Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Incrementality and Jesus Saves

School holidays are actually progressing much more smoothly than last year. Looking back, I think I was feeling pretty tense about the whole PhD thing and the funding thereof. That all came to a nasty head during our week away when daughter #2 decided to let me know (by text) that I'd had a letter from the AHRC. Of course, then I had to know what it said, got her to read it and text me any news "I'm SO sorry...." she started. Great. I was massively disappointed, but couldn't let the others know how I felt, which was really difficult when we were confined in such close quarters. So I pretended I didn't really care, dismissing the whole issue as a mere inconvenience. When we returned home I found out that the scholarships had already been awarded in early June, so no luck there either. All this tension pretty much overshadowed the whole Summer from start to finish. I had the OU course to do, but all the time I was thinking beyond that to possible doctoral study, but couldn't feasibly do anything constructive towards it. I was very ill at ease and this manifested itself in many ways.

This year however I think that I am much more chilled. The children are that little bit older, a little less demanding and tempestuous and I have my 'bolt-hole' where I can go and write for a couple of hours. Plus I have a plan, which always makes me feel positive and cheerful. Everyday I commit to writing for at least a couple of hours - it doesn't matter what I write: even blogging is a useful authorial experience, and hones the compositional skills. Refinement can come later. In the evenings, I spend half an hour brushing up my basic German.

One of the things that I have learnt over the years is the value of small increments. Whatever needs to be done can be done in small chunks that barely impact at all. 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' and all that. Just keep those steps coming and you'll get there remarkably quickly and with minimal effort. This is one of the really useful things that motherhood taught me: it's no good bewailing the lack of time you have when you have small children. Divide your day into 15 minute slots and allot an achievable task to one of those slots. I carried this philosophy through to later my university years: 15 minutes is quite long enough to memorise some vocab, or photostat an article, or source a book, or grab a coffee. Just don't approach life as a monolithic entity: break it down so you can see its constituent tasks, then tackle them one at a time. Don't get overwhelmed: be a serial do-er.

Our 20 pence Jesus bears testimony to the benefits of this approach. He is a garish 9" high pink flock covered plastic statuette, with a slot in his back for coins, bought (with an ironic wink) by daughter #2*. Every time I find a 20 pence piece in my purse I pop it in the slot: I have been doing so since last summer. Just before our trip away, I'm going to empty him out and cash the savings in for Euros. I anticipate there'll be about £40 sterling, enough to buy us a cheap lunch out on holiday. A salutary lesson in the incremental approach.

* she understands my deep fondness of Catholic imagery, even if she doesn't share it!

No comments: