Rows. Columns. Cells. It’s all so neat and organized. What’s not to like about a spreadsheet?
A few weeks ago the writing group I’m in challenged me to submit my writing life to a spreadsheet. This practice would be a means to prioritize all the projects I want to do and which are greatly outpacing my can-do’s. For a long time I’ve rejected setting priorities and choosing among all the good opportunities and ideas before me. But as the list has grown, I’ve only succeeded in being overwhelmed, not in getting anything done.
My first response to this ever growing list has been to break down projects into tasks – manageable activities to accomplish in a given day that will direct me to the eventual end product. A seemingly sensible way to respond. However, I’m finding that I see these tasks as void of the meaning of the project as a whole. Afraid that I may get too enamored and lose myself in the work – or be lost focusing too much on the end product – I create a utilitarian list of work and lose the heart and enjoyment.
In this place of frustration, I submitted my life to a sheet. Each row was a project and each column was a pro or con response. In each cell, the intersection of the project and the possible responses, I made a check or left it blank. Tallying up the pros and cons, there are clear patterns. I would like to say that now all my scheduling problems are objectively solved. They aren’t. But a larger picture of what and why I’m doing started to emerge again. It is definitely subjective, but at least it reveals the subjectivity driving my decisions instead of hiding it behind a mushrooming task list.
It became quite clear that I most enjoy engaging with content – travel, reading, study, pilgrimage. These are life-giving practices that I often set on the back burner until everything else is done. This is the stuff in which I can get lost. Yet this is the heart of why I want to write and teach – to share what has encouraged me and help others discover their better stories. In my current mode of working, I fail to see how this is part of my current life and how to incorporate it in the future – whether in my life or that of others.
It’s time to write and teach out of these interests instead of trying to take on someone else’s methods. For example, instead of looking around at what others are doing in campus ministry and attempting to copy methods that ‘succeed’ or that I think others expect, I could more fully incorporate ideas of story and pilgrimage. I could also do some exploring on UC’s campus in the areas of literature and travel to discover ways to be a part of this world on campus. Now to find a pilgrimage/study adventure with others.
Community is important to me as well, whether it’s built through the internet or in local groups. It probably needs to be both. Though this is scary as I think about stepping out. I’m so used to being cautious, hiding behind limits posed from external and internal sources, making excuses for not being involved, and then fading away as I return to safe havens. But there is much more to true community. I want to go honestly into these groups, no pretension or hiding, but with a joy of living as the image of God that I and others carry.
Editing this darn book on literary pilgrimage is close behind building community. Why is it so painful? Why do I continue to put it off? It’s in a place of limbo. I don’t really know what it wants to be, yet haven’t really done research to see where it’s going. There is so much of me within it I am fearful that it/I will be rejected. But I’m also afraid that it will die away. It is almost a decade since I went on the adventures. Oh, I just need to take time to dive into it again. Maybe I need to integrate the pilgrimage of publishing within the other pilgrimage work.
This is not the end of the spreadsheet – the neatness of the rows and cells still call me. Ironically, the stark gridlines have emphasized that something was missing from all this prioritizing – the heart, enjoyment, and life of work. It’s not that these haven’t existed in the work that’s on my list, it’s primarily that I’ve forgotten them under the weight of planning to finish projects.
Heart. Joy. Life. Who wouldn’t want to jump into work where these are found?