This is the image that kept popping into my head throughout the Slice of Life Challenge this year.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the model. This particular design is my own, but it’s based on the work of Stephen Covey from his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Full disclosure: I have not read this book, but the matrix has always resonated with me as someone constantly seeking better balance.
What I found myself thinking about throughout Slice of Life is how the exact same task can move around on the matrix, depending on what else is currently in the queue. For example, I would classify slicing every day as both important and urgent. Slice of Life and Two Writing Teachers is both a commitment and a community I value. As part of the team of co-authors, I am invested in supporting the challenge. I know I’m a stronger teacher of writers because I write. The urgency comes from the deadline(s), and during the month of March, there is (at least one) deadline every day. (I’m considering slicing as well as preparing posts for hosting days, etc.)
And. . .
I’m currently in my fourth semester of an MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I need to invest (at least) 25 hours every week (outside of my job) to read and write. Every four weeks, I have a deadline to turn in a collection of writing projects to my advisor. This writing work is ALWAYS important, but depending on where I am in that four week cycle, my perception of the level of urgency shifts.
In the long term, the MFA work is more important than slicing. (It’s certainly more expensive. . . and, in all seriousness, I would describe it as bucket list.) In the short term, slicing is (usually) more urgent than the MFA work. At the same time, because the volume of MFA work is so much higher, spending less time on it during a part of the month that feels less urgent translates to greater urgency (and stress) as deadlines approach. If I don’t treat this longer term work as urgent every day, then I can’t write enough to be successful.
I found myself constantly weighing these factors over the past month. Some days, I had time to spend on both slicing and writing for my MFA. Some days I had to make tough choices and do one or the other. Where I had to shift was to give myself permission on some days to prioritize important and not immediately urgent (MFA) over important and urgent (slicing) because I was keeping the long view of the four week cycle (and the semester) in mind.
Did I feel guilty on the days when I was not slicing? Yes, absolutely. But I made myself get over it.
The way I described it to someone was that with all the balls in the air—so many for each of us, right?—the MFA is the one I refuse to drop. Not because the other balls are unimportant, but because for me right now, the MFA has to be the most important.
That can be hard to say out loud, because it feels like letting someone or something down. It feels like not valuing something enough.
But the truth is, it’s about setting priorities, and it’s healthy to do that. If we treat every task on our to-do list as equally important and urgent all the time, it is unsustainable. If we let urgency be the driver all the time, then we sacrifice our long term goals and dreams for short term needs.
Ultimately, the celebration is that I can easily say I wrote every day in the month of March—no question. And bigger picture, I’ve learned some important lessons about how to make space for the parts of my writing life that are most closely connected to my future goals and dreams—even when times get extra busy.