Spring is all about growth, renewal, cleaning out the old remnants of winter hibernation, and enjoying the fresh inspiration that comes from letting go of unnecessary “stuff.” If you work within the academic school year, spring is a time for tests, UIL competitive events, and general burnout. The school year after spring break is a long slog, and it is easy for both students and teachers to give up and start phoning it in.
This year is no exception, and in fact, based on my observation of my own voice students, it is worse than normal. No surprises there. I am not immune to this–I have definitely struggled with a lack of motivation, putting off real work until the last minute, and just in general doing only those things that I absolutely have to handle. Students are generally going to do the projects they are assigned and required to complete, but most of them, when given an option, will choose not to take on something extra.
Speaking for myself, finishing this year is a bit like seeing the airline gate up ahead in the distance, but I’m stuck on one of those walkways that only goes so fast...and I can’t just walk to speed it up. If you are on that walkway with me...welcome. You are not alone, and we WILL eventually get there!
I don’t have any magic method, special trick, or secret tactic to answer these problems–there are no hacks here, folks. There are a ton of productivity products: bullet journals, detailed list-making, spreadsheets, productivity journals, apps...and that’s just the stuff designed to help us organize ourselves so we can attempt to do the actual work! It’s overwhelming just trying to decide HOW to get ourselves motivated in the first place! However, if I may, I hope to offer some encouragement that might help us all muddle through “The Doldrums” (bonus points if you recognize the classic children’s novel that I just referenced).
First and foremost, remember that this struggle is NORMAL, that everyone feels it sometimes, and that it is not something that makes you a bad student, teacher, adult, or human. You are not always going to be this fiercely motivated powerhouse, kicking butt and taking names. Sometimes you are just going to want to pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep, or write only the 5-page minimum for an essay, or play with the dog instead of grading that stack of papers. It is perfectly OK to make those choices, and take a bit of time to recharge. You shouldn’t feel bad or lazy for taking that time when you need to do so. That being said, sometimes you just don’t HAVE the time. You have a to-do list that is a mile long, and it ALL HAS TO BE DONE SOON!!! Or does it?
Whether I am feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have to do, or I’m feeling unmotivated and stuck and don’t seem to want to get going, I do one simple thing: I breathe. I take a few deep breaths, concentrating on the moment, pushing aside (as best I can) the noise of all of my undone tasks. Then I take a look at my list (I’m a list-maker) and commit to one task. That’s not groundbreaking advice, or a genius idea on my part–it is just the best way I know to start anything. Just like the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Or, as some of us may know from Mary Poppins, “Well begun is half done.” And then once you complete that task, you pick another, and you repeat. Yes, that does sound like work...as I said, no hacks here. But it’s manageable work...one thing at a time.
If the first part of the solution is allowing yourself to not be productive for a bit, the second part is getting back to work. You can buy every planner, create the most beautiful vision board or bullet journal, or have the most highly organized and detailed series of apps and spreadsheets between all of your electronic devices, but if none of that results in you actually getting those tasks done, it doesn’t really matter. This is the part of the equation where we get stuck: I THINK about the work I have to do, I ORGANIZE it in my mind into manageable tasks, and then...I stop. I sometimes might even congratulate myself on the planning, as if I’ve actually completed the task! You cannot think or journal your way out–it’s a tool, perhaps a very useful one, but that’s all it is. When you get right down to it, what really matters is YOU deciding to get up and get to work, and then doing that.
The last piece of this puzzle (for me) is the breaking through the mindset of perfectionism. I wholeheartedly believe that in any endeavor, we should strive to do the best we can. But as perfectionists, sometimes the need to be perfect and achieve the impossible standard prevents all actual work, because we know it WON’T be perfect. It’s not about accepting mediocrity, or just being OK with the bare minimum: it’s about accepting the best that you are able to give in that moment, and getting the work done with that current ability level.
At any moment in life we are given a certain set of “ingredients”: our skill level with a particular task, our experience with that type of project, our ability to organize and see both detail and big picture, and of course the actual time we have to complete the task. You can only do so much, and those ingredients in any project help determine the level of output you are able to produce. If you attempt to do the best you can with what you are given, and you can honestly say that you DID give it your best effort, then you can accept the result with pride and move on.
So...let’s breathe deeply, pick just one task on that list, and commit to finishing it. And one more thing: while you are busy tackling that one task, and the ones that will follow, don’t forget to look around for small moments of joy along the way. You’d be surprised what you can find if you look for it, even when you’re stuck on that airport walkway.