The Way You Work: Revisited

Academic work requires so much solitary work and this makes it flexible and at times impossible. Work always beckons and the to do list can become burdensome. We are at the start of Summer term at the campus where I work, and it is the perfect time to think about how you can re-focus on the way you work. What works for you?
Right about now academics are thinking about the long list of things to accomplish during the Summer. Honestly, though, how do you work?

I find that I need some white noise when I am doing certain tasks and other tasks requires quiet or music at a low volume. At the day’s end when I am completely alone this is the time that I listen to music set high. I like to chunk out as many tasks as I can during these evenings alone at work. My job requires lots of meetings and this means that I have to catch up from the meetings. I am an early riser and tend to get lots completed before anyone else in my family wakes up.

I have blogged previously about the importance of having good work and life balance and boundaries. I know that this is extremely important, but the reality of work is that some months are more busy than others. I am also trying to think about the way I work and what keeps me organized and able to get things done. I love coffee and the entire process of making and savoring it. This ritual is part of my morning and reading the papers. I also realize that the caffeine is necessary most days.

I need desk time to plan and think, and I need to walk around and will find myself in walking meetings. <They are awesome!>  . I will talk into my phone and dictate notes from a meeting or send myself emails to update. I also use this time to clear my head and plan for the next meeting, task, or day. I need some alone time to organize my day. I use Todoist to organize my tasks and I have found this tool works well for me. While this is not a feminist rant, I was thinking about this quote and feel it fits.

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Friday Fun Facts

I am trying to get back on the Friday Fun Facts bike. My Fun Facts will be about conferencing.

  1. I started attending academic conferences when I was an undergrad. One of my mentors was supportive and shared that I  needed to get used to presenting  my work and the entire conference experience.
  2. My first terrible conference experience was at an APSA. I was a grad student and the discussant was unpleasant to the entire panel. I listened and learned and have taken my discussant role seriously. I am thoughtful and supportive.
  3. Once I earned my PhD, I always made sure that I took a grad student out to breakfast or dinner at a conference. And, I always introduce grad students to my network. I know what it is like to feel like an outsider in the at times clique-ish academic environment.
  4. If I see poor behavior by a discussant at a conference, I contact the conference organizers. I will not be a bystander to someone needlessly being an ass to people. See number 2. I will usually respond to the colleague who is not using a filter.
  5. I have multiple copies of my presentation and travel with my own dongles/connectors. I learned the hard way and have become very agile and ready to present my talk.
  6. I often invite a student or more junior colleague to present with me on a panel or round-table.

Hope these six, fast facts are useful. Share your conference facts! Sharing an image from Twitter. I love this mug.

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Whine Weds

I’ve seen the #wineWeds and #whineWed tags on Twitter and both have made me smile. Although I do prefer the sarcastic #whineWeds tag. Lately, I have followed the #wellnessWeds tag on Twitter and other social networking sites. I am trying to spend any extra time thinking about the positive and surrounding myself with people who really bring me joy. Yes, I have read Marie Kondo’s books and I have decluttered lots in my house, and other parts of my life. There is something truly liberating for me to be able to protect my time.

Recently I was at a regional conference in my home discipline and I took special care to protect to my schedule, and outside of conference commitments I was very careful with any extra time that I had. I brought along some work and I needed to take care of it. I read reports, and graded in the sun, and kept up with my email. I also attended fewer obligatory receptions, and I am fine with that. I was in charge of my time. I did get some networking in, but it’s not the feverish networking of someone who is looking for work and trying to make all the connections. I’ve been there.

I am hearing from vendors or other partners about the need for a conference call and the one to three day warning for the meetings is not enough. The emails that note ASAP are not a priority for me and my time. The people who I work with regularly and have access to me and my time do not need to flag the message as important. It is often the vendor or someone who has not planned their time well, who uses that flag or note.

I need to balance my work and it is getting easier for me to offer a polite no and suggest the call or meeting for next week or the week after. So, on this #wellnessWeds I lift up my coffee and say, “Protecting your time, protects you.” It is perfectly acceptable to say, No. No, I am not available. No, I will not engage with you. No, I will not respond to your passive aggressive email with a passive aggressive response. No. But, always say yes to Tacos.

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Dear Professor: My Parents are Lost at Sea and I Need an Extension

I have revised this post. Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about keeping it real. I give lots of advice on the Fri Fun facts and today it’s about not crafting elaborate stories in order to get an extension on work. During the last several school years I am seeing that the grandparents are safe and not dying at the high rates that they used to and this might be related to how clear my syllabus is about providing proof. And, the proof about a death in the family usually is from the service—the funeral home or church typically puts together a program for the service. This might seem like an onerous request, but I find that it has kept many grandparents safe! In the last three years, I have stopped asking for this and have met one on one with the student who needs an extension. I just do not have enough mental capacity to ask for the proof. I need to come from a place of trust, and take my student’s word.

