Switching Brains: What to Do When You Have Simultaneous Deadlines

Sunday, May 04, 2014
I’m pleased to announce that as of Friday at 10:36 a.m., I officially finished all of the course work for my first year as a doctoral student.

I had three, yes three, 20-page essays due this week. Not to mention I also had to create a multimodal video, a webpage, a newsletter, conduct research for a departmental project, and grade reports for the Technical Writing course I’m teaching. And write this blog post :-). Oh, and I raced a 25K in the mountains last weekend.

by jesadaphorn @ freedigitalphotos.net
I could easily see the point of this post being “know when to say no” to taking on too many projects, but that’s not it. Maybe next time.

What I want to discuss today is how to “switch brains” when you have so many different projects you’re working on all at once.

My classmates and I converse via facebook to ask question and get advice on assignments, and, last week, we used it to discuss/complain about our essays. “I need to work on the other essay now,” one of my classmates wrote. “How do I switch brains?” And, thus, she inspired this blog post. (Thanks, Katie!)

For projects with staggered due dates, it’s easier to prioritize and/or work on the ones with the more recent due dates first. But what if they’re all due in the same week, or, gulp, on the same day?

I told Katie that I liked to work on them on separate days, that way it wasn’t so confusing.

“Yes, ideally I would do that,” responded Katie, “but I have to revise both of them tonight because I won’t have time later.”

Another classmate piped in and suggested we could have started on our papers earlier, but we quickly agreed that that was impossible because it would have conflicted with earlier assignments’ due dates.

A fourth classmate, who had been reading the conversation and giving us thumbs up to let us know she was listening, said she was going to turn in for the night and return to her papers in the morning with a fresh eye. Taking a few hours’ break before revising: always a great idea.

by photostock @ freedigitalphotos.net
A great idea, yes, but not an option for Katie. She had meetings early in the morning.

I, too, went to bed then and wished Katie best of luck. I felt sorry that I wasn't more helpful.

In the morning I saw a message Katie posted two hours after I went to sleep: “So...a break on the treadmill did the trick! Who knew exercise had academic benefits!?”

Exercise! Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? The reason I signed up for a 25K mountain run was to force myself to take a break from work and rejuvenate my mind and body.

So there you go, ladies...when you need to “switch brains” to work on simultaneous projects, all you need is a quick jog on the treadmill, a couple of yogic sun salutations, or a few squats.

Written by: Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor


Sioux Roslawski said...

Anne--Congratulations on finishing up your first year.

Can you now take a little celebratory break, catch your breath, do something fun?

I hope so. ;)

Margo Dill said...

Well, Sioux, she ran a 25K through the mountains, does that count?? :) LOL

Anne: I admire all you are doing and I think you are completely right. Sometimes walking away actually brings you more refreshed and productive when you come back. Thanks for reminding us.

Anonymous said...

I had three separate NF deadlines this week as well as a fiction contest entry to put together, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Honestly, at this point in my life what you're talking about is more a luxury. Necessity is the mother of, well, something, I'm not sure what--iron will. Flexibility of brain. When you've got 4 kids, two of them in baseball, and these kind of convergences all in a single week, you just have to take a deep breath and plunge in. What helped me was dedicating particular chunks of time to particular pieces--the early-morning hour to project A, the between-commitments morning time to project B, and so on. But yes, several times I did just get up and do some quick piece of household business to clear the palate. That does help shake things loose.

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