Summertime’s 3 Rs

21 May 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

I have grown to love the academic year cycles, and like most of us, I look forward to the breaks we have between terms. I’ve had the germ of this blog rolling around in my head the last few weeks, but I had trouble pairing it down to the most important things to do in the summer. So finally settled on the three Rs.

As move into the first part of summer (or wrapping up the last couple of weeks for you quarter term folks), it is the perfect time to rest, reorient, and to plan realistically.

Rest

Yup. It’s been a long year and the more relaxed pace of the summer gives you the perfect opportunity to replenish your mental and physical energy. Take some time to rest and relax to help you to rejuvenate. Without this, you’ll find yourself starting the fall just as depleted as you are now. Don’t forget to have lots of fun, which is something that we all need to do more often (cause can you have too much fun?!) It’s really ok to do nothing during the summer. That’s what resting and rejuvenating is all about. (And there’s a “psychological importance” to wasting time and taking breaks.)

Summer should definitely afford you the time and space to create more balance in your life and hopefully, to start to build some new habits that may carry into the fall. For example, I have to recommit to a daily exercise routine. I hope to have that habit rebuilt by the time the fall term starts. I am also sleeping as late as I want and not giving myself a hard time about it!

Reorient

Maybe it’s because I’m feeling a bit nostalgic or the fear of moving to a new academic home, but this summer I’m going to be taking some dedicated time to reorient. In this sense, reorient means to think through what it is that you want out of this job, to think through a strategic plan to achieve it, and to figure out ways to get rid of those things that are causing stress and angst.

For many of us, we sometimes get caught up in the day-to-day of work and the real and assumed expectations that we lose sight of why we wanted to do this job. Being deliberate and reflective about what you like and what you want out of this job is an important summer task. It can help clear the mental debris so that planning for the summer is easier (and realistic) and hopefully, it helps you form a strategic plan for the upcoming year. I know I talk about strategic planning a lot. The reason is that it provides a material way of tracking goals and ensuring a sense of control over your life. There are so many aspects of this job that we cannot control. The one thing we can control is our attitude and approach to it. A summer reorientation can help.

For example, I know that my new job will be different in some ways, with different responsibilities. That means I need to reconsider some of the things I do now to determine if the passion for those things still remain and if I’ll have time to do those things. Framing these internal discussions through the lens of what I want out of (and need from) this job is a useful exercise to reduce stress, to make a plan, and to not over commit.

During a Mentor Monday earlier in May, Sarah Singer shared this:

With her permission, I include it here as a way to help you think through how to reorient your own lives and psyche. What would make you happy? This is not a frivolous question, but one that is directly connected to how we interact and to how we do our jobs.

Granted, we can’t get rid of every stressor, but we can definitely take the time to reorient how we think about those things and react to them. For example, many of us serve on committees that are ineffectual, but we also know that we have to sit on certain committees. Even though we cannot change the necessity of it, we can change our attitude toward it. It’s also possible if the situation is truly toxic to research potential replacements, that is, to give up one committee but offer to sit on another.

Realistic planning

Let me go ahead and be the spoilsport. You probably won’t get all the things you want to do done this summer. That leads to the often-unhealthy cycle of working too much and then being too hard on yourself when you don’t get things done (that were probably not totally realistic in the first place).

So I beg you. Make a realistic plan. What does that look like? Well, it depends on the person and how you work, but typically, you’re only going to make headway on one thing and maybe some progress on two smaller things. These things can be any number of tasks from drafts, to final revisions, to reports that you know will be due, to new classes you’ll be teaching.

A good rule of thumb is to make a plan and then delete at least half of it. Yup, half. And if you’re resting and reorienting, delete 2/3 of it. What’s left is probably a realistic plan on what you’ll get done.

This realistic planning means you can spend more time celebrating your achievements and getting things done.

Good luck with your summers!

Wishing you joy, health, and peace!

 

Samesies

26 March 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

This week during Mentor Monday  (on 3-20) I asked for best strategies to motivate students at this point in the term. For those of us on typical semesters (no matter the January start time), now is the point in the term that students get a little cranky due to projects and papers and well, just life. From a related group, #medrhet, Colleen Derkatch offered a great suggestion:

Colleen’s tweet reminded me that this job often makes us feel isolated and in many cases, like we’re the only one going through things. So what’s the point, you ask? We have to be more transparent about our own struggles.

Having worked so long in industry, often in a project manager type role, being direct and honest about problems always helped get them resolved quicker, easier, and less costly. I’ve maintained this sort of attitude in higher education. This job is hard, but it is definitely made easier when we share our struggles in an effort to find effective ways to deal with them. And more so, sharing enables us a measure of reassurance and support that we are definitely not alone.