I am giving some quick advice about due dates and managing your time. In case you’re wondering, I did get a student email about parents lost at sea. I contacted tthe Coast Guard. The student was embellishing and did not get an extension. Today, I likely would not contact the Coast Guard–who has the time? I offer some advice, though.

1. Manage your time well. In my courses the paper assignments are included in the syllabus, so from day one the students know what the assignments are and when they are due.

2. If you’re in over your head, make an appointment or come to your instructor’s office hours. I’ll be honest, I do think that I am more likely to be more flexible when a student “owns” their education and sense of overwhelm and talks to me face to face and asks for an extension. I do not always give the extension, but I think I am more apt to weigh the request differently than a last minute email.

3. Rely on resources around campus. At UVIC the library has an assignment calculator and students can type in the due date and a schedule is calculated that helps students organize their time. Attend class, go to tutorial, office hours, and schedule the time to conduct research and writing time.

4. Re-read points 1-3. I cannot emphasize how much guidance you will get from your professor if you ask for it. There is a reason why I had 8 hours of office hours this last week and that there was a line up–I care and I’m here to help. The only way that you’ll get guidance from your professor is if you talk to her/him.

With this—I ask that you finish your term on a high note and organize your time before the final exams begin. Good luck!

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with any of my current courses or students. It is merely the time of year when a post of this nature is appropriate. Again, this is not about my current class! You are rocking it.

Do Not Glorify Busy: Friends

This post is revised, but provides a timely reminder. Our lives are not about competing with one another about how busy we are. No one wins the busy olympics. Do not glorify busy. Do not proudly say, “I am triple booked.” One-upping does not make you more important. We are all busy.

My mantra for 2013 was: I will not glorify busy. This mantra deserves its own post, but I will speak to something more specific here. I continue to not glorify busy, since I know that everyone is busy and it’s relative to our lives. I will not make myself more busy than I need to and pass on social situations that I have to “phone in.”  This does not include work meetings or commitments, as that is different since I have to attend these meetings. I had a loved one in my family go through a major health crisis a few years ago and it was a wake-up call for better life balance and here I am thinking about things. I am better at taking time off. I have not perfected it, but I am getting better. One of the things that I am more cognizant of that is extremely important that I take care of myself. I am not talking about the basics: food and shelter. No, I’m referring to a more nuanced way of taking care of myself. If I have better balance in my life, my family benefits. If my family benefits, so do my friends, and then my co-workers and students. When my family was in crisis, I saw which friends were available and offered help and more importantly I also saw who I wanted to spend time with during my down time or me time.

I want to surround myself with people who are good friends. I want to spend time with people who are not vampires–you know the ones. You might refer to them as emotional vampires. Now, that I am trying to take better care of myself, I am more careful with my free time. Friendships are important and I am surrounded by some wonderful people in my life. But, I took stock during the last nine months and have forged some stronger friendships with some friends and have walked away from some other more shallow friendships. Surround yourself with people who have your back! This post is germane given that I am off to BlogHer and will surround myself with like-minded people. My hope it to make some new friends and finally meet some “old” ones in real life.

This post is reposted with a few things added. Overall, the sentiment is germane. Do not glorify busy. You will not get a gold medal or cookie for being busy. Take care of yourself!

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Fill the Right Cup: Revisit

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Ray Bradbury explained, “We are all cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” This metaphor works for me. And, I have taken care to surround myself with people who fill the cups, and not only take away from you. 

Which cups do you fill? Do you fill the cups of optimism, pragmatism, or pessimism? It is important to think about where you expend your mental energy. Thinking back to my grad school days there were moments when the pessimism cup was the cup that I filled and that was not a good thing, but those moments of overwhelm and impostor syndrome were intense. I have to thank my peer mentors and faculty mentors for helping me fill the other cups.

My networks helped me stay grounded during grad school. Sure, we had our moments when would complain about our workloads and our financial situations, but overall it was pretty fabulous to read, research, teach, and write for a living. My peer mentors were primarily from the cohorts ahead of me and to this day some of my closes friends are from my grad school days. I met both of my best-friends in grad school.

Related to this, peer mentors listened. The listening cup was overflowing and there are times when I miss that interaction–the ability to have long conversations. The cup that we need to keep filling is the listening cup. Listening is an important part of a supportive and honest network. As I am working with undergraduates through graduate students, I am thinking about the importance of them finding good peer networks. I am only one part of the puzzle and know that the rest of the puzzle must include peers.

