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.