Another example from Twitter and Facebook this week: the fact that many of us experience post-conference doldrums brought on from all sorts of factors. With a lot of us at ATTW and the CCCCs recently, we started this past week in something of a hole, from being tired, to feeling (or being) more behind, to the adrenaline let down of being back to our normal lives, to….all sorts of other things too! Knowing that others have emotional, affective, and embodied reactions to coming home from conference travel definitely helps us all ease back into our day-to-day lives.

So here are a few other things to consider that are the same as other folks:

  • Writing is hard. Even for those people who make it look effortless, it is hard.
  • Editing and revising can be even harder.
    Nota bene: because writing, editing, and revising is hard everyone of us puts it of, whines about it, drinks to much coffee or wine or [insert favorite beverage here], struggles to get the words on the page or the words revised on the page. Starting is always the hardest, but for some, finishing is even harder. These are truths. Truths we share.
  • Departmental politics can be stressful no matter if you’re in your first year or your 20th . The level of stress and the kind of stress simply changes.
  • Figuring out when to say no (and yes) is always challenging.
  • Our students impress, inspire, frustrate, challenge, and host of other things on most every day of the term. In a single 3-hour class, I can experience all of these things. That’s the joy of teaching.
  • Please go easy on yourself when you’re perfectly arranged schedule goes to hell because it truly does happen to all of us (sometimes multiple times in a week!).

Sharing our struggles and challenges and problems means that we’re making parts of the job that have long been hidden more transparent. It’s ok to not be ok. Talking about it is the first step in understanding the situation and your reaction to it and then figuring out the steps to move forward.

One of the founding principles for WomeninTC is having a community in which to find support and encouragement for all aspects of this job.

So remember that someone out there is probably feeling the same thing as you. But there’s always a circle around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 minutes at a time

12 March 2017 by Lisa Meloncon

Based on my highly scientific study** of comments on social media, it seems that many of us are still struggling with feeling overwhelmed, having focus problems, and are trying to determine what things we can control.

Lately, I’ve started to re-institute my 15 minute rule so I can get some things done, avoid beating myself up over my productivity, and well, actually getting some things done. This time of the year brings it lots of things to do and for all sorts of reasons, the spring is always a bit busier than the fall.

But I digress…So what is the 15 minute rule?

Great question. It’s something I started years and years ago when I was a consultant. It came about in an informal happy hour with some other consultants and self-employed folks. With so many projects and demands, I was sometimes paralyzed by the magnitude of the projects and the large number of tasks. Kind of sounds familiar, huh?!

To get things moving—anything moving—I started to break down tasks into 15 minutes increments because surely, as I told myself, I could focus for 15 minutes.

Take a look at your to-do list (or spend the first 15 minutes making an updated one!) and then start to find things that you can do in 15 minutes. In higher education, we’ve all heard, and there’s a book with the title, that you can write your dissertation in 15 minutes in a day. It’s the same principle really to overcoming focus problems or feeling overwhelmed problems or fear problems or any of the other issues that can get in the way of you getting things done.

What is so great about 15 minutes is that it seems doable. It feels doable, even at times when everything else doesn’t feel that way. I bet you may have said something like, “You can’t do anything in 15 minutes.” Maybe, but that’s part of the point. When you actually do sit and work for 15 uninterrupted and no distractions minutes, you will be surprised at how much you can do. I typically do a 15 minute task, small break, another 15 minute task, 15 minute break and then repeat. And if you get through a particularly onerous task, I say do something fun for 15 minutes (like a walk outside or eating a dessert or something!).

Here’s a look at some of the tasks I’ve done over the last few days following this rule:

  • commented on user test plans
  • revised and sent out two award letters
  • posted reminder announcements across list servs and social media
  • revised two manuscripts (yup. The 15 minute rule makes dealing with reviewer and editor comments and collaborator comments much easier.)
  • sent a slew of those conversation ending emails (those that need a response but its more than likely they won’t come back)
  • cleaned a large set of data so that it can now be analyzed
  • standardized another set of data so that it can be used
  • got all but the images done on my ATTW presentation

I’ve got a few other things I’d like to get done today and I think I can get them knocked out with another hour round of 15 minutes. And then I’m done for the day.

So give it a try. It works for all sorts of situation, and I hope that maybe you can feel like you have a little more control over your life, while also getting things done.

Good luck.

Wishing you peace, strength, joy, and health.

 

**total sarcasm