End of year Re-focus and Resolutions

posted on 31 December 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

As we’re winding down a year, it’s of course time to think through our plans and resolutions for the coming year. I’ve always thought of the winter break as my “do over” time because not only does it bring with it the new year, it also brings it with the chance to just re-focus and re-prioritize what I need and want to do. If done correctly, the spring plans can launch you successfully into a summer where projects move forward instead of languishing.

So here’s some of the things I do during the “break” to set myself up for successful spring term and yes, even a successful summer.

Make to-do lists

For me that means making 5 different lists.

  • Teaching
  • Service local (all the committees I sit on that are active and will be meeting)
  • Service national
  • Research commitments (these are the things with due dates, submitted, or committed collaborations)
  • Research (these are my own self styled projects with no firm, as of yet, deadlines)

In the spirit of getting things done philosophy, I write down every task associated with each thing on the different lists. Once I have everything written down, I start to figure out what can actually be accomplished and what can’t so I can start to make peace with that AND to let others know.

Log everything into a planner or schedule or electronic something or other than you will use (the last part is key)

Some of you have heard my sob story of when I tried to join the 21st century and go electronic, which turned into the most unproductive time of my life. So in the middle of the year, I finally went back to the old fashioned, book like planner, and my life has just now started to gain more stability and focus. I use the Passion Planner and I like it a lot cause of the way you can log lists and reflect on the past month. Just as important, I can still use my sticky notes (which I sort of have a problem with #postitnoteposse FTW)

I log into my planner all the confirmed meetings from teaching to service so I can start to see my spring schedule unfold. I plug in conferences and then immediately back date to put in time where I will work on the conference presentations and papers. Then I log in teaching times, office hours, and course prep times.

I then prioritize the research projects (starting with those with deadlines) and lay out days to work on specific tasks that I have identified. I’m doing several projects that involve interviews and observations so I know when some of those things are scheduled so I add those.

I, also, mark out time to exercise just as if it were a meeting. I’m doing that right now! I’ve also marked down a weekly get together with some friends that we’re all trying to commit to.

Then I put in the priority service items that have set meeting times, and I also know that I need to block out some time to do work associated with some of those commitments. For example, Mondays are basically set aside for service. I do nothing other have meetings or do actual tasks associated with different service commitments.

Being Realistic

Now that I have many things logged in, I can start to eliminate things that I know I will have no chance of getting accomplished during the term or even in the summer.

So how do I know this?

Well, partly out of experience, and partly out of a growing understanding of the true amount of time things take. I have four conferences and a couple of invited talks. There’s no way in hell anything extra is happening so nothing on the Research list that isn’t committed is going to get done. I also know that I can’t say yes to any new service commitments until I get rid of one. That’s my deal with myself.

Much of my research now is pretty labor intensive since I’m in the collecting data phase (on certain projects) and analyzing and writing it up (on others). Both sides are hard and messy and time consuming. Throw in dealing with people (research subjects, collaborators, other stakeholders), and it takes more time. I’m not complaining because that’s just how research goes. You just have to account for these things. A good rule of thumb is to add 1/3 to every task. So if you think it will take a 3 days, add a day, and that’s a conservative estimate. We tend to always underestimate the time it takes for all sorts of reasons. Experience helps you begin to get better at these things, but no amount of experience can offset those days where you truly can’t say no to things and you have to set aside your time to take care of other things.

I also know looking at the big picture that I need to have a conversations with a series of people (my Dean, whom I work for in a partial administrative role, my Head, some collaborators)  because there’s no way some things are going to get done if I’m going to get other things done. So I’ve already sent messages requesting those meetings. The point is in laying it all out and then being painfully realistic about it I know that I have to make some changes and make some decisions for the spring and summer.


And finally, at this time of the year, I do write down some resolutions. I put them on an index card and I include three personal and three professional things that I want to accomplish. Often times, at least one of these things, is something that no one else knows about; it’s like a secret resolution to help encourage me or challenge me or comfort me. These resolutions I put in a sealed envelope and I open on the following New Year’s Eve. I’ll be opening the ones I wrote last year later today.

So in 2016, here are some of my resolutions:

  • take care of myself
    There’s nothing specific about exercise or eating or anything. Just the overall need to remember and to remind that we all need to focus on self-care.
  • focus on the things I can control
    It’s hard to re-wire ourselves not to worry (if you’re the worrying kind) so it may be easier to try and focus on those things that you can control. You cannot control reviewers, but you can control what you send them. You cannot control the toxic colleague, but you can find ways to limit your interaction with them so that their toxicity doesn’t wear off so much.
  • be thankful
    my passion planner has a spot on each weekly spread to write down “good things that happened.” In a job in which we have to deal with so much rejection, it’s good to have this reminder that lots of good things happen too. Writing down the things we’re thankful for and being certain we thank those people who have been kind and generous to us really goes a long way to better mental health and happiness.
  • be mindful
    A dear and wise friend of mine told me once that she every morning she asks herself, “what can I do to make myself happy today?” This sort of mindfulness can be useful to help us focus on what we need and want to do.
  • pay it forward
    there is much to be said for finding a way to give back. Be it in a professional capacity or for a personal cause. Making time to pay it forward does bring with it so many rewards.
  • be kind
    Kindness costs nothing and goes a long way to building goodwill and building good relationships. (Or to follow the old rule our parents told us: if you can’t say something nice….)

I am especially thankful for this community (and those others that I belong to, looking at you #medrhet) and all those members that have inspired and encouraged and supported me and each other throughout this year. It is humbling and amazing to see the support networks.

With that, here’s a virtual toast to each and every one of you:

To endings and beginnings, and may 2016 bring you all that you can imagine and just a little bit more!