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.

Prioritize

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).

Re-evaluate

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.

 

 

Resilience

4 February 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

Horizontal side view of a lonely yellow flower growing on dried cracked soil

The topics or inspirations for blog posts are typically something that has come up in conversations with people in the #womeninTC community or that have come up in discussions across higher education. This blog is no different.

One of the greatest benefits of this job is the flexibility it affords., That flexibility plays out in a number of ways such as our day-to-day schedules, topics of research, diversity of classes, and the ability to choose where we put our time. Absolutely, we all have documents that guide our work lives to an extent i.e., workload policies, annual reviews, and reappointment, tenure and promotion guidelines. The ongoing challenge is figuring out how to make the decisions to make that flexibility work in the most beneficial way for you in both career and life.

All this flexibility comes at a cost, however, as we’re challenged to maintain a balance in our life because it’s so easy to use that flexibility to work all the time. I have been a vocal advocate about the need to move away from what I have started to consistently refer to as the cult of overproduction. I have had several tweet threads over the last month or so that laments the pervasive and destructive nature of over work, particularly on graduate students and early career faculty.

  • There is something wrong with a culture that seems to from the early days of graduate school start to program (for lack of a better word) young scholars that the only way to survive is to work all the time.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people don’t get the irony of announcing how terrible the culture is and we should do something at the same moment they announce of yet another all the projects they need to finish.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where for some reasons our early career faculty feel that they can’t pick and choose their own destiny when in fact they can.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where doing good, slow research is overshadowed by doing more work for the sake of (over) production.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people (especially graduate students) think they need to go to every conference with no rationale for it except they believe it’s an expectation (but it is not).
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people feel no matter how hard they work it still does not feel like enough?

I could go on with so many more examples*, but the point is where have we gone wrong in training and mentorship and professional development? How do we shift the tide away from lore-based decisions or emotion-based decisions that aren’t’ grounded in actual practice? How do we realistically show how expectations for the job can match the requirements for the job? How do we help each other understand how to make better decisions around finding a balance in their lives? How do we make the norm not overwork?

I have thought a lot about these questions and trying to determine ways to address some of them. That’s one of the reason #womeninTC was started. Since some of these issues cut across academic job titles, and they definitely cut across all institutional types. This means having these conversations are important for all of us. These are big, hard questions and ones with no easy  immediate answers. But they are questions we need to start trying to ask and answer because the amount of stress, exhaustion, and fear associated with this job needs to be tempered with more realistic expectations that result in less stress, exhaustion, and fear.

As Colleen Derkatch** recently pointed out on Twitter, there is something fundamentally wrong when institutions market and encourage faculty to attend resilience workshops all the while touting and encouraging all the behaviors that lead to the need for resilience.

I’m all about being resilient. It’s a great word. There’s a lot to be said for building up a toughness to get through the day-to-day realities of life. But what we as a field need to focus on is how to invoke resilience in less toxic, work driven ways. We need to celebrate and perform resilience in different ways. We need to encourage and praise our collective resilience when we

  • stand our ground based on decisions that benefit our physical and mental health
  • choose to say no more to overwork
  • make strategic decisions to protect our time that has direct benefits in balancing our lives
  • support one another when hard decisions are necessary
  • find ways to shift our institutional cultures ever so slightly that benefit the most vulnerable among us
  • push back against policies by drafting new ones that encourage a healthy work outlook

But the thing about resilience is we need to use it and our ability to be resilient to our advantage. What about a resilience that helps us get back up when we’ve knocked down not to just do the same thing again, but to thoughtfully and carefully consider what factors led to the need for resilience in that moment. Figuring out what the difficulty was that forced us to recover is the first step to changing institutional cultures, and those are steps we can take individually and collectively. Let’s use our resilience to change the system.

Wishing you peace, joy, and health!


*This is in no way a criticism of anyone and the decisions they make. I get why most decisions are made. I do this job too. But the overarching point is that so many people are suffering in big and small ways based in large part on a culture that needs changing.


**I want to thank Colleen and Aimee Morrison for helping me think through some of the ideas here and helping me articulate some of my ongoing concerns about the systems and cultures that are in part causing so many problems with people’s mental and physical well being. However, all ideas are my own.