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!


Tis the season…..of rejection

November 19. 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

Well, every season is the season of rejection in higher education, but it always seems particularly acute at this time of the year. Maybe it’s the stress of the semester or the stress of impending holiday season, but this time of year seems to amplify the specter that academics live under: the ongoing cycle of rejection.

It’s no secret that I’m a tough love kind of person. I tend to deliver hard truths as kindly and gently as I can because I firmly believe we have to be honest with grad students, new faculty, and well, just every damn body.

And the truth of the matter is that one of the reasons this job is so hard is that much of it is about dealing with consistent and ongoing rejection. Here’s a list of some.

  • No, you can’t teach at the time you’d like.
  • No, you cannot teach the class that is in your specialty because we need this required course covered.
  • No, we do not money to fully cover your conference-funding request. (We can give you $250.00.)
  • No, we do not have money for your request for [fill in the blank here].
  • No, you cannot say no to this committee because someone has to sit on it and there is no one else.
  • No, we do not have resources to help you with [fill in the blank here].
  • No, your abstract was not accepted for [fill in the blank for whatever here]
  • No, your grant was not funded.
  • No, your proposal was not accepted for [fill in the blank for whatever here]
  • No, we will not publish your article.
  • No, we will not publish your article but if you do these two thousand things we might (also known as a revise and resubmit)

You get the idea (because this list could go on for days!).

So in the spirit of the season, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to deal with all the rejection and find ways to turn them around into more positive experiences.

For example, I do get that not everyone is born with a thick skin and it’s hard—really hard—to separate and think of the rejection and no’s as something separate from you as a person. But the key to success and happiness is developing something of a thick skin and understanding that all the rejections are not about you the person (or sometimes even your ideas), but more about other things that you have little control over.

You cannot control budgets or funding so when you’re told no about those things that truly has nothing at all to do with you or your ideas. At that point you then have to make hard decisions about what is important to you and hwo much you are willing and able to pay out of pocket to participate in those events and more importantly, how much that actually may matter to your development as a scholar.

Another example, most grants—both internal and external—have funding rates in the single digits. Let me say that again: SINGLE DIGITS. Those are extraordinary odds. Thus, it more common to be not get funded so it may be helpful to approach those as pre-writing experiences for other projects (i.e., drafts of other manuscripts, drafts of future grants, opportunities to fine-tune your objectives and aims for different grant opportunities). Shifting your own mindset is a useful strategy for preparing for eventual outcomes.

Abstracts and proposals for conferences or special issues or edited collections are something of crap shoot. So many factors are at play when you submit those, and I would encourage you to think through why you’re submitting and what you’re submitting from the outset that way you’re minimizing any sort of rejection backlash.

One does not have to attend every conference. There is an expectation that you participate in the national conferences in the field, but senior faculty are also aware of the oddities of reviews. (But in technical and professional communication we have enough conferences that there is no way you can’t consistently participate in at least one of them. So you need to pick one or two and start to call it your own and become active. More on that in another post!)

As far as the impulse to submit to every call for a special issue or edited collection, there are many—and split opinions—on this. I fall into the camp that you should only submit a proposal if it’s an area that you’re already working in and that you have a background in. This way you have something more substantial to draw on and you increase your chances of acceptance because you can write a stronger proposal.

Finally, as far as articles (and books), the publishing process is difficult and not for the faint of heart. There’s no way around that. Does it need to be improved? Hell yes. But until the time comes that the field can address some of those more systemic and structural problems, I can only tell you that when you get reviews read them and then let them sit. They need to sit for as long as it takes for you to be able to come back to them with a disconnected eye, that is, the time when it’s not so personal. When you come back to them, try to separate out any tone and then re-write what you think is valuable that you can try and incorporate into the revision. (Keep a separate list of what you’re not going to change.) All criticisms make a manuscript better because they force you to see your work in different ways. The key is finding the space to see the work differently. And therein lies the rub. Asking others to help read and interpret comments is also useful, particularly when you’re being asked to read long lists of new material.

As someone who has been fortunate and honored to be asked to review quite a bit, I can assure you that when I write a review, I’m not writing my review to you. I’m trying real hard to engage with the ideas so that my comments can improve those. I get that it’s a fine line between the ideas and the person, but it is a whole lot easier to deal with the season of rejection if you come with strategies for separating the two.

Let me just close by paying it forward with some sage advice I was once given. (Thank you and much love to Paul Heilker!) He told me and I have repeated this many times:

Believe in yourself and believe in your work.

When you can do these two things, dealing with criticism and no’s and rejection becomes much easier. How you ask? Because when you believe in yourself you know that you have the ability to do good work and to be a good colleague and to be a good teacher. The rest just follows.


Why it’s hard for us to say no (and yes)

Posted 23 October 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

Previously, I posted about how to look at some of the decisions that you may be faced with, and weighing the ramifications of the yes or no on your overall career. It is always a helpful reminder to frame decisions by saying yes to those things that our institution rewards. The things you say yes to for your own personal satisfaction and reward need to follow from that.

In talking to lots of people about mentoring and the ways they make decisions, the one theme that keeps coming up time and time again is that you have to really get to know yourself and what you want out of this career and just as importantly, it’s helpful to start to parse through why it is that you feel you can’t say to no to say things. In other words, it’s no so much about learning to say “no,” but rather, learning more about ourselves in why we feel we can’t say no.

