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Archive for March 13th, 2009

images I’ve heard that Deniece Schofield’s book is one of the best on this topic but I’ve never picked it up before. Then I read about it again in Almost Frugal and the next day found a used copy on sale so I thought I would give it a try. 

First a couple of thoughts and general points. Ms. Schofield is, I strongly suspect, in the category of “Christian Homemaker” – a breed of women who feel a deep connection between the work they do in the home and their religious piety. From what I can tell, Schofield is fairly understated about her beliefs in the book, a fact that I appreciate as I do not fall into that category at all and find the frequent references to scripture and womanly duty distracting and off-putting in other books and blogs on homemaking. 

Which is not to say that I don’t have some sympathy for the broader connection that these women are trying to make – that there is real value in that reproductive work (i.e. raising and nourishing a family – both physically and emotionally) that has been assigned to women in our culture and despite the lip-service paid to mothers and homemakers, that value is largely ignored (or openly belittled) in our contemporary social system. However, I do find the framing of this argument – in terms of a natural god-given male-dominated division of labor between the sexes to be reactionary and problematic. 

The history of the cult of domesticity and the domestic goddess/perfect homemaker is a rich one and it is something I teach in my gender class. The students find it fascinating to trace back the current cult of craft and domestic perfection (hello Martha!) to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the contemporary capitalist system (which depends on women as the reproducers and consumers of society) and in Victorian culture in the second half of the 19th century. Many of them thought that the focus on domesticity and perfect housekeeping began in the 1950s after WWII. 

Another point, related to the first is that there is an assumption in the book (and in others, and in popular culture) that the wife (and I won’t even get into the heteronormative assumptions at play here) is the primary household manager, and cleaner and cook and childcare provider, even if both adults work outside the home.

Here is a quote: 

So, you spend most of your life studying rapid eye movement or maybe you specialize in Asian drug smugglers. Domesticity sort of pales by comparison.(pg.2)

Now to be fair there is nothing that specifically identifies the gender of the reader in the book, but I think it is safe to say that the book is aimed at women and marketed to women. To be even more fair it may be that she addresses this issue in the book and she may have responded to these concerns in her second book Confessions of an Organized Family.

Given the history and the subtext, I am still drawn to this and other resources on homemaking, decorating, entertaining, organizing and so forth for a number of reasons. First and foremost because my house is a mess and we are continually frustrated by our lack of organization and domestic harmony. Second because being organized saves time and money. Third, I just like this stuff. I would love to have time to sew and bake and concoct great art projects to do with Buddy. 

So let’s plunge in – in the next post…

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41521xp3stl_sl500_aa240_OK, I’m going to take this seriously and really try to apply Ms. Stack’s tips to my working life and see if they help me get my act together but first a few points of critique. 

First of all the author shares that she dreamed of being a singer when she grew up but didn’t have the voice and so decided to become a corporate motivational speaker instead. Really? Who does that? I don’t know, it just seems weird to me. A teacher, yes, you still have the performance aspect and the gratification of instant feedback, but dreaming of being a corporate speaker and productivity expert? I can’t help but suspect based on that fact alone that she would be incredibly annoying to me in real life. 

Secondly, her “system,” called the Productivity Quotient (PQ) is divided up into 10 parts:

Preparation (21)

Reduction (24)

Order (15)

Discipline (17)

Unease (26)

Concentration (25) 

Time Mastery (27)

Information Management (34)

Vitality (26)

Equilibrium (23)

And yes, that spells P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-V-E. A bit forced, wouldn’t you say? I’m sorry, but how cheesy can you get? But I shall soldier on in the spirit of positive change and endeavor to leave my cranky scholarly critic persona behind.

In case you are wondering, the numbers next to each word are my scores in her PQ test (out of a possible 50 for each category). Readers are encouraged to start working on the areas with their lowest scores first and make their way systematically through to their highest scores. Looking at my scores now, I think maybe I judged myself a little harshly – I’m not quite such a basket case as all that. However, I’ll leave it the way it is since the ratios are probably about right.

