Susan Engel had three wishes to help her keep fresh knowledge flowing into her work.
- A pill to keep memory from declining.
- More ‘protected’ time.
- Fewer conferences as they are currently constructed (give a paper, prove their point, and there are a million people) and have more time to talk with colleagues in unstructured ways.
I related to every one of Engel’s wishes, but I needed to know more about that word ‘protected.’ I asked her to tell me more about what she means by ‘protected’. Her answer is worth reading in full, letting it sit in your thoughts, and acting upon it for yourself when you’re ready. After you read her thoughts on protected time, you are likely to see that the other two wishes would also be achieved if we all had more protected time.
“I actually have the time, but I don’t protect it,” says Engel. “As a professor, I have so much time compared to others – summers, sabbaticals. Often there is such a push – even during sabbaticals – to publish, that there is no time for just being. There was a wonderful article in the New Yorker about the New York public library with offices on the top floor where artists and scholars were given paid sabbatical grants to spend time up there. They just milled around, thinking and reading and wandering around. And it stayed in my mind, because in the daily world of academia like in every other kind of modern day world, everything gets focused on producing. And there isn’t enough time for just thinking, talking, playing with ideas.
“Everyone, myself included, thinks you have to say how exhausted you are, how busy you are. I’m now trying to not say that. If somebody were to ask me how’s my summer, are you busy? I’d like to say no I’m not doing much at all. Partly that would have to be because I am not doing much at all, and partly it would have to be a mindset that we don’t think it is the best thing in the world to be doing 50 things at once.
“I see this very much in the schools that I am working in. Teachers appear to believe that if they are really good, really devoted, they have to be rushing from one thing to another. They kind of act like staff in an emergency room. When I say this, the teachers all nod proudly and say ‘yes, we’re like ER doctors.’ But this can’t be all good, because that means they are responding to the loudest emergency rather than developing relationships or developing ideas or new topics. So shifting that, creating more protected time for myself and others means a whole shift in our culture and how we think about what’s good and what’s not good. Good in our society is rushing all the time.”
Tom Peters once told an audience that he loved to wash dishes. He said it was one of the times he could really think – his hands working automatically while his mind worked in a ‘protected’ time.
When and how do you create protected times for yourself?