On Pacing

I have always been told I was surely taking too much time with things, must have spent too much time, or must be planning to spend too much time. This is particularly true of teaching activities. If I created the handout I created, it must have taken too much time. If I read a new book for reasons having to do with teaching, I wasted time. Time time. On on. Time time.

As a result of this I have always rushed through preparing classes and activities for classes. Cut corners! Go as fast as you can! Fortunately I have very good presentation skills and I can present even when not ready. Now, it takes a great deal more energy to do this than it does to take the extra hour, and it is nerve wracking. Still, da whiteman says I must go as fast as I can, and quieting his voice is the most important thing.

If I do not go as fast as I possibly can I will not get a tenure track job, because I will be labeled a teaching person. If I do not go as fast as I possibly can I will never get tenure, because I will never have time to do research. Dat whiteman knows I am spending too much time on this, too much time. Time time.

Rushing I am exhausted, which requires recovery time. This is all right since I have at least prepared class as fast as I possibly can. I have done my best at saving time time time.  I have honed my abilities to “just walk in and do it” to their finest point. I may be tired and have poor nerves, but at least I am not guilty.


I was never impressed with Robert Boice’s advice for professors on writing, because I do not understand how people get to be professors in the first place if they do not know how to pace themselves, as he recommends. Professors who have trouble writing, cannot possibly be having this trouble due to not knowing how to use time, or due to perfectionism or some such thing, I tend to think. If they had these problems, they would not have survived college, let alone graduate school. I am also not particularly fond of Boice’s Trollope-like goading: set a timer and write 250 words in 15 minutes, when it will ring.

Someone showed me Boice’s advice on teaching, though, and I love it. He says we should limit or preparation time to 90-120 minutes per hour lecture. I read this and could have cried tears of joy. This is in fact the amount of time I want to take! All these years, I have thought I must go faster, faster, go as fast as I can. Now, I can relax into the pace I want to take. I have been following Boice’s certified advice since seeing it, and it is blissful. I am not nearly so tired at the end of the day as I always have been, and I do not need so much recovery time.

And the fact is that whenever I have actually allowed myself this much preparation time, I have also gotten the most other things done. And the fact is that I have never been late except when I rushed. People just would not believe I could be working, because I looked relaxed and I wore  pleasant clothes. I am not working, they knew, but I was. “I did not know you would do that. How did you do it?” “I made a schedule and stuck to it.” “How is that possible? You could not have been on a schedule, you did not look rushed.”

And the fact is, I am fast. I asked my German professor about courses for next semester, in hopes that the one I think I should take would not conflict with my own teaching times. I am of course not studying for this class, I do not have time. I go and pay attention, and that is all. I am the slacker sitting in the back. The professor said: don’t take the course you have chosen. You think it is the right challenge for you, but at your speed of learning you will have overtaken the class by midterm. You should skip up.

That was of course the kind of advice I gave myself in college, where we did not have advisors to hold us; it is why I breezed through. All the advice I got later, to go as fast as I could, appeared to me to mean I should go faster than my already fast speed; it was not right.


In my dormitory of origin everyone was going as fast as they could, although they did not confuse speed and frenzy like dat whiteman. There were many foreign graduate students in technical fields, winners of major scholarships from their home countries. They trained like Olympic athletes, doing push-ups in the morning and taking vitamins.

“I am going up against five professors in a PhD qualifying examination this term! I am going to the lab this morning, and working on my notebook! I will resolve four problems today! We will meet here at five to go running, and after dinner and the news we will study until eleven o’clock! The winner of this PhD qualifying examination will be me, representing Bahrain! Me, representing Curação! Me, from the sunshine state of Florida, y’all! Me, representing Italy!”

I would like everyone to notice how these people, going as fast as they thought they should, paced themselves. They only planned to resolve four problems each day. They went running, had dinner, and watched the news. They only studied until eleven o’clock.




Filed under Da Whiteman, Resources, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

2 responses to “On Pacing

  1. Selu

    Once again I find myself nodding along as I read your blog, mentally going “YES! It was EXACTLY like this!”. My first year of grad school, I was dealing with culture shock, having to live on a strict budget for the first time, and the shock of moving from a tropical/desert climate to the boreal forest–and I completely lost the sense of how much I needed to study to do well. I don’t think it was because of these things, but I think they helped to distract me from noticing if I was learning well or not. It stunk, and I was disappointed in myself all year, but I don’t see how it would have gone any different. (other than not coming North for school, that is.) I realized what was happening (too late to effect any change for that year),and I organize my time differently now. I don’t try to copy other peoples’ work-hours or sleep schedules; I work on my schedule and my hours. Sometimes that is less hours than the norm; sometimes it is more. But the difference is now I’m satisfied with my rate of progress and I’m proud of my work, instead of constantly being disappointed that I wasn’t measuring up (like last year).

  2. Z

    Good, Selu! And I just read on another blog that diligence is for the plodders – all good work is done more erratically, they say. I’m not saying you don’t have to keep plugging away, but I am generally anti-Trollope and anti-Boice except for certain kinds of tasks. Not that one shouldn’t go and work in the studio every day, you understand, like an artist.

    Meanwhile. Boice’s idea of giving oneself *enough* time for teaching activities, not rushing so much, is really really helpful to me. I am SO much more relaxed now.

    And I wrote this before I lost the cat. I mean to emulate the cat, who took enough time, and rested enough. It did not cross his mind to mistreat himself, and he thought the best of people, and was fearless. Which last may have resulted in his demise, but … the way he lived was excellent.

    The only way I am going to get over this is if I use it to get over a lot. I will memorialize the cat by emulating him, I will.

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