Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 7, 2012

"Procrasti-planning" - and other ways to serenity

Husband Art has often told me that he believes people should work hard and play hard. When he was an engineering professor at Kansas State University, he demanded a lot of his students - but he also made sure he didn't give them assignments over breaks so they could use those days to enjoy themselves and mentally recharge. He discouraged them from going to summer school unless it was essential. He felt the break was so beneficial that it more than made up for whatever might be gained by attending class. He has always opposed plans to make the school year a 12-month affair for the same reason.

I try to follow that same philosophy with my journalism and mass communications students. I've been told I'm a demanding instructor. But I also know my students have lives beyond my classroom. When they left for Thanksgiving break, they didn't have to work on assignments from my classes. I told them to go home, rest and eat lots of turkey.

I think balancing work and play is a good policy for anyone to adopt. But a problem this time of year is that work and play are clashing big-time. It's the last week of the semester at K-State, which means students are frantically rushing to finish up last-minute projects and studying for finals. Professors are equally frenzied, grading those projects and exams.

But while trying to complete the semester with our brains intact, we're also tempted with an assortment of holiday parties, concerts, programs, shopping, decorating and other fun activities. Just last weekend, Art and I and other family members attended an Ecuadorean dinner on Friday night, a Swedish supper in Olsburg on Saturday night, and K-State's Holiday Extravaganza - a two hour performance by the music department's seven choral groups - on Sunday afternoon. This week, my plans include a McCain performance, a reception, a holiday meal and a get-together with friends.

Extroverts tend to thrive on such a frenetic schedule. But I'm an introvert and, although I absolutely love decorating, attending musical and holiday events, and getting together with family and friends, I need to sometimes say "no" to recharge my batteries.

One way I cope with the work - and play - overload is by giving myself a big block of time on the weekends to stay home and just do whatever comes to mind - with no schedule and no to-do list in front of me. I may repot a plant, then organize some photos, read a magazine and follow it up with a nap.

Another way I grapple with over-stimulation is to clean like there's no tomorrow. Oldest daughter Mariya, another introvert, does the same thing and coined the word "procrasti-cleaning" to refer to backing away from too many activities and replacing them with cleaning. It IS a form of procrastination as nothing gets checked off from the to-do list, but it truly does keep me from getting too wound up.

Mariya has another word - procrasti-planning - for a similar activity. It involves first stopping dead in her tracks with whatever she's doing. Then she compares the calendar with her to-do list and decides what she can realistically complete. Some items are crossed off, others are added and voila, she has a workable schedule - at least for a day or two.

Mariya explained the two terms this way:

"I clean when I really need to do other things, but want to feel like I accomplished something," she said. "Same with planning. I should be doing things at the top of my list, but focus on easier things at the bottom. Everything eventually gets done, just not in the best order I 'spose. I gotta focus on other things to process stuff fully."

Art is not an introvert. Nor has he coined any special word for what he does when faced with some overwhelming task. But he still finds certain tricks help him to keep his sanity. Whenever he has a large mess to clean up, he always starts with one part and does it fully before moving on to the next. Even though it may not be the most efficient way, he found he needs seeing undeniable progress in some area to avoid becoming discouraged by what still lies ahead.

Whether it's procrasti-cleaning or procrasti-planning or whatever, little tricks help us maintain some semblance of balance in our lives. And in this busy season, those tricks become a gift of serenity we give to ourselves.

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