My new magic potion

This summer I discovered what I’m sure will be the key to my academic success moving forward.

Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve made this claim. I’ve had other “lifechangers” along the way. Let’s see …

…there was the iPad with keyboard. Hmmm, I’m writing on it right now. Love it. It’s super convenient, small enough to use effectively on a plane, large enough to see enough of the screen to write (remember the eee? I had high hopes, but it was too small and limited. Before that I had a foldable keyboard for a palm pilot – was I really typing on that?). I love my iPad, truly. However, I’m not sure that it’s been the key to success.

…there was the bullet journal. There still is the bullet journal – this year’s is pink and has a David Bowie sticker on the front. I love it. I would be lost without it. I feel more in control of my to do list than when I tried to keep it in my head or when I tried to keep it in any number of list-making or productivity apps. And it’s so much more functional for me than any paper-based journal that I ever kept (usually abandoned by February). Plus I use it with a fountain pen, and who doesn’t love to write with a good fountain pen?

…there was the task board. A whiteboard with columns for various research-related tasks. I still keep it, but I don’t update as often as I should. Plus it’s fixed in one location. I’m sure there’s also an app for that (I can think of at least 4 that would have a similar vibe and added functionality), but I’m still old school enough to feel tactile about productivity tools.

…there’s the 400 words challenge, which I wrote about here and won’t be giving up anytime soon.

But I have something else that I consider a critical part of success moving forward. My new magic power comes from something that I previously would have considered a distraction to working. Something I’ve given up or passed over in the interest of extra minutes at the keyboard. However, this school year I’m going to try something new, because I have to. I don’t think I’ll be very successful with anything if I don’t.

My new secret? Pilates.

It’s not exactly new to me. I started doing Pilates on the reformer when I lived in California, around 2001. I enjoyed it tremendously. I was in my post-dissertation honeymoon period, not yet sweating over tenure, so I had time to sweat in the studio. Pilates wasn’t just sweat, but also part of enjoying life, and I went to the studio by the sea a few mornings each week. When I moved to Tallahassee in 2003, I lost my practice, but then I found a studio again around 2006 and it was wonderful. I went regularly to an evening class until 2008, when I was pregnant and unable to do a hefty reformer workout without modification (plus I was exhausted and nauseous all the time). Post-baby I tried to have a go again, but the evening class no longer fit my schedule.

Soon thereafter nothing fit my schedule. My home responsibilities were greater. My work responsibilities were greater. And I just sort of gave up.

This past school year was an extraordinarily difficult one for me. My house was damaged by a hurricane as the school year began (cue a year of constant contractors, that actually began 5 months earlier than the hurricane when we did a bathroom remodel). I was overcommitted on various work tasks. I was exhausted from 9 years as a program coordinator, and when I tried to step down found myself stuck because no one else was willing to step up and take a turn. I grabbed my iPad from the bedside table first thing every morning and started triaging tasks and tapping out email. I kept going with that until around 1 am. Between those hours I’d spend a lot of time answering emails, doing administrative and service tasks, working on teaching-related tasks, and fretting over my inability to find writing time. I’d squeeze family time in when I could, sneaking to the keyboard in every spare moment. I felt like I was doing too many things and none well. And the worst part? My body was falling apart. My knee was so painfully tweaked that I couldn’t run, but that injury was attributed to something tight in my hip. And my shoulders … the pain was unbearable. It was in my neck some days too. It was stress. It was maybe more than stress. And it was debilitating.

Fast forward to this past May. School was out, and although I was teaching summer session and had pages of tasks listed out in my bullet journal, I actually felt like I might have a few moments to breathe. One day when driving with my husband I saw a sign for a pilates studio that I’d not previously noticed. It’s 3 minute from my house. They had a great first month special. I signed up because I had nothing to lose.

All summer I’ve been doing pilates, sometimes 4 classes per week. Within a week of starting again, the shoulder pain began to lift. After two weeks, I felt like I was standing up taller. Last week I ran a 10k race (with hills! I never run hills!) and got a PR by 2 minutes. Pilates has been the miracle of my summer. I am pain free, with no medication involved.

Now that the regular school year is about to start again, I’m clinging to the idea that pilates is going to be the magic for this year (and the years beyond). The schedule is about to crank up, and my husband and I both will be busy – teaching, meetings, and also school drop-offs and extra-curricular activity ferrying. This is where scheduling gets difficult. However, I’ve decided that I simply MUST do pilates 3 days per week. Two of those days will have to be weekdays. In the past I’d have said “not going to happen, I need that time to work.” This year, however, I’m changing my thinking. How can I work productively if it hurts to sit in a chair and type on the keyboard? How can I work if my mind is cluttered? I can’t. I’m convinced that giving over my time to pilates will actually make my working time more productive.

Admittedly, I don’t have any good metrics for determining the success of this plan, but I’m going to prioritize pilates and see what happens. I’ll re-evaluate in December. My rough estimate is that I’ll be “losing” 32 hours of potential work time between now and December (whatever that means – how can you really count this when you don’t track hours and often work well into the wee hours? if I think like this, then does sleep also count as a “loss” of work time?), but I think what I’ll gain in physical strength, mental peace, and a pain-free body will be more than worth it.