Saturday, May 28, 2011

Long weekends and the perfectionist

In celebration of the first long weekend of the summer, I'd like to talk about how an overscheduled perfectionist like myself looks at a three-day weekend.

Somewhere around Thursday I realized it was in fact about to be Memorial Day weekend. (It's been unseasonably cold here in Seattle, you see, so it feels more like March than late May. This keeps throwing my mental calendar off, making me feel, for example, that I have a lot more time before RWA National then just a month.)

I thought, “Wow! A three-day weekend! Think of all the things I could get done!” I began making a list in my head. It looked something like this:

-I could clean the whole house and make it so immaculate that my mother would smile down from heaven and think, “At last my daughter has learned to be a good housekeeper. I knew someday she'd live up to my standards.”

-I could read every word of A Storm of Swords. That's the whole thing, beginning to end, all 1128 pages of it.

-Mr. Fraser and I could actually finish stripping the wallpaper from the entry wall, pick a paint color, and start painting the halls.

-I could bake cookies! Miss Fraser would love that.

-I could get so much writing done. I could do 3000-4000 words per day.

-I could work on blog content for the next month or so and get it all cued up and ready to post automatically over the next few weeks.

-I could go through the boxes in the garage and decide what to keep, donate, or throw out.

-I could actually try out some of the recipes from the Once-a-Month Cooking websites and cookbooks and have myself all set up with meals to reheat on busy nights.

-I could go to Nordstrom's. They're having a sale, and I really need to replace my everyday work shoes that are falling apart and get a piece or two more to round out my RWA wardrobe, seeing as how realizing it's Memorial Day meant realizing it's just a month till National.

-I could go car shopping, since our '99 Mazda is on its last legs.

All of those are worthy goals. And if I had, say, two whole weeks off instead of just three days, I could do them all. But my instinct is to try to do EVERYTHING, and then to feel like a failure when I've only managed to clean the den and one bathroom, write 4000 words total, and read maybe half of my long book of choice.

I have a funny attitude toward time. Give me a very small chunk of it, say half an hour before I need to go pick up Miss Fraser from a play date, and I feel like it's useless to do anything and fritter it away on something like iPhone Scrabble. Never mind that I could read a chapter or two of a book, load the dishwasher and take out the recycling, or catch up on email--half an hour just feels to short to be useful. This is what keeps me from being productive many weekday evenings and on days at work when I have a lot of meetings. My motivation tends to collapse in the absence of long, uninterrupted blocks of time.

But give me a whole day, or a long weekend, and the opposite is the case. I think of many things I might do over three days and feel like I should be able to do all of them. Then come Monday morning I'm all dissatisfied with how my weekend flew by and how little I got done.

I'm trying to do better this weekend. My writing goal is simply to make productive use of the windows of uninterrupted time each day when my daughter gets her two afternoon hours on the computer. (Mr. Fraser just taught her to play Minecraft, and she's wholly hooked.) I'll probably sit down tonight, make a list of my fit-for-Nationals wardrobe pieces, and plan a shopping trip for tomorrow. I may test-drive a Sonata, the current front-runner for the new car. I'll try to do a little extra housework atop the bare minimum of laundry and dishes that have to happen. And I may get to page 500 on A Storm of Swords. Really, that's plenty for three days.


  1. I will say this for working two jobs, one at a high-pressure coffee shop: I learned exactly how much I could do in any number of minutes. 30 seconds? Wipe down stove. 5 minutes? Pick up clothes from bedroom floor. 3 hours? Complex nested set of laundry/cooking/cleaning/shopping/language classes so that each task finished as the next needed to start.

    Then I moved to a slower shop and got out of the habit, and also quit my second job to write more, so that proper task order is no longer the difference between eating and starvation.

  2. Yeah, in some ways I think my problem is I had it too easy until I started working full time AND raising a kid AND writing at age 35. I never needed to work that hard in school, and even my early day jobs were non-demanding compared to what I'm doing now. So I never developed good work habits as a teen or young adult, and it's not easy imposing them on myself now.