Balance Revisited

20 May 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

It’s been a busy, busy two months since I last posted, but that seems like that statement alone is the perfect way to start a post about balance 🙂

One of the things that #womeninTC advocates for is to try and find balance in our lives. As part of my role within #womeninTC and as part of my own personal beliefs and passions, I have been a vocal advocate for not working so much and taking care of ourselves (e.g., here and here). And the topic of balance is one I’ve written about before.

But, I get that this idea of balance is a whole lot easier said than done. It’s also made trickier cause it is something of a double bind. We’re having to do balance within balance—balancing the different parts of the job with then trying to balance the job with the rest of our lives.

It’s been no secret that this year has been hard for me, and while I struggled to figure out how to deal with several personal struggles and learn a new institutional culture, I thought a lot about this idea of balance. Going back to the love of words, the dictionary tells us that balance has two complementary definitions:

  1. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.
  2. a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

These two definitions get at the two aspects of balance I mention above: balance within the job and then balance of the job with other things. To be reminded that there needs to a distribution for steadiness AND that distribution can lead to finding a life with the correct proportions. The dual balancing acts are not easy, however, and complicating matters even more is that the need to balance and shift is constantly changing.

But it’s not all bleak and impossible. It really isn’t. The first step in performing a good balancing act is to recognize and embrace that it is how and why and what you balance is gonna change and more importantly that some days you may just fall down. Once you have this idea as your foundation then it becomes a little easier to develop strategies for the ways you can actually begin to perform your own balancing acts.

Understand the requirements

I cannot say it enough that you need to start with the requirements of the job you have. Graduate school teaches us a lot of really great things, but it does not do a good job of preparing folks to actually do a job. A big reason for that is our graduate programs are at research universities while the majority of jobs are at teaching universities. That’s a big disconnect. So the first step, and an ongoing step, is to look to the requirements of job and build out from there.

Right now folks are moving or preparing to move to new jobs or they are beginning the process of reflection as summer begins. This is the perfect moment to visit or revisit your institutional documents and policies that will govern your work. These usually take the form of reappointment, promotion, and tenure documents; workload policies; and/or university, college, and department level faculty handbooks. These are one of the first places to go to figure out what is required of you to be judged “successful” at your job. Starting here and then matching those with your own goals and values leads to less stress and more balance than other approaches.

Absolutely, there are often unwritten rules or expectations, but you definitely need to understand what the official ones are first and then work your way out from there. Some are not nearly as explicit and simply talk in vague terms about participating in all three. Your goal is learn what they are, ask explicitly what is expected if they are spelled out, and then chart a path to ensure you meet those requirements.

Match requirements to your own goals and values

At the ATTW luncheon this year , we focused on trying to develop strategies that helped us align institutional priorities or job requirements with our own values. This is a key component of ensuring balance within the job and more so for balance within our lives. Without taking the step to determine your own goals and values and where they overlap (or not) with the institutional requirements, it’s more likely that you’ll just end up overworked and stressed out.

For those of us that like visual things, this is a great reflective exercise to do visually by using lists, charts, venn diagrams, and lots of colored pens. But having recently done this as I’m trying to figure out both my summer and changes I would like to make for the next academic year, the exercise was extremely eye opening in seeing where things do overlap and in coming up with plans on how to make more of my goals and institutional requirements overlap going forward.

Think through possibilities on how to merge teaching, research, and service

I recently sent my tenure narrative to someone who wanted some models as they start to write their own. When I found that document, I was reminded that the last section of it was all about how I merged together teaching, research, and service. I demonstrated that by talking about a series of courses I taught, an ongoing service learning project, and finally the article that came out of it.

Thinking through ways that you can do this with your teaching, research, and service can be beneficial because if you can find ways to merge them or have them overlap in meaningful ways, you can find additional balance within your job and your life. Many people in the field have projects or goals that intersect with communities and publics and activism. With some strategic forethought and planning, many of those projects can be integrated into all aspects of work lives to the benefit of those work lives, but also to the benefit of our own care of the self. Sometimes the biggest differences we can make are the small and local changes in our own communities.

Making the time to think about how this is possible or talking to those who have done it successfully may be the key to your own balancing act. (If you want help in this process, let me know and I’m sure I can find someone that can match your interests, your job type, or has similar goals.)

