Yes, the Fall semester is upon us. Summer is over and despite all my best intentions to come up with a summer plan to be super productive, I don’t feel like I got enough work done. Now I need to quickly finalize my syllabus, attend college and department back-to-school meetings, and start responding to the emails about reference letters that have already begun to fill my inbox.
It would be easy at a time like this to become sour and start to dread the semester, especially because we know it can be intense. In some ways, semesters are like marathons, where you give more for 15 weeks than you probably ever would during a normal “run.”
If the semester is like a 15-week marathon, it seems like we should be psyching ourselves up with positive thoughts, rather than pessimism and negativity. No-one starts a marathon thinking “this is going to be so awful,” right? They probably think it will be hard, they’re up for the challenge, and they’re going to do their best.
As I look ahead to my marathon of the Fall semester, I’m going to do all I can to start the race with a positive attitude. I’m not expecting that every day will be positive, or that I’ll be able to maintain my positivity through all of the challenges, but I want to at least have that as my starting point.
Below are some strategies for starting the semester off on the right foot:
Intentionality – Rather than watching the semester fly by like a kite being dragged by the wind, I’m going to be a little more intentional about my planning. First, I’m going to try and stop my work early (in other words, not when I’m already 10 minutes late for the daycare pickup), and “take stock” for a second. What priority tasks have to be accomplished the next day, and in what order should I tackle them when I arrive to the office? I’m also going to schedule a coffee or lunch meeting with a colleague every few weeks because I know that type of break will help me stay energized. And if I don’t put something on the calendar in advance, it will be November before I remember to even think about doing it!
Focus on Positive Colleagues and Conversation – I love venting as much as the next person, but I realize that after a while it can bring me down. Not to mention that I can also start to spread my own negativity and bring others down. My goal for this semester is to complain a little less, and to try and get extra time with those colleagues who lift me up (see Intentionality above). I’m also going to adopt one of Dr. Christine Carter’s 19 ways to reduce workplace stress: Stop talking about how busy and stressed I am. Dr. Carter reminds us that the more we talk about being busy (even if it’s just in our head), the more we’re actually training our brains to believe we should be freaking out.
Mix Things Up – There are positive things I sometimes want to try but hold back from doing because they sound like they will be too complicated, take up too much time, or adjust the family routine in some challenging way. Ironically, it may be just those things that I need in my month or semester to stay positive. Exercising early one morning while my husband gets the kids ready, scheduling a monthly get-together for drinks with a friend, using that gift card I got three years ago for a massage, or trying a new craft or cooking class. Why not treat one of these like an experiment in my life, and see how it works? Will it be disruptive or time-consuming? Maybe. Will it help with my self-care? Maybe. I’m guessing I’ll really enjoy it and it will give me that burst of positivity I might need, but I won’t know until I try…
What will be your strategies for starting Fall with positivity?
This article originally appeared on hopefulmama.com on 8/28/16.
This Summer I vow to not be disappointed with my productivity when August arrives. Even before I had kids I remember summers as a faculty member being bittersweet. I usually started the summer with huge expectations, including a list of unrealistic writing goals and projects that I needed to do because I had put them off during the academic year. I was overly optimistic about what I could do, only to realize that summer was pretty short, I was initially exhausted after the Spring semester, and there was no way any human could accomplish all the goals I had laid out for myself. Inevitably the summer would fly by and before I knew it I’d have to start working on my syllabi for Fall, feeling more than slightly dejected.
Now that I have children summers have become even more elusive. Summer is amazing because it provides a chance to spend more time with the family and attend to some of the personal goals that I can’t get to during the academic year (e.g., working out more regularly, house projects). There are fewer meetings so I can usually get errands out of the way and pick up the kids earlier, but I still have a lot to accomplish at work and am often wondering how I will be productive if I’m at work less? Inevitably I do the math and it seems like I am setting myself up for the familiar conversation with colleagues in Fall: “Summer was nice but I didn’t get as much done as I needed to…”
How can we more realistically enter summer, with delight and clarity about what we want and can do as faculty mamas? How can we better define and prioritize our goals in all aspects of our lives, and experience the satisfaction of making progress towards them?
