Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Axioms for a happier semester

Anastasia has a set of propostions for a new school year here and Natalie Houston over at Profhacker has another set (here).  I've already accumulated, or maybe I should say formulated, a few more:

  • Yes, you made a schedule, but stuff happens. Get used to it, get over it, and don't let it derail you from your larger purpose. It's the old trap that people describe with diets: "I ate one cookie, thus I'm doomed, and thus I might as well give up and eat a bunch more." If you stayed up late working, you can sleep in until 6 instead of getting up at 5. Cut yourself a little slack, but just not too much.
  • Be excited. Yes, you can resolve not to change your syllabus or assignments, but if you get a brainstorm for an awesome way to do something better, run with it as long as it doesn't derail everything. It's money, or an assignment, in the bank, and it'll pay off in the long run.   I stayed an extra hour at the office yesterday because I was writing up a new assignment (no extra grading, though!) and improving the old ones.  Not only is the new assignment going to improve something I already do, but it's going to enliven tomorrow's class, and, maybe equally important, make something I've taught before more exciting.  And next semester, I won't have to write this one up again; it'll be assignment gold in the bank.
  • Be visible.  I know there's a lot of advice out there about closing your door and working being the way to go, and sometimes you need to do that, but strike a balance. Believe me, people see through the whole "face time" charade if you're strategically showing up/sticking your head in when it suits you and ignoring colleagues and students the rest of the time.
  • On the other hand, playing "Where were you?" is a losing game.  You are never, ever going to be visible and available enough to satisfy everyone. Your students would like you to be there 24/7, especially the night before a test.  Your colleague who breezes in to teach a class once a week and doesn't see you at the exact minute that she expects to will decide that you're rarely around, your 4 days/30+ hours on campus that week notwithstanding. You can't win this game, so don't even try to play it and don't let it make you angry. 
  • Prioritize. Ask yourself, "How will this outcome be changed if I spend 4 hours on this task instead of two? Will it change at all? Will it be improved?" If the answer is no, think about how you're allotting time to it.  Any academic life and maybe life anywhere comes with more tasks than can possibly be completed and more demands than you can possibly satisfy. It's like eggs in a basket: you have to balance them so that they don't break, but some will inevitably break if you put in too many or don't pack them carefully.
  • Analyze the task: sometimes less is best.  This is part of prioritizing.  If an email asks you for X, do you then extrapolate from that that the sender wants you to answer Y and Z also, and to explain how they all work together?  And are you then disappointed that the sender responds only to what you said about X?  Don't make more work for yourself by second-guessing what you're being asked to do, especially if there's a discrete and limited task involved.


Contingent Cassandra said...

Good list! I like all of them, but especially the first and last.

undine said...

Thanks, Contingent Cassandra! I'm hoping that I actually follow them.