First and foremost, you have to know what you want out of this career, and I’ll be the first to admit that it changes and I will be the first to admit that sometimes answering that question is really hard. But you have to a sense of what it is you want. For example, I do not mind administration, but I would prefer to do small administration (e.g., running a program, running a center, managing a discrete project with a start and end date). I know without a doubt I will not do administration greater than this. I don’t want to (it’s too much like the project management I used to do so someone please remind me of this the second it ever comes up in conversation J) Also, I have learned that I enjoy—and am much better at—teaching certain kinds of courses as opposed to other kinds of courses. I also choose service opportunities in large part based on the decision matrix I posted previously.  This sort of self-awareness has really helped in guiding the decisions that I make.

Now, when I write it all down like that it looks so nice and clean and easy. I don’t want to lend false hope because it’s not easy or clean. It’s messy and hard trying to figure yourself out, and I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say that many of us gravitated to this job because of the flexibility and diversity of it—because we didn’t want to settle on something. (Yes, I do see how those things don’t necessarily go together!). But, I am encouraging you to give it some thought to figure out what you want.

The second part of this—why we feel we can’t say no—is just as complex. In this, too, I went to the collective mind to find out what some of the biggest reasons were that folks struggled with saying no. Here’s a list of what they told me with some initial thoughts about how to think through them.

Fear of missing out
I can pretty much say with certainty that any opportunity that presents itself will come around again. Every grant or fellowship will have another cycle; every research collaboration will still be there (albeit in maybe a different form); every partnership will still be available (if they were really interested and sincere); every …the list can go on and on. I understand what this feels like, and I get how there is the feeling in your head and your body (sometimes a true physiological reaction) about how X is the “perfect fit.” But if the timing isn’t right, it isn’t a perfect fit, and it’s important that you consider all the factors before you answer. Saying “yes” because you have the fear of missing out isn’t reason enough to say “yes.” In most cases, it’s reason enough to say “no.” The point is to try and recognize this part of the feeling and try to separate it out so this emotional reaction isn’t driving the decision.

Being seen uncooperative or not a team player or as selfish or not caring

We all want to fit into our respective departments/programs and be seen as someone that is a team player or someone that is advancing the common goals. Closely related to team player is the slightly different perspective where one wants to make sure that they aren’t being seen as being selfish or not caring. This latter view is more about how you see yourself in relation to your colleagues and their perception of you.

In each of these cases, we can sometimes over-compensate and feel as though we have to say “yes” to everything. Please don’t let this happen to you. You do not have to sit on every committee. You do not need to do everything a colleague asks. You do not have to volunteer to do the social things or the advising things or the department representative things or any of the other “one-off” or “it won’t take much time” tasks that are asked of you in hopes you are seen as the “team Player” and “caring about the department.” Because all of those things that “won’t take much time” actually do and every extra committee that you sit on (when you really don’t need to) means that something else in your life has to give. There are only 24 hours in the day.

Read your workload and tenure and promotion documents. Talk to trusted colleagues in your department. Think through what it is you want and then say yes and no based rather than these other things.

Feeling that you have to say yes

There are occasions we say “yes” to things—from teaching schedules that aren’t in our best interests to service roles to even research collaborations—because we feel that we have to based on some ill-defined perception or understanding that there is no other choice.

Typically, though, there is another choice. If you ever feel this way, please immediately stop and ask someone for her perspective. Feeling that you have no other choice is not a good place to be and if the decision is made hastily can in the words of Bartok (a character from a Disney movie), “nothing good can come of this!”

Overcompensating for (perceived) lack of __________

Sometimes we get to the point that we end saying “yes” to things to make up for what we perceive as our lack of [fill in the blank]. The internal logic goes that if you’re not producing in one way [let’s say research] then you need to make up for it in another or if you’re not sitting on as many committees as person X, then you need to add something else to make up for it.

Typically, this occurs when we’re not seeing our own work through an objective lens and/or we’re being too hard on ourselves. Over-production is definitely a problem and so is this notion that we have to be busy all the time. Both of these things can lead us to believing that we’re not doing enough. Try to be objective about your work and again, reach out to ask for trusted advice on the accepted levels in your department. Use your annual evaluations as a way to gauge where you can potentially cut back or to even out what you need to be doing. In other words, let the facts drive things rather than your perceptions.

Gendered roles

Several people that I talked to about these issues brought up gendered roles and more specifically those around being a parent. In this I feel the least qualified to comment.

But, I can say comfortably that all of these points play out differently and painfully when they are viewed and enacted through specific gender roles and how others perceive those gender roles. All of that plays into how many women make and feel they have to make decisions. One woman explained it to me that she felt she had to say “yes” to one particularly onerous committee because she could never make another committee’s meeting time because it conflicted when she picked her daughter up from school. I have no doubt this sort of situation plays out a lot. In this you have to find a local advocate that has navigated the situation to provide useful and helpful advice. If no such advocate exists, reach out to the network in #womeninTC to find those with similar experiences to get information and practices so that you can make informed decisions based on local situations.


Moving forward

Much like the previous post in thinking through how best to make decisions, this post is hopefully one that will help you think through some of the things that may be behind why you feel you have to make certain decisions.

And remember, too, that often it’s not about just saying no or yes. It could be about saying not right now or maybe later or ask so and so instead.

It’s about figuring out the HOW to answer requests and the when to answer them that is important.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or finding yourself saying “yes” more often than you think you should because of these or related issues, reach out to someone to talk it through. There are no easy answers to any of these. But in talking with others about their experiences and practices, hopefully, you can understand your own motivations better and develop strategies that work for you and your career.

So sorry this ran on for sooooo long. But, hopefully, it will give you some things to think about in terms of what may be behind some of your decision making.

Happy mid-terms and remember to be certain that you’re taking care of yourself!