Here are some strategies for diving into summer this year:
1) First, celebrate summer and the fewer meetings on your calendar. You’ve worked hard all year and you likely need some time to enjoy the greater flexibility in your schedule. For a few days, sleep in, catch up on errands and appointments (I’ll be getting my haircut finally!), or enjoy lunch with a colleague.
2) Get a handle on what you hope to accomplish this summer. Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Director of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity* encourages faculty to identify 3-5 goals, both in “work” and “personal” life, to accomplish during the summer. For example, I have a manuscript I’d like to get out and a book I am editing, as well the personal goal of moving my kids into one bedroom. Of course there will be numerous other smaller things I need to do over the next 2-3 months, but these are the big ones. This year I’ll keep my list to 3, because that feels realistic and I want to maximize my chance to feel the success of accomplishing these goals. If I happen to accomplish more, that will be a bonus.
5) At the beginning of the summer, “swallow the frog.” In the spirit of Mark Twain, early in the summer I’ll tackle the worst task, the frog that I really don’t want to do but that will sit on my shoulder, haunting me until I get it off my list. For some of my colleagues, the frog is their syllabi for Fall. For others, it might be administrative tasks. Either way make sure it’s the task that you know you will continue to put off unless you swallow it early on.
4) Find ways to hold yourself accountable. One of the best things that happened to me last semester was that I finally sorted through 11 years of papers that had accumulated in my office because I was getting new office furniture. My office had become a complete mess, and it wasn’t until I scheduled the date for the new desk to arrive that I finally started working on purging and cleaning. Somehow, we have to find ways to hold ourselves accountable for progress on our goals, especially if they don’t have deadlines. Maybe it’s a reward, or maybe it’s putting a deadline in writing to colleagues. Spend some time finding out what will keep you on track and implement a strategy.
6) Schedule unscheduled time strategically. Even though it feels so wonderful to look at my calendar and see a day with large blocks of free time, I’ve found that I usually don’t use these huge blocks wisely. Sometimes I flounder in the morning deciding what to start with, and then an hour can go by answering emails. I’ve also discovered I am most productive in the morning, and it seems like by 3pm I’m spent and it’s really hard to do writing. This summer I’m going to spend a few minutes at the end of each day deciding what I need to do the next day. Before I leave the office or before I go to bed, I’m going to email myself a list of what has to get done the next day. That way when I get to work I know exactly what I have to start with. I’ll also be sure to schedule the personal projects as well. For example, I may leave work early on a Tuesday to spend one hour at home sorting clothes for the kids’ room before picking them up.
3) Approach summer activities with mindfulness. Dr. Ellen Langer, a leading researcher in mindfulness, reminds us that if we make decisions mindfully, there won’t be room for regrets. This summer I’m going to work on mindfully approaching my tasks, so that I’m aware of why I’m choosing to do a certain task. I’m also going to try and be as present as possible with whatever I’m doing. We all know what it feels like to be feeling bitter about being at work, or feeling guilty about not working when being with the family. This summer I’ll try not to fall into that trap by engaging more purposefully.
8) Finally, don’t forget self-compassion. The path towards all goals will involve obstacles. Life happens in expected and unexpected ways. We may keep the goals small and realistic, and work incredibly hard all summer, and still not accomplish what we had hoped. Practicing self-compassion doesn’t mean we become self-complacent and it doesn’t get us off the hook from our goals; it just reminds us we are human and we should be patient with ourselves. Self-compassion will fuel our productivity and well-being much better than regrets or berating ourselves.
Now let’s go out and enjoy full and productive summers!
*NCFDD is an amazing resource for faculty at all stages in their careers. Check here to see if your institution has a membership and to learn more about their services.
This article was originally posted in Hopeful Mama on May 16, 2017.
We’re four weeks into the semester and things already feel pretty intense. The marathon has started and I know I will need to do everything possible to stay on course until the end.
Most days, this means cramming my work days with non-stop ‘productivity.’ No time for chit-chat or wandering down the hall to say hi to a colleague. No lunch break. No internet or emails for anything personal. Go directly to the printer or a meeting and do not pass go. (Sometimes I even forget to go to the bathroom!)
