Last Thursday, I talked with another runner about unrealistic expectations and how they can wreck our perspective on ourselves, our success, and our failures. A three-pronged perspective on time, particularly on the time of a single day, can illustrate this destructive potential of our own expectations. I'm not a big fan of making written schedules or keeping a calender of the things I need to get done. If I did keep such an agenda, a single day might look like this.
- I'll work on ads for 3 hours.
- I'll write the rest of the article that's due tomorrow.
- I'll revise the article I just got back with editor and reviewer comments.
Like many of our faulty mental faculties, our ability to plan for the day tends to go haywire and get wildly mis-calibrated. We say to ourselves offhandedly "I want to do this, this, that, this, and the other today." But we don't spend very much time evaluating how much time all those things actually take. We demand of ourselves that they get done before we sleep, and if for some reason they don't--like for instance we were grossly overestimating how fast we can work--we go to bed feeling like we whiffed on the day.
I've developed a way of defending myself against the disappointment that creeps on me when I realize that today I won't get any further than step one. My protective mantra: I cannot do everything. Some days will not be a triptych of success. Sometimes, we guess wrong and revisions take all morning and part of the early afternoon too. And really unless I'm performing hands only CPR or an emergency tracheotomy, there's not much reason to ever get in such a goddamn hurry to finish anyway.