I begin this week with a quote that is usually attributed to Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” That quote is often followed-up by this one, also attributed to Twain: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.“
What does it mean to eat the frog? Well, I ate a frog this morning without actually meaning to, and it made my day exceptionally better. Let me explain. I hate grading. I mean, I really hate it. I find it to be the most soul-eroding task I have to do as an academic, and I procrastinate on it to shameful extremes. I’ve avoided grading to the detriment of my teaching evaluations, which is where I’m generally and consistently zinged. I don’t even want to talk about how bad it’s been in the last few years, but let’s say I ended up giving out a lot of extra credit points out of sheer guilt.
21-year-old me in Taiwan, May 2001, pretending to eat a raw baby octopus. It’s not a frog, but you get the idea.
So why, exactly, do I hate it? I think I’ve finally figured it out. It’s not because it’s tedious (although it definitely is that) and it’s not because I’m annoyed with my students for being lazy or careless (although that definitely comes in to play). I hate it because, for me, it’s where I have to face my own failures as a teacher. When I read a student draft that misses the mark completely, I blame myself for not teaching the student well enough. I second-guess all my lessons, and agonize over the things I must have done wrong. It’s painful. I hate it. Never mind that it’s not completely true, and that students are also partially responsible for their own learning (or their lack thereof). I am the worst teacher ever and I suck, and this subpar writing is the proof. So, I leave all the grading work to the very last minute, and even beyond that last minute.
But I didn’t do that today. Today, I got up, fixed a cup of tea, opened my laptop, and began grading. I kept grading and grading until all the grading was done. I felt so relieved—the kind of relief I hadn’t felt in a very long time. And I felt freedom—the freedom that comes with knowing that the absolute shittiest thing I had to do was done. The rest of my day—dog walk, more work, cooking dinner, eating dinner, cleaning up, doing errands, more work, writing, etc.—felt calm and under control, with very little lingering guilt. I had experienced the joy of eating a big, juicy frog first thing in the morning.
“Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment [. . .] Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else.” My frog this morning was grading student work. I ate it. It wasn’t great, but wasn’t that horrible; the anxiety I experienced while procrastinating was far worse. And once my frog was gone, the rest of my day was so much better.
This week, and next week, are going to be especially busy and exhausting. On Thursday, I am driving my writing center staff to Austin (an 8+ hour trek) for the SCWCA conference
, where I will present twice, attend a board meeting, network, and look after my minions, some of whom have never attended an academic conference before. Next week, I will hit the road again with my colleague to be featured presenters at the SWCA conference
in Nashville (Our pictures are in the program. Really!). So. I’ve got a lot of writing ahead of me, in addition to course prep and grading and meetings and general day-to-day work. So, I’m going frog-hunting. Each morning, I’ll identify the biggest and juiciest frogs, and eat them immediately upon hitting my desk. I mean, after all, I do live in the South.
Week 5: Did a little more taking stock of my money; realized that things are kind of complicated and I’ll need to spend a good afternoon sorting through all my bills and figuring out how much to budget for. I’m going to hit pause until I return from my conferences.
Week 4: Pomodoro-ing has been very successful. It’s much easier to write when you only have to do it in short bursts.
Week 3: Still behind on the Morning Person course. However, I am still getting up and getting ready immediately. I’m going to start making my bed every morning, too; it’s a small task that doesn’t take too long (like, 4 minutes?), makes my room look spiffy, and makes me feel responsible.
Week 2: Paleo-ing in fits and starts. I have seriously underestimated the depth of my emotional eating k-hole. Again, I’m going to hit pause until I return from conferences, and try to avoid eating deep-fried-deep frying on the road.
Week 1: Still knocking it out each day. Woot!