Monday, March 8, 2010

Carving out time

Today was Day One of the Big Push. Between now and Friday, I have to prepare for two panel presentations and get everything set up for the business meeting at this weekend's conference. Meanwhile everything for my normal classes and administrative work has to get done -- or enough of it to stave off collapse.

But this afternoon I took about three hours away from that pursuit to do something I didn't absolutely have to do. When I think about how far I could have gotten on the existing deadlines in those three hours, I get a little queasy. I could have completed the more involved presentation, maybe. Or made sufficient notes for the less involved one plus get the business meeting agenda written up.

Instead I crafted a paper description and abstract based on some research I've been doing in my spare time since the beginning of the year, and submitted it to the American Academy of Religion annual meeting.

The deadline for paper proposals for this year's late October meeting was originally last week. But due to all the work days folks in the Northeast have lost to snow, the submission system stayed open an extra week. And as I so often do, I finally came up with an idea just a day or two before the deadline. I didn't know if the Call for Papers would yield a home for it, but I was lucky enough to find a close enough match between the proposals one of the many groups was soliciting and my idea.

Then it was a question of carving out the time needed to write the proposal. Three hours. I didn't go back to the office after my noon class, opting to stay outside in the spring-like weather (but within easy cell phone range if needed) and work through a first draft. That took almost two hours. Then a meeting intervened -- but only took a little more than half an hour instead of the hour I was expecting. I went back to the office to take a last pass through, pare the elements down to the specified character limit, and submit, a process that ate up the last hour of the three.

Chances are not good that I'll be accepted. Chances are not good that any particular proposal gets accepted, given the prestige of this meeting. I'm very lucky to have had a paper accepted a few years ago, and this proposal is in an entirely different area. Given all that, and given that I have obligations that I cannot avoid bearing down on me and requiring my attention, was it smart to use three hours of my limited remaining time to take a flyer?

If I hadn't, I'd have been forfeiting any chance (however remote) of getting on the program this fall. And those three hours are not time wasted in any case; they are time invested in building a framework for research I was going to do anyway. Now I'm three hours to the good in thinking through some of the ideas I have been mulling over and putting them down in a form that can guide me next time I pick up the project.

As long as I make the deadlines -- no matter how close I cut it -- I'll have no regrets.

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