Thursday, May 19, 2016

Projecting power, gender edition

How do you project power--not arrogance, but power--through your speech and body language?

We've all seen the advice telling us not to say "sorry" or "just" in emails, and I did quit using these so much once I realized how much they tended to diminish the message. It's one thing to be polite, but when you use those words without a reason (i.e., reflexively, not if you've screwed up), you're putting yourself in a submissive position for no particular reason.

For example, if you've been charged with collecting a specific type of information, you can be polite but there's no need to couch your request in the form of some kind of huge personal favor.  You know the kind of message--and I've written plenty of them: "Sorry to bother you, and I know you're really, really busy, but could you just take a minute to fill this out for me?  I'd really appreciate it. Thanks so very, very much!" The studies say that this is a gendered thing (guilty as charged), so stopping the excesses of this kind of language is a start.

There's another way that we project power or fail to do so.  An example: I'm on campus today, and there's a big whoop-de-do type of meeting--Regents or something--happening as well as some other campus activities.  As I was going down the main staircase in one of the buildings, I passed by a woman who stared long and hard at me when I passed.  I did not have spinach on my teeth or a tinfoil hat on, so there was no reason for that.

Now, as a young female person in the world, many years ago, I had somehow internalized that the proper response to a stare like that was to drop your head and smile.  It was respectful, and somehow friendly, and, more to the point, it was just what you did.  What I realize now is that it's a posture of submission and that the dominant person in the exchange person will probably not do the same, though a person of roughly the same age/gender/status probably will.

But then I realized many years ago that the moms at the gym, the ones who worked the Stairmasters as though they were training for the Iditarod and bragged incessantly about their kids, always gave the cold hard stare. I learned to give the cold hard stare back, and boy, did it feel good.

Back to the staircase.  Instead of the "drop head, lower eyes, and smile," did I give the long, hard stare back?  Yes. Yes, I did.  Was it because I was saying to her "I'm a full professor at Northern Clime and you can back way, way the --- off before you give me that stare?"

Not exactly. What I was saying is "I'm a grown person in the world, and if you want to stare at me, I'll stare right back. The end."

This is the message we need to be sending. You can be polite, but when it comes to taking up space as a human being, you will meet people with the respect that they mete out to you.

And you won't. back. down.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Productivity post: Time is on your side (yes, it is)

Two recent articles are making me think about how we conceptualize time as academics.

The first is Laura Vanderkam's "The Busy Person's Lies" in the New York Times. I knew her name from discussions over at nicoleandmaggie's place. Although I'm not a True Believer (because what she & Sheryl Sandberg seem to attribute to savvy management I see as having money enough to throw at problems), the information Vanderkam provides about where her time actually went is interesting.

Vanderkam's point is that we exaggerate the misery or the things we hate to do and that there's a lot of time wasted that we don't count. We don't work as long and as hard as we think we do, she says. Her estimates seem pretty reasonable except that she says she spends only 3 minutes a day logging her time every half hour, which seems very low.

According to Vanderkam, logging one's time leads to a feeling of abundance and gratitude as women realize that they aren't as busy as they think they are, #blessed.  Her honesty in this article, or what appears to be honesty, goes a long way toward supporting this point and toward giving me more respect for her ideas than I have had previously.

Still, not all hours of the day can be productive, or maybe "productive" in the way that can be quantified.  A recent article on time-logging mentioned that, for example, waiting by the side of a road when your car breaks down gets logged as "leisure," but it's not exactly a day at the beach.

Another example: Full-time care of young children is rewarding but also exhausting in ways that no productivity charts can measure, something Vanderkam may not realize because she has a nanny. If you go to a computer after a day with a 2 1/2 year old, you might just stare at it, too tired to move, let alone think.

And although I log some kinds of time (the writing spreadsheet and a to-do list system that's similar to some of the ones at Profhacker), I suspect that logging time every half hour would lead to a feeling more like #killmenow than #blessed.

The second is an article at IHE about The Slow Professor by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber. It's clear that they're women after my own heart or entirely right (same thing). A few snippets (quoted from the article but broken up because who doesn't love a listicle?):

  1. [T]he discussion focuses on the links between time, commitments and personal stress, and emphasizes trying to achieve a sense of “flow” or “timelessness,” which presents as creativity (and productivity). How to get into the flow? Avoid or eliminate to the extent possible environmental factors that interfere with creativity, the book says. Protect “a time and a place for timeless time” and continually remind yourself “that this is not self-indulgent but rather crucial to intellectual work.”
  2. Slow Professor proposes getting off-line as much as possible and doing less by thinking of scheduling as eliminating commitment’s from one’s day, not taking them on. 
  3. Perhaps most importantly, it proposes leaving room in one’s schedule for regular “timeless time,” starting with some kind of relaxing, transitional ritual. Incorporate playfulness and shun those negative self-thoughts. And don’t forget leaving time to do nothing at all, the book says.
Maybe writing books based on some kinds of popular data (time management) only requires the 5-minute snippets that Vanderkam doesn't want us to waste. It's a convection oven for when regular heat just isn't fast enough, and it makes a palatable product.

The kind of books and articles that most academics write, though, can only be done with reflection and time not only for the "flow" experience but for knitting connections together in the brain. It's slowcoach writing  or maybe slow cooker writing, since the ideas have to simmer to break down the tough membranes of resistance between the ideas to bring out the flavor of the new and strange.