blog due this week and written another that's not due until later this month.

Wow. I'd made progress after all.

Looking at all of this much too late last night brought me to two realizations. The first is a drawback of the I need to see it personal style: if progress isn't visible, it might as well be nonexistent. Phone calls. Writing projects. Leisure activity and family time that should be part of a Sunday afternoon. None of these make the list unless I actually make a list, but that doesn't mean they're not important.

The second realization dovetails perfectly with what I'm teaching my college freshmen right now. If you don't set a specific goal, you won't know what you're aiming for. My"puttering for overall improvement" plan left me a lot of leeway (which I like), but no way to informally assess my progress as the day went on. It's okay to forgo specific goals on a holiday weekend, but, if we have goal (no matter how sketchy) in mind, we need to track our progress. Otherwise, we run the risk of trivializing all that we've accomplished and wallowing in what still (obviously) remains to be done.

So today, I'm back to lists, albeit a combination of mental lists, hastily jotted notes and, most likely, a backwards to-do list to cap off the day. Hey. I'm making progress.

However you're spending your Labor Day--whether in well-deserved relaxation, in labors of love or in some other pursuit altogether, I hope you find success that's meaningful to you. Feel free to share your success in the comments below. We'll celebrate together.


  1. Labors of love for me! It's "just another day at the home office." With so many play rehearsals and soccer games for TheKid, plus dentist and eye doctor appointments for me, I couldn't rearrange things to have the day off. I did sleep in until 7, though, which is pretty much unheard-of. Went to Mass, did laundry, got the food shopping done, went to the diner, hung out with the neighbors a bit.
    So I am going to take my handy-dandy new iced-coffee maker and make myself some coffee to sip while I get my work done.

  2. I made time for writing, which was wonderful. It's been too long. Everything else was icing on the cake.