I’ve convinced myself that this this pace is serving me well as a faculty mama: pack it in during the day so I can run off to the daycare pick-up and NO TIME IS WASTED. In some ways it has worked. But as I type this and look at my keyboard, I realize that this approach also comes with a cost. How many times have I seen a colleague on my way to the parking garage and lamented that we haven’t seen each other in ages? How many fellow faculty mama friends have had kids over the past months that I haven’t had the chance to hear about?
Crumbs in my keyboard represent the fact that since becoming a mom I rarely prioritize time at work to connect personally with others.
On the rare occasions that I do make time to meet with my colleagues to catch up, it is always wonderful. It feels energizing to share about our lives and I always find myself smiling on my way back to the office. The work is still there when I arrive, but I have a little more pep in my step and positivity to tackle it. The truth is, I’m actually more productive when I get these types of breaks because they give me an injection of human connection that I can’t get from just walking around or taking a break to surf the internet, or worse yet…working straight through the day.
This semester I’m going to challenge myself to get out of the office to be with those people who I know I want to spend more time with. Want to join me on this challenge?
Last week was rough. As I was hurriedly getting ready for a day of never-ending grading, search committee meetings and reference letter writing, I heard a loud “MOMMY!” from my oldest child’s bathroom. I turned the corner, just in time to see her start throwing up into the toilet. On the one hand, it was a joyous moment because she made it to the toilet (hooray!). On the other hand, it was exactly the type of obstacle that I felt like I couldn’t possibly navigate around this busy time of semester. I freaked out, but then quickly got to strategizing for the day. It worked out (it always seems to, right?), but it left me thinking about how much there is for faculty mamas to do this time of year.
All moms are amazing, and I don’t believe in contests about who works the hardest. This post is just a shout-out to all my fellow faculty mamas so we can take a second to congratulate each other for all we’ve done.
As you’ll see, the rubric below gives you a lot of credit, because you deserve it! Feel free to add a comment with anything else you’ve done this late Fall. You rock, #facultymama!
Oops, totally forgot to do this – 5 points
Pretty sure I’ll get to it at the last minute; still hopeful – 5 points
Miraculously, this is done – 5 points
a) Letters of reference (it’s part of my job, but…)
b) Gifts for school teachers (hope I don’t repeat what I gave them when they had my other child)
c) Grading — papers (why did I assign papers?!)
d) Grading — exams (those 2 hours of giving the exam were glorious. Next year I’ll use multiple choice)
e) Grading — presentations (also nice to watch them, but now I have to grade them)
f) Getting out all the cold weather gear for the kids (snow pants, Cuddle Duds, gloves, winter boots, scarves)
g) Going out and buying missing cold weather gear
h) Review admission files for Spring (it seems impossible to think about next Fall already…)
i) Gifts for daycare teachers (hope I don ‘t repeat what I gave them when they had my other child)
j) Interview faculty candidates (gotta get them in before the break)
k) Gifts for family (hope I don’t repeat what I gave them last year)
l) Enter data for faculty activities report (time to face the harsh truth)
m) Gift for my partner (who is that again?)
n) Stay home with sick child (iPad wins Noble Prize in Caregiving)
o) Overdose on zinc and vitamins to avoid getting sick (probably should also work on getting more sleep)
p) Talk about needing more sleep, but stay up too late grading (and on the internet)
q) Submit article/chapter/conference abstract (cope with insecurities about not doing enough)
r) End-of-semester faculty meeting (no comment)
s) End-of-semester college meeting (no comment)
t) Meet with students to talk about last-minute efforts to increase grade (wha…?!)
u) Start planning for hosting a holiday event (I actually like doing this but of course won’t have time)
v) Plan for data collection in Spring (it seems so far away but I know it’ll be here soon)
w) Talk to my partner periodically (who is that again?)
x) Stay on top of kids’ homework, library book returns, school lunch account, donations for class parties (this could be a full-time job!)
y) Begin thinking about my syllabi for Spring (HA!)
z) WHAT ELSE??
Post a comment so we can see what else you’ve accomplished, faculty mama!