After a particularly grueling week during my teaching internship, my English Cohort from MSU came back together for our weekly Friday class. We laughed, and whined, and commiserated about the immensity of work that is teaching. Because of our passion for kids, our own self-efficacy, and our propensity for perfectionism, we lamented that we were unable to find satisfaction in, what we understood, was work that was less than satisfactory. My colleague, Tim, piped up and said, “I’ve found that teaching is seductive. It’s never done. There is always something more that we can do. It lures you into an 80 hour work week if you’re not careful.”
His words stuck with me. If you’re not careful. At the time, and even sometimes now, I thought that this means accepting work that is not my best. It certainly means that limits and boundaries are a necessity- not just to get the job done, but also to do the job well. Self-care became a goal at some point as this productivity, this passion, dug its grip into my life.
This resonates with David Allen’s work with The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2012). In his Ted-Talk with Claremont Colleges, he describes some of the principles from his same-titled book. He explains that the average person, who has not mastered this art, is often so wrapped up in everything that they are obligated to do, they find difficulty being appropriately engaged. It’s not until they experience some sort of crisis that they fall into the “zone”, the calm which allows them to “produce intuitive action decisions” (2012). He says that to be appropriately engaged, one must have the necessary “psychic bandwidth” to allow for the creativity necessary for the best decisions. This struck me as the heart of the lack of sustainability in my professional life- which consequently tramps into my personal life.
There is much that is happening in my personal life right now as we buy a car, a house (almost closed!), and very recently a positive pregnancy test. Professionally, I’m seeking my masters, a sustainable reputation, and- as I enter my 2nd year of teaching fulltime- a new placement at the high school. As Allen described the necessity for a healthy control over the multitude of obligations that life is constantly hurling, I felt my chin nodding along emphatically. I owe to myself, my kids, and family to find that “Stress-Free Productivity”. Allen continued to give his recipe to accomplish this. He said, “Flexibility trumps perfection” (2012), that I need to let go of perfection, and to be able to shift my focus rapidly. He also suggested applying a process to get stuff out of my mind—to free up that psychic bandwidth.
What’s interesting, and a little ironic, is how much a “stress free productivity” is like learning one of the New Literacies that Henry Jenkins described in his work, Create Circulate Connect Collaborate (2013). I need to learn how to interact with my life in an appropriate way, much like Jenkins’ descriptions of interacting appropriately with technology. Jenkins also described the need for teachers to model ethical and appropriate technology use- which I think also applies to this idea of sustainability in productivity. I need to model it- not only for my students, but my family.
Recently, my process has been transformed by the tool, Google Keep. Google Keep is a free web tool that simply creates notes, lists, and web clips to assemble all of the need to know information that I have to remember. It creates colored, tiled, lists that stack up and archive as the user finishes with their lists. I use this in coordination with timed reminders through Google Now, and Google Calendar, so that I no longer have to remember what’s happening, and what I need to do in response, every day. It syncs across all of my devices in a widget, to ensure that I never miss anything. I love it for its simplicity.
As I reflect on Allen’s words, I think I’ll be more explicit about my use of this program- ensuring that my lists are color coded according to urgency and nature. Since it works effortlessly with Google Now and Google Calendar, I’m also able to create reminders, and share them with interested parties—like my best friend, mom, or husband. This will be a great first step toward freeing myself up to address the “crises” that I will inevitably face, while still being appropriately engaged for the task at hand. There are too many stakeholders in this job to ignore this crucial step.
Allen, D. (2012, October 30). TED Talk: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. Retrieved from
Jenkins, H. (2013). Create circulate connect collaborate. Retrieved from