Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Some days you come home all proud and ready to reward yourself for getting so much done. Some days you work hard all day but don't have a feeling of accomplishment at the end. And the difference between those two kinds of days has little to do with how productive you actually are.

This morning I took my Wednesday half-day retreat to the local coffee shop to prepare my new class for the fall semester. I toiled over course objectives that could be linked to assignments and to the course topics outline, then read for the course for almost an hour. When I left, I felt like I had made some real progress, although the number of words I put down in my draft syllabus would strike some as minimal.

Then this afternoon I set about my second table-clearing project for the week: combining all my students' work on parking and transportation at the university into a single report. I created a cover page, standardized all the formatting, numbered the appendices, and labored for three solid hours on transforming a bunch of research papers and some other text and pictures into a cohesive, professional report.

By the end of the day, I was ready to produce a table of contents, the last piece. I decided to print a copy to make it easier for me to flip through and pull out the titles of the various appendices and figures. Some sections had color charts, maps, and illustrations, and so I sent a few pieces to the color printer.

And that's where my highly productive day turned frustrating. Our color printer is a decade old, and so finicky it's hardly worth sending a print job. Seven pages in, she decided to run paper through the duplexer for no discernible reason, and that was it. I couldn't find all the paper jams, I couldn't cancel the job, and I couldn't get it to print anymore.

So I came home feeling like I'd been spinning my wheels all day -- when it was really only the last step that had gone wrong. But because that last step was so frustrating, it slopped back over on everything else I had accomplished ... because all that other stuff was largely in my perception. I didn't produce a finished syllabus or essay, and I didn't get a hardcopy of my report. It's easy to believe I didn't really do anything worth mentioning. Maybe I need a meter that will measure my productivity in objective, standard units so I don't have to rely on my highly variable perception.

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