What is it about week four? I arrived at work bright and early on Monday, eagerly anticipating the day. But it just felt odd. Stressful? Already? It’s only Monday, I thought, determined to figure out why this week had me on edge.
There were a few pieces of old business hanging over from the previous week: the Write6x6 blog post (ahem), some work coming in from students, some planning I had not finished. And there were thoughts of what I had to do coming up, one item not until April that I was worried about. Then there’s that one troublesome student who seems determined not to learn from me all while I try desperately to learn from her in hopes I can actually find a sneaky way to teach her. Maybe all of this unease is the settling in of the semester for all of us, students included. Yep, the semester really did start. Yep, weekends are now mostly about grading or doing homework. Maybe now is the time to really work on balance. Yes, today I’ll work on balance and get rid of some of this unease.
This plan might have panned out at some point had Wednesday, the day some refer to as hump day, allowed me to have the time to think about balance. Instead my wife texted me to say we were overdrawn in the checking account (we just got paid last week). “What happened?” I texted. “We’re supposed to be rich.”
“I don’t know. I lost track. Bills. Students loans. I bought some clothes.”
Dollar signs appeared before my eyes. I imagined trucks pulling up in front of the house, delivering racks of clothes. How much could someone spend on new outfits?
This bump in the hump was just a bit of a slow down midweek, but it was not awful, just perplexing.
Shortly after arriving home, later than usual, I greeted the animals with sweet talk and lots of pets. It was just a few moments later that I realized our cute and sweet Lila was having another bout of diarrhea. It wouldn’t be so bad if she weren’t long haired and if she didn’t curl her tail under herself in the catbox. I grabbed for some paper towels and then grabbed her tail–it’s never a good idea to grab a cat’s tail. She
tried to run, and she hissed. Her hind claws caught my toes which were only protected by socks, one of which has a hole in the toe I noticed.
This was a job that needed more than just a dampened half paper towel. I grabbed and wetted a wash cloth and went in again. After much hiding under tables, running, hissing, and clawing–both of us–I got her to a spot where I could really hold down her tail and wash it, and surprisingly she let me do it. I think she was just tired. She’s having a week four, too.
I’m not sure I’m the only one having a week four, but it is certainly my challenge to work out the rough spots this week. I need to find a way to sand down the edges. There are two things that sometimes work for me:
1. Read a book that has a little depth. Right now I’m reading When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd. It feels a little heavy for what may just be a strange week, but books like this challenge me to wonder about the big picture and, in doing so, I can generally put into perspective the little things.
2. Do a brain dump and prioritize. There’s a formula I use for this. (I’ve had students do this at high stress times of the semester, too. Takes about ten minutes in class, maybe a few more if you talk about it.) Here are the steps. Math ahead.
a. List everything you can think of that you have to do that you can’t stop thinking about. (Here’s where I’d make my list and actually put down that thing I have to do in April.)
b. Give everything a number from 1-4 based on when it has to be done (1=in the next day, 2= in a few days, 3=within two weeks, 4=long way off). Rule? You may not give everything a 1. Rule? Don’t put down eating or sleeping.
c. Give everything another number from 1-4 based on how serious the consequences are if you don’t do it (1=jobs lost, people die, you get the idea; 2=serious, but not life altering; 3=even less serious; 4=who cares?).
d. Multiply those two numbers together to give all items a new and final number.
e. Rewrite the items from 1-? and then cut the list in half.
f. Work on the top half. Forget about the bottom half for now.
This might seem obvious to everyone else, but I find it really helps me to focus, and maybe that is the key to conquering the curse of week four–to focus on what really matters and let the little things go.