Start with your life and family

So once you sort of have your job balanced you gotta figure out how to balance that with the rest of your life. In talking to a lot of people lately, the ones that seem to have the balance thing down the best are the ones that start with their lives and then add their jobs. Someone told me just this week how they adjust their work schedule to match the schedule of their partner. That way guilt doesn’t set in and the partner remains happy because that time is for them.

In other words, if you’re planning your week or your term or your summer, they start with putting in all the family and fun things that they are doing. That way family, fun, and/or life time is not squeezed out by the job.

Pick your work strategy

Some folks like to work everyday and to ensure a better balance they simply do not work as much most days. So for example, M-F may be a 5-6 hour work days and then to maintain momentum they work a couple of hours on each weekend day. Others do slight modifications where they do six days and take one totally off a week.

Yet others still do the more traditional approach of working during the week and taking the weekends completely off.

No matter the strategy, it’s good to build up habits and routines to pick one and stick with it. At least stick with the same one through an academic term and shift to another if it’s not working or if you see something on the horizon that may require a different approach.

Have hobbies that are not related to work

In a recent faculty office hours, we talked about self care and one of the biggest takeaways from that discussion was that a big part of self care was to have hobbies and interests and things (however or whatever you define it as) that are not connected to work.

We all understand that there are parts of this job—particularly parts of the research process—where the work is exciting and fun and it doesn’t at all feel like a job. But, it’s still a job. The life of the mind can sometimes trick us into thinking that that is all there is. It’s not. And the faculty on that call that day all agreed that having outside interests was a key to their self care, which is the biggest key to having a more balanced life.

Understand give and take

In a recent discussion with a group of women in my department, it became clear that the balance between work and the rest of lives is a huge priority but a constant struggle. A number of suggestions were made about how to get the balance better.

We all agreed that achieving a good balance means that you have to understand the give and take of academic life. That is, our jobs shift and change from term to term and from year to year and from big project to big project. Sometimes there is a necessity to work more to achieve some of your goals. That’s just part of the job. But to really work toward a balance that means that more rest and relaxation needs to be inserted at some point.

The give and take of work and the rest your life needs attention and being aware that that sometimes the scales tip more to work or more to life is the first step in gaining more control over the balance. Where you drive the decisions rather than feeling as if all control rests with your job.

Balance is not easy, not within the job itself and not with merging work and life. But as you move into summer, I would encourage you to think through what balance means for you and then how to better achieve it. Because balance means we’re upright and steady and things are in good proportion, and that sounds like a pretty good way to live. We have the power to create that balance and so go out and create it!

Wishing you health, peace, joy, and maybe a little more balance.

Values, Schedules, and Time Management

Posted 25 March 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

With the ATTW luncheon and my other responsibilities at both ATTW and CCCCs, I’ve gotten “behind” on getting a blog up. (and seriously, if you have something to say, please get in touch because we would love to have folks participate here.)

So today I’m gonna do something of a summary of the luncheon activity because it leads into an ongoing topic and concern of many, time management. At the luncheon, the topic was Values and Priorities. We did a couple of exercises where we asked participants to first write down what they valued both personally and professionally. The purpose of this activity was to get folks thinking about what is truly important to THEM in the their lives. Examples of this could include getting an article manuscript out each year or doing more community work or spending more quality time with children or significant others. We then moved to the barriers that can get in the way of what we value. Attendees were asked to write down some of the things that consistently get in the way of the things they value. We had table discussions around these ideas and then we moved to trying to create a schedule–and we gave attendees an actual weekly calendar–to see if they could brainstorm ways to make their values, priorities, and schedules align. The last activity was sharing a strategy to help align values and priorities to schedules. (Those strategies are gathered here.)

Needless to say, that the discussions at the tables were lively and encouraging (and discouraging because of the number of folks who felt they had little control over their time). As I have said many times, this job is hard and because of all sorts of pressures, we often feel the need to overproduce or we lose the focus on what is most important to us. All at the detriment of our mental, emotional, and/or physical health. The goal of the luncheon was to encourage folks to think through what they value and then try to find ways to shift their own work habits and potentially to set up new boundaries to enable schedules that we truly value.

