The fourth in a series looking at U.S. life and culture through its idioms.  View previous entries.

Spreading oneself too thin - Making more commitments than can be fulfilled

As I write these lines I?m thinking about the oral interviews I have to hold for my 60 Spanish students, the novel I have to finish for my literature class tomorrow, the finals I have coming up in a week, the Skype session I?ve been promising my family (but haven?t actually gotten to yet), the grocery shopping I have to do, the Christmas tree I haven?t decorated yet, and my plans for the upcoming winter break. And I?m thinking I may be taking on too much.

Paula at her desk
At my desk, working hard

The truth is I am (deliberately or not) sacrificing aspects of my life in order to make the most of my time in the U.S. One of the things I?ve given up is cooking - I usually enjoy cooking fresh meals, trying out new ingredients and preparing healthy dishes every day, but I had to say good-bye to freshly cooked food in order to be able to keep up with the fast American way of life.

Another thing I?ve left behind is sleeping. Yes, sleeping. I still get about six hours a night, which is a lot less than I used to need when I was at home. But it seems to be enough for now; at least I?m not nodding off during the day.

What is troubling me most is that I don?t have much time to speak to my family, boyfriend and friends. It?s very difficult to find moments that suit both sides; we are in different time zones and we all have different schedules. I wish I could spend more time sharing my ups and downs with them, since they are the people that most understand me. Besides, talking to them is what keeps me rooted, what reminds me who I am and where I come from.

Don?t get me wrong, I really love my job, but it?s still hard to get my students? papers graded and go to the gym, grab a bite with friends or travel for the weekend. If I had to use an expression to describe my situation now, I?d say I?m swamped with work, but I don?t want to miss any of the fun.

There are a few strategies, though, that have helped me strike a balance. One I learned at a conference many years ago was using Covey?s Time Management Matrix. What Covey suggests is to list all the activities you normally have to do ? all the activities, including using Facebook, watching TV, lingering or doing nothing, showering, everything. Once you?ve listed them all, you divide them into categories by importance and urgency, and then you perform the tasks according to those priorities. This strategy has allowed me to concentrate on things I have to do, while making sure I still can have little indulgences of unimportant things throughout the day.

Another thing that I do is write a to-do list every night so I know what I have to do the next day. I don?t omit any details, so I have clear expectations of what I should get done by the end of the next day. This is quite useful for me since it makes me think of how long a task might take me before I actually set out to do it.

Still, after prioritizing some tasks over others and making sure I?ve gone over what I?ll have to do the next day, I still end up going to bed really late. I don?t regret spreading myself so thin, though. I think all the strain and hard work is totally worth it to get the most from this experience of being a Fulbright Scholar at a university in the United States.