TITLE: Summer Means Fewer Distractions AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 18, 2006 3:59 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Several of my friends and colleagues have commented on the end of the academic year, which is different in some ways for me now that I am doing administrative duties as well as teaching. I've been known to do dance of joy at the end of a tough three-course teaching semester. Now my duties spread into the summer, but it's still nice to have a different rhythm to my days and weeks. I am reminded of this little story by Chad Fowler, called Fight The Traffic:
I got in a cab last night heading from Washington D.C. to the Dulles airport. I was a block from the White House and traffic was stopped behind a crowd that was pushing its way in to see the President.

The old Ethiopian cab driver suddenly kicked the taxi into gear and zipped around a line of cars, edging us five cars closer to freedom.

"I hate traffic", he grumbled.

"You picked the wrong job, then, didn't you?"

"No! I love my job. My job is to fight the traffic."

In some ways, department heads are like cabbies. If you don't like to fight the traffic, then you probably won't like the job. I spent a lot of time this year multitasking. There is a meeting this afternoon that I simply must attend? Grab the laptop and try to get a little light work done in the back. When in the office, I'd be working on some task with frequent context switches out for whatever phone call or walk-in visitor arrived. Soon I learned the myth of multitasking, illustrated by this photo from 43 Folders:
the myth of multitasking, courtesy Merlin Mann
It's a mirage, tempting as it may be. Context switching has a measurable deleterious effect on my performance. Perhaps one day I can reach a state of Zen mind in which I can live this recommendation from Ron Rolheiser:
Henri Nouwen once wrote "I used to get upset about all the interruptions to my work until one day I realized that the interruptions were my real work."

Pure earthily accidents often do make us responsible for what is divine and they conscript us to our real work.

I do realize that at least part of my job is to fight the traffic, to make the lives of the faculty and students better in the process. But on too many days it all just feels like an unending distraction. Part of my task now is to learn how to manage this flow of needs and wants better, and another part is to learn what part of this flow really is my real work. So my answer to all my friends and colleagues is, I'm still doing the dance of joy at semester's end, but for a different reason. I'm looking forward to a couple of months in which to collect my thoughts, work at a steadier pace, internalize a few lessons from the year, figure out how to get better -- and to hack a little Ruby or Scheme or Java, when the mood strikes me! -----