According my scores, I should start with Order but I am actually going to skip ahead to Discipline. I’m going to give Order a pass because I think that I often use the fact that my office/closet/house is a mess as an excuse to constantly tinker with getting organized rather than focusing on the work itself. In that way my problem with (dis)order is just as much about how I use it as a way to avoid other, more important, work as it is about being disorganized. As in “If only my office (or computer, or whatever) were more organized I would be able to write.” Bullshit of course, I just dread writing. So Discipline is really a bigger issue for me. Finally, Book Two, Confessions of an Organized Homemaker is all about the order and since my office is in my home, I’m going to rely on her for that for the time being.

So let’s begin:

Discipline

Discipline refers to your ability to maintain consistent, productive behavior….Sure everyone has an ‘off’ day. If you are self-disciplined, however, you exhibit consistent focus in your day-to-day work, even if you don’t feel like it.” (pg.99)

OK, that hits close to the bone. I have really fallen down on the self-discipline and focus in terms of my dissertation and my larger academic career. And ouch it hurts to face it.

So let’s jump in:

  • Quiz item: I know my natural energy cycle and work effectively during peak times.

I marked this one a 2 out of 5. There are a couple of issues here. First I don’t always have control over when I do what in terms of my working life because I teach. Second, since having Buddy, my energy cycles have been completely topsy-turvy. He is almost 24 months and only started sleeping through the night about 2 months ago.  I did not have a full-night’s sleep for almost two years. I was always exhausted. I am still often exhausted. We’ve tried everything we can think of (and the parenting book suggest) but he still wakes up at the ungodly hour  of 5:000 am like clockwork. I used to stay up late, but slowly I am adjusting to this new lifestyle and I now go to bed between 10 and 11 pm.

So when are my peak energy times? Well, I would say that now they are in the morning – even the early morning right when I start working. This morning I started working on the introduction to the dissertation at 8 am and got a lot done by 11:00 am. I had another productive period of writing between 12:45 and 2:00. Then the exhaustion crept up on me and I had to take a rest. 

So let’s say mornings which has a number of advantages. First of all, I don’t teach in the mornings during the upcoming term, so that works. Second, thanks to my little dynamo I’m awake and out of the house by 7:15 so I might as well work. Third, it would be nice to feel like even if the afternoon is a wash that I have already accomplished something in the morning. So for the next week I will attempt to get right to work on the diss first thing in the morning (baring Tuesday when Buddy doesn’t have daycare). This means moving the workout (were I to resume it) to the afternoon, which is going to be logistically tricky so I think I’ll let that slide for one more week. On my precious weekend mornings I will see if I can spend my extra “go back to bed” time one day on working for an hour or two. I don’t know – that might be too much to ask….

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I just wrote a rambling introductory post about my long-time fascination with self-improvement programs, time-management systems, and motivational writing. Then the computer ate it. So I will post the background and rationale at some point in the near future.

The overall point is that I’ve been fascinated with the thought of making myself over into a more efficient, fulfilled, productive me for years now and along the way I’ve picked up some good ideas and recognized a lot of it for the crap it is. But the fascination remains and rather than see it as a futile quest I choose to see it as a kind of controlled optimism, believing that people (I) can change for the better even as we (I) get older.

So I was at the used bookstore the other day and I picked up three titles:

  • Leave Work Early, by Laura Stack
  • Confessions of an Organized Homemaker, by Deniece Schofield

and 

  • Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered, by Nikki McClure

The first two are fairly standard self-improvement/organization titles dealing with work and home-life respectively. The third is a beautiful book of paper cut prints accompanied by inspirational words and phrases based on McClure’s calendars. 

So here is what I have decided to do. Each week I will take a section of each book (the size of the section will depend on the book and my evaluation of what will be most useful and most doable) and attempt to put the author’s advice into effect. I will then report on the results here. I won’t turn off my brain or my critical perspective during the experiment but I will attempt to do each task with good faith and to give the authors’ advice a fair shot. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

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