After the luncheon several people asked me for suggestions on how I manage my time. Time management is the key to aligning our values with our schedules. None of what follows is new or innovative. But it does give insights into the process of approaching work that you may find useful in thinking through your own lives. Hopefully, you can find a nugget or two that can help you manage your workflow.

Find a Planner

I use planner here loosely because I get that many of you do things electronically, while the dinosaurs among us (like me!) still use the old school, in print, carry it around planner. The key is you need to use one. Electronic versions run the gamut from robust task management tools like Omnifocus or Things to more lightweight free tools like Todoist or Wunderlist to tools more specific to projects like Trello. Then you have the old school type of planners. I currently use an Action Day but I have used or tried or bought, examined, and returned so many of the others on the market such as Passion Planner, Panda Planner, At-a-glance, and the bullet journal approach.

The key to a good planner is that it needs space for

  • weekly meetings and such: an actual day to day schedule with hours so you can block things off including writing and thinking time
  • tasks for that week: we need to be able to see at a glance things you need to get accomplished in a week
  • additional spaces: this means you can add parts of a project or ongoing administrative tasks that need to get accomplished

Here’s a blank page of my current planner and the way I’ve shifted it’s areas to fit my life and work.

Planner page with modifications specific to my work.

So I use the planner’s  “Tasks to Execute” on the left in the same way the planner creators intended as my weekly list of things that I have to get done. But the areas under the calendar I have changed to keep track of weekly things specific to life: RHM (items for the journal I co-edit); Program (things associated with my work as program administrator); Service (tasks specific to my service obligations such as work for womeninTC or CPTSC or locally on a committee); Emails (self explanatory). The calendar area is used to block of time for class, class prep, scheduled meetings, and writign and research time. Typically, a week is pretty filled from 8-5 with some space for when things get awry and stuff has to shift.

The planner then becomes your weekly/daily guide.

Sticky Notes and Whiteboards

I combine sticky notes and whiteboards because I use them both sort of equally and mostly for the same reasons. These are tools to get a bigger picture of life. These contain the deadlines you have coming up (that when they get closer need to be transferred into your planner) and then other smaller deadlines and some big picture goals. So currently, I have a whiteboard that lists the things I am working on with deadlines (both given to me and also those I’ve kind of tentatively assigned to that project). then I have some sticky notes that list parts of those projects that need to get done.

Current sticky note re: data project

For example, I’m finishing up this big data project about programs that also makes some pretty pointed and provocative arguments about what TPC needs to do to sustain programs equitably and ethically. My whiteboard has that project listed along with several big component parts that still need to be done. My sticky note then has a list of some things that I need to do next week. But see, this project isn’t tied to anything but me wanting to get it done. So I use the sticky note so I can easily move it from week to week, and the whiteboard is the ever present reminder that it is in progress.

Here you can use most anything. I’ve also used a legal page taped the wall or a separate notebook. Project management scholarship and practice simply tells us that we need some system to keep track of the parts of the project. Using multiple tools in ways that make sense to you and your life ensures that you can break the projects down into manageable chunks that can be assigned daily and weekly slots so there is incremental and consistent movement forward. And some folks use sticky notes on white boards (which follows practices from project management in the workplace)!

The sticky notes and whiteboards or whatever you devise for yourself becomes your big picture and project management guides.


I have written before about making realistic schedules and plans. I wrote their that in the summer you need to cut your plan in half as a beginning move. The same holds pretty true for our work weeks. See, it always happens that we start to plan our weeks with the IDEAL scenario in mind, and the vast majority of weeks (I would guess upward of 85%) never even come close to the ideal. Why? Because, well, life. Things happen at school; things happen at home; someone gets sick; you just can’t find the focus you need for the project you laid out; unexpected meetings come up and on and on and on.

Thus, the key to prioritizing is to realistically prioritize.

  • What projects do you need to get done based on where they are (e.g., does it make more sense to try to move the manuscript that is 60% done further along rather than work on the one that is just in the idea stage? OR does it make more sense to finish the programmatic work now rather than wait until just a couple of days before its due?)
  • Will the meetings or tasks planned this week be more draining? If so, then don’t plan as much.
  • Are you sleeping well and exercising? If so, then you’re likely to have more energy during the workday so you can plan a little more, but if NOT, then CUT BACK because you won’t get as much done.
  • Did you account for prep time for meetings, for class, and for grading?
  • What’s going on in the lives of those folks closest to you?
  • Did you remember to schedule exercise or time to eat?

