Mid-Semester Sinking Feeling

Kerry Ann Rockquemore shares a technique for getting organized.

October 18, 2010

This past week I found myself with that uniquely mid-semester sinking feeling: I'm behind, my office is a mess, I feel like I'll never finish everything I have to do, I can't even keep straight what I have to do, and I can't figure out where to start! I'm not sure how it happens, but in the middle of every semester, I experience this same sinking feeling and find myself paralyzed by it. This week, I want to share a strategy one of my peer-mentors recommended to help me climb out of the mid-semester hole. It has worked for me in the past, and I hope it will be helpful to you as well. Whenever I feel stuck, I always start by revisiting the list of errors from What's Holding You Back? It helps me identify my problems without feeling judged. My current sinking feeling is grounded in three technical errors: 1) disorganized space, 2) not knowing what I have to do, and 3) tasks that feel too large and complex to move forward. Although I haven't used this strategy in a while, I am clear it is time to re-institute the “Brunsma Research Queue” (or the "BRQ" for short).

The BRQ: My friend and frequent co-author David Brunsma is the most productive person I know, a great parent, and always generous in pulling me out of my sinking feeling. Several years ago, he shared with me his strategy (the BRQ) for organizing research and writing projects during mid-semester craziness.

The BRQ is a visual flow chart of research and writing projects. The system is simple and requires only a free wall space, a bulletin board, and 6-10 "bulldog clips" (they look like the clips at the top of a clip board). David hung a huge bulletin board on the wall in his office. Next he printed the numbers 1 - 9 and tacked them up in order with one nail below each number. On the nail, he hung all materials related to a specific research project by a single bulldog clip. On the front of each clipped packet, he placed a cover sheet outlining the tasks that needed to be done to complete the project and its due date (in large bold print).

What I love about this system is that it FORCES ME TO:

  • gather all the paperwork related to a project in one place
  • get the paperwork off of my floor/desk/chair/etc.
  • break my projects down into smaller series of tasks
  • physically prioritize the projects in a queue from most important to least important
  • face the reality of everything I have to do each time I walk in the room, and
  • say "NO" to every request that crosses my path because it's clear I have no extra time!

Today, I started my Sunday Meeting by repopulating my writing queue. The mere act of cleaning my office, clipping together my packets, and creating my cover sheets brought me tremendous clarity. I even put my cover sheets onto beautiful flowered paper to remind me that each writing project is a joyful blessing in my professional life! I was able to finish my meeting by mapping my first three projects onto my calendar for this week. And I KNOW from experience there's no greater energy-booster than moving my packets off the queue and out the door!

I'm NOT describing this organizational system in detail to suggest that you use it exactly as described. Instead, it's a suggestion to stimulate your imagination about how YOU can organize the flow of YOUR work. David started out with a set of problems: 1) too many tasks and deadlines to keep track of in his head, 2) too much paper everywhere, and 3) the sinking feeling that things were not getting done. While he realized he needed to address the deeper issue of saying "no" more often, his immediate need was to figure out what had to be done, get the paperwork in one place, and order the flow of activity. When he got tired of the ongoing paper and deadline problems, he (literally) dreamed up a system that would resolve them.

My BRQ is the low-budget version: I taped 8 cork squares on my wall ($5.99 for a 4-pack), hammered a nail in the middle of each square, and hung my clips on them. If you can't imagine the BRQ, you can see mine here: KAR BRQ. I can tell you that there's a whole new spirit up in my office today as a result of repopulating my dormant project queue. I still have a lot of work to finish, but my space is clean enough to work in, I'm clear about the tasks I need to be complete, and I have the energy to get them done.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I want to challenge you to do the following:

  • Do a quick self-check to see how you are feeling about your research and writing productivity this semester.
  • If you have that vague but palpable "sinking feeling," revisit What's Holding You Back? and try to identify the underlying errors.
  • At a minimum, take 15 minutes to strategize how you can take a step forward to resolve one issue this week.
  • If your concerns are around disorganization, lack of clarity and/or too many deadlines, think about how you could adapt the BRQ to fit your unique needs.
  • If that seems not useful for the type of work you do, consider taking a quick read through Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing From the Inside Out.
  • If you’re looking for an electronic version of the BRQ, my favorite is THINGS.
  • Recommit yourself to 30-60 minutes each day for your writing (nothing provides a better sense of accomplishment than moving forward each and every day)

I hope this week brings anyone with that mid-semester sinking feeling the strength to engage it, the clarity to name it, and the creativity to fix it!

Peace & Productivity,
Kerry Ann Rockquemore


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