Wednesday, 14 January 2009

One thing at a time

Over the last few days, I’ve had one of those strange illnesses that sometimes strikes you. It was the type that you realize is not overly serious and that you could sit at your desk feeling like you are slowly melting into a puddle of exhaustion without too much effort, but that still knocks you out anyway. In the end, I took the cowards way out and made the critical error of taking a couple of days off work and some time away from my course, meaning I now have a few more things on my plate to work through in order to keep my head above water.
It is incredibly easy to let small chores and big chores alike pile up, like so many dirty dishes attempting to discover the next penicillin, and for the most part I am perfectly capable of working through them slowly. This time however, I think I let it go too far. When thinking about the things that I still had to do, I would feel a little dizzy and get that rising panic that one gets as the sound of multiple deadlines start their deafening roar as they close in for the kill.

I’m never comfortable with dealing out advice, but I have to share this because it’s so simple that it’s probably going to be pretty insulting to anyone reading this. If things get too much, just take it One Thing At A Time.

My particular methodology involved me going to the local stationary shop and buying a notepad (I prefer the reporter style, binding at the top, jotter pad) and sitting down to make a list of all the things that I had outstanding. I then if necessary made a separate page for some of the more complicated or vague tasks (such as “complete law conversion course” or “sort out documents”) and finally titled the notebook as my “Quest log”, because I figured that might just trick my brain into thinking it’s a game with a list of achievements that I need to earn.
Depressingly enough, calling it the “Quest Log” seems to have worked to a tremendous effect. I absolutely love crossing things off the list, feeling a creeping inane grin crawling across my face every time I find myself coming close to finishing a task, happy in the knowledge that I’ll be able to get a pen and strike a line through the offending chore.

The interesting thing that I found was how organically my “To Do” list grew and what sort of things were clearly on my mind. The first few items were course related, such as my “Independent Research Ess*y” and my “Statute Analysis Test”, but then shortly after that came personal projects that have been indefinitely shelved, such as my poor neglect-ridden comics, and my creative writing that has been languishing for almost a year. Other small things popped up as I was thinking of more things to add, such as sorting out the official documents one accumulates and that I had been stuffing into my bookshelf near my desk, treating it as forbidden in tray since I moved into the flat.
Once the list was at a healthy length, I was truly amazed at how fired up I was to get on with clearing it. I must confess, I am nowhere near completely removing items from the list yet, but I was able to cross off a few of the smaller entries on the item specific pages, which cleared my mind no end.

The One Thing At A Time approach is not a new thing to me. It’s what I used to do all the time whilst at university in order to survive; you think of all the things you have to do and then do the one that is the most urgent. The only addition to this approach that I’ve had to take now is writing everything down, because my life upon graduation has become significantly busier and the time with which to do things has become significantly shorter and I know that the free time I do have is frequently used poorly. If you have a lot to do and not much time to do it in, then I can not stress the merits of this approach enough.

Additional Notes
Who knows, next time on The Graduate, maybe I’ll explain how this approach didn’t work and I had a nervous breakdown anyway. I really do feel uncomfortable giving advice. I recently gave some advice to someone who had just graduated and was struggling to find a job. I essentially told him that he has to keep looking, not give up, submit hundreds of applications and not to rely on the internet completely. I also recommended temping agencies and recruitment agencies. All of this is great advice. All of this is also the advice that I was given and advice that was subsequently ignored when I was in the same position. Maybe that puts me in a better position to reiterate it, but it just makes me feel like a bit of a fraud.

One of the things on my Quest Log is to write a post for this blog, which explains that slow creeping grin that’s starting as I type this sentence.

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