See what I’m trying to get at? The need for you to be more realistic when setting up your schedule by prioritizing those things that need to get done and what you want to get done. All the while by not forgetting that you need to care fo yourself (and your families).


One of the lessons that took me YEARS to learn was that I had to (1) stick to a new approach to work for at least a couple of weeks and (2) then re-evaluate how it was working. One of the many tricky things about this job is that it changes from term to term and year to year. That’s a great thing because it encourages a consistent evaluation of what is working and what is not in relation to your time management, value, and priorities.

Something for all us to remember is that when we’re looking at what worked and what didn’t we have to be mindful about our own practices. By that I mean, be self reflective about why something isn’t working or why progress is not being made on certain projects or why we dread, dread, dread doing something, or why we procrastinate when we know we shouldn’t. This is a such an important part of the re-evaluation process. Understanding some of these stressors and barriers is the first step in trying to find solutions to overcome them.

The system that I have now has been working pretty well for a while, and with ongoing tweaks, I feel it will work for the near future. But I’ll also be re-evaluating at the end of the term as I look forward to things that will be going on in the fall that are different than now.

And the summer is its own thing a little different from the rest of the year.

So I encourage you to use the latter stages of the term to maybe try out new time management techniques.

Wishing you peace, joy, and health!





Claim your power

18 February 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

I’m not good with nuance. This is not some great insight. It’s just true. From my upbringing to my life as a consultant to just the way that I am wired, my go-to path through life is direct and as kind as I can possibly be. Among his many countless gifts, my good friend Blake Scott,  has a gift for nuance, and I’ve asked him to teach me how to do it. Alas, those lessons have not taken a hold yet.

So I give you this piece of background to sort of apologize for what will likely be a ham-fisted attempt at saying something that needs a lot more nuance than I can probably give it.

There’s a piece that’s been circulating through social media, “ Why I Collapsed on the Job” by Katerina Bodovski, that is equal turns heart wrenching and rage inducing. It is heart wrenching because I hear stories similar to Bodovski’s from women (and some men) in our little field of tech comm and in the bigger field of rhetoric and composition. It is heart wrenching because her story is not unusual and that leads to the rage inducing.

So the piece above is really, really important for all sorts reasons. Since twitter is where I spend some time, I have done some tweet rants over the last couple of months about the EXACT things that Bodovski writes about. But most importantly about the need to take on this thing she writes about:

I somehow became a silent workaholic…..many of us are socialized into this trait of academic culture. This is how things are done, goes the unwritten agreement.

This is what we have to rail against as loudly, as specifically, as directly, as proactively, as forcefully, and as consistently as possible. Hell, no, this is not the way things have to be done. No.

One of the reasons that I agreed to and have stayed on working with #womeninTC is to work toward changing this very thing. To work toward shifting the culture and the way we approach work and how we train and mentor graduate students and early career faculty. No, it does not have to be this way.

Here’s another line that really, really got me from Bodovski’s piece:

Somewhere along the way, though, I lost the ability to help myself. I’m writing about it now in the hope of bringing attention to the troubles in the ivory tower and to give others the legitimacy to question the things we have come to take for granted about faculty work and life.

We have to question this culture and work toward changing it and shifting it. As the direct and to the point person that I am, I want to just lay out some ideas that I’ve been thinking about.

For tenured folks, who write way too many letters for too many things….

