TITLE: Sprinting Through To-Dos
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: November 01, 2005 4:19 PM
I obviously enjoyed my time at OOPSLA last week and
am already looking forward to OOPSLA 2007 in Portland.
But conference travel -- especially a trip that lasts
most of a week -- is tiring, and upon returning to the
office I usually have a lot of work backed up. The
trade-off is two days of hyper-activity in which so
much gets done.
The day before I leave for a trip, I usually have a
lot to do. Traveling to OOPSLA this year was the best
case scenario. I did my last classes and meetings for
the week on Thursday, and I flew to San Diego on
Saturday. That left me a sweet Friday. All I had
left for the week was to do all the stuff that needs
to be done for class and the department before I
disappeared from the office for a week: recommendation
letters, department web pages, programming assignments
for my course, e-mail messages to faculty and deans and
various other university types. The to-do list looks
insurmountable, and to the uninitiated it might seem to
presage a painful day in the making. But there is no
time to spare, no room for procrastination. You Just
Do It. This rush to prepare to be gone can be serves
as a useful impetus to get all of these things done,
and now. For me, the experience is not painful, but
exhilarating. Look at that to-do list shrink! That
item's been on the list for weeks. Gone! Aah.
Of course, I was in the office from 7:00 AM until
7:00 PM, but I enjoyed most of it.
The second typical rush day for me is the day I travel
home. I have all this time in airports and on planes,
plus the energy I absorbed from intelligent, energetic
colleagues at the conference. I know that I'll be back
in the office in a day or two, but I am ready to do
all the things that I've been jotting down as possibilities
throughout the conference. I don't know anyone around
me, so there are few distractions. No Internet in most
places, so my attention is focused on my local work.
Again a lot happens in the course of a long, tiring day,
but the result satisfies.
The day traveling to the conference is not
typically a good day for a dash. First, I'm excited
about the conference, not about getting things done.
Second, I tend to be tired from the dash the day before.
Usually, my time traveling to the conference is spent
reading, maybe preparing for the conference itself or
maybe just relaxing with a short novel.
Why does so much get done during my sprint days? Why
haven't I already done all the stuff that I have to rush
through on those days? Sometimes, it is being so busy
with day-to-day work that some tasks get pushed aside.
Other times, it is garden-variety procrastination. Still
others, it is the non-writing equivalent of writer block,
just waiting for some inspiration. But inspiration comes
already involved in the work.
And, as we found during our
afternoon writing exercises
at the Extravagaria workshop,
sprints of this sort can jolt creativity, through time
pressure and loss of one's conscious mind in the details
of doing the work.
I have always referred to these days as sprints, even
before I was captive to running metaphors. Over at
they are called dashes, sometimes even mad
dashes. Madness is an apt emotion, as these days
often feel like hours of falling downhill. But I am
getting work done.
So, I continue to like the conferences I frequent,
OOPSLA, PLoP, and ChiliPLoP among them, for the life
they give me. They offer an unexpected side effect
in sprint days. A few sprints like this every year
are good for my system.