  • call out the over production and point out how it is not necessary based on the guidelines that every department and college and institution has
  • resist the urge to ever compare two people, Just don’t. they are different people with different lives and different career goals. Yes, they may both want tenure, but that process does not look alike nor should it.
  • point out in every letter if this is a disproportionate amount of things. I say again and again: you don’t get extra tenure and all that extra-ness doesn’t necessarily get you to full any faster.
  • Refuse to ask the same people to do things because you know they will get it done. Instead, ask those that never do anything. Patterns cannot change unless you try.
  • Hold people accountable. For the millions of words published about equity it’s glaringly ironic that we don’t hold our colleagues to the same standards we expect of our students and our work. Let me just say it directly: people need to do their damn jobs and if they aren’t, someone needs to tell them. The cult of being punished for competence is a big part of this whole mess. (and hey, I know all the resistance to this not the least of which is “it’s just easier to do it yourself or ask someone else.” You can see the problem with that, right?)
  • Model behaviors for your graduate students. Cause I can tell you right now that we have a MAJOR problem in graduate education and much of stems from the cult of overproduction and the distortion of what it really takes to do this job. (How I can say this you ask? Well, I can say that I took four calls/DMs/messages out of the blue this week from your grad students who ran the range from being in tears to being a ball of stress where nothing was getting done. And these students are at four different programs.)
  • Work to change the documents that should govern our lives if they aren’t reasonable or work to enforce them in humane and doable ways (though from the ones I’ve seen they are. They just aren’t encouraged and/or used to guide our jobs like they should be.)
  • Offer good advice to early career faculty and graduate students and that often means that you need to look outside of your own experiences.

When I admitted that I was having to reboot my life, the bigger takeaway there was this, “But more so, it’s because we have to set a different tone. We have to start trying to shift what is a powerfully unjust culture and system that encourages us to be one dimensional and focused on the culture of overproduction rather than encouraging us to be real, three-dimensional people committed to slow scholarship and being excellent, thoughtful teachers, and kind supportive colleagues.” We can do this shifting in all sorts of ways including institutional resilience.

For those on the tenure track,

Remember that you have agency. So what if you don’t’ get a unanimous tenure vote or a perfect annual review. The fact remains the number of people in our field that do not get tenure is minuscule and most of those have some important back stories that never make the mainstream. The tenure guidelines that I have read and that are representative of the field are all doable. No, you do not have to publish a 100 things. No you do not have to attend every conference. No you do not have to serve of 5 committees at every level.

My point is that you can say no. You really can. You can say no to that extra committee; you can choose not to answer that CFP for a special issue or another collection; you can wait to do that really cool thing (cause the opportunity will come around again) when you have more time and space.

You can make decisions for you and no one else because you do have agency. No one can take that from you.

For graduate students,

You truly, truly can do this job and it not be your entire life and your entire existence. Look for the silent leaders and those people who work at a place you’d like to work at and really find out how this job works.

Some of the patterns you develop in grad school will stay with you so it’s so important to develop good habits for yourself around work and life. Train yourself to do the work by sitting in the chair and trying to do it. Develop some strategies to deal with stress, to plan your time in ways that work for you, to balance out and have a life without the guilt. These skills are started in grad school. Seek out mentors and friends who share these values.

You also do not have to have to try and publish a 1000 things to get a job nor go to every conference or accept every “opportunity.” This time is for you to learn and to read and to think about what the field is and what you want your role to be. It’s precious and it needs to be done slowly and thoughtfully.

For contingent faculty,

Thank you for the work you do in our programs, and bearing the brunt of institutions’ teaching mission. I am thankful for the work you’re doing, and I am sorry for the system that has created this mess. Please take care of yourselves first. (I have much more to say about this issue, but since I’m in the midst of a “book” on it, it’s all too muddled.) So, I reiterate, please take care of yourselves.

Circling back to all of us

….my heart still aches for Bodovski and more so, it aches for the people that I personally know who are struggling within the system and trying to figure things out. The process of determining what is important and how to juggle the multiple demands of this job is one of the greatest challenges. It’s an ongoing challenge because our jobs change at different points for different reasons. I don’t have any answers, and the suggestions I’ve made here aren’t anywhere close to revolutionary. The biggest takeaway is that we need to be reminded that we do have more power than we think we do.

It’s also important to examine behaviors to ensure that you’re not doing the exact thing you’re talking about needing to change. If you are, consider what Bodovski suggests, “But I surely face a challenge of reflecting, regrouping, re-evaluating,and redesigning what and how I do from this point on.”

If you want to strategize on how to regain your own power, please reach out. I’m always happy to listen and plan, and if I’m not the best person to talk to, I’ll find you someone that can help.

Change starts with each one of us, in our own way. Start with taking care of yourself (physical, mental, and what your priorities really are) and then working your way down the list.

Wishing you joy, peace, and health… and the strength to claim your own personal power.