I knew that at home I had support, and my friends and networks at work in the department and larger academic community helped me through my grad school days. Peer mentoring is invaluable and if your cohort does not feel supportive, seek out peers ahead of you for guidance or go outside of your department. This advice is appropriate for those of us years out of grad school, too. And, if you are years into your career remember to connect your students to other students and to other faculty. Expand your students’ networks–this is part of the mentoring or coaching process.

 Fill the cups! Confer, trust, connect, mentor, listen, and celebrate your success…and by all means surround yourself with your friends and family.

 

Leaning In

This post first ran on Inside Higher Education as part of the University of Venus blogs. I’m sharing it here on my blog.

I’m going to offer a few reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and this first one is going to be a sweeping overview of the entire book. There are specific chapters that I want to speak to as well, but first I’ll do a review of the book and the Lean In movement. In order to get access to the Lean In circles, er… movement, you have to join the site via Facebook, which is of no surprise given that Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. I say this in both an honest and tongue in cheek way, as I know that the Facebook metrics are working away analyzing users use of the Facebook platforms and various add ons.

The Lean In site offers anecdotes from different women who are members of Lean In and they each share their stories of times in their life when they leaned in. The members are mostly women and some men from different backgrounds (race, class, and work sector). What they share is an inspiring story about a learning experience or successful moment in their lives—either at work or in their personal lives. The anecdotes are concise. There are also videos that vary in time and some are quite lengthy (40 minutes long). I’ve enjoyed poring through the site and reading and watching the different stories. Some feel like testimonies and are quite personal, whereas others read like a motivational speech.

Getting back to the book, Sandberg is asking that women own their skills and success. Try to sit at the table; overcome the imposter syndrome. But, she also warns that we will have moments when we must work together and help others. This isn’t a book about selfishly helping yourself or being selfless. This book offers her personal story about when she had to lean out and focus on family or other issues in her life, or moments when she leaned in to get to the next stage in her career. She refers to statistics, feminism, and important stories as she shares her truth. She also acknowledges that some women (and men) will stay at home and do the important work of raising children, so she gives a nod to the parents who choose to stay at home and does refer to this opportunity as a privilege. I was glad to see this reference, as it is a privilege to stay home. Of course, some women are indigent and at home, but the opt out conversation is often lacking any discussion of class privilege or mention that women of color have been leaning in for years, if not decades and that their leaning in is complicated by racialized sexism.

On a side note, I’m really tired of the reviews and commentaries that are published by a commentator who has not opened the book. Not cool. And I am not keen with the haterade against the book based on the fact that Sandberg is a wealthy, Jewish woman. The review needs to say more than simply attacking the messenger. The book is not perfect, but Sandberg offers some great points that many of us need to hear again and again. I cannot represent all Latinas and know that I have class and heterosexual privilege, but I will say this: there are many takeaways from this book. It is important to believe in yourself, network, make smart decisions, invest in yourself, and help others. Mentor, coach, sponsor. Get mentored, sponsored, and coached. There is more to this book and so-called movement.

Now, I have heard lots of commentary about how this book does not help all women or is myopic in its view. These comments are interesting to me. No book will speak to everyone. This book and its message, though, might help some women realize that they deserve to be at the damn table. The book and its anecdotes might squelch feelings of impostor syndrome. The videos on the Lean In site might also make some women and men realize that they need to serve as a better mentor or coach to those around them. My suggestion to my current students or students who just graduated–Lean In.

Sharing is Caring: Social Media Gone Mad

I finished The Circle by Dave Eggers and had a varied reaction to it. It was part genius, mirror, and possible futurist examination. Attentions spoilers are ahead. The book opens with the protagonist, Mae, getting a dream job at a tech company that is Google, Facebook, and Cisco rolled into one. Soon Mae immerses herself in the culture of the Circle. She becomes an extremely productive employee of the Circle and embraces the cult-like philosophy of the company. Mae is an ambassador to the brand of the company. She comes to learn that above all everything must be shared. “Privacy is theft.” The book reads like many dystopian novels, but resonates with some familiarity given our plugged in society.

Some of us were outraged when we found out the depth of surveillance by arms of the government, yet at the same time many of us share intimate details of our lives on blogs, tweets, and status updates on social networking sites. Where is the happy medium? That medium ultimately is what we are comfortable with our particular digital footprints. However, Eggers gets on to something more insidious with the absolute need to share. Sharing is caring and consequently this also means that privacy is selfish. Transparency becomes the norm and this requires completely embracing the panoptican. Jeremy Bentham would be so proud or perhaps horrified. Would it be democratic, though, to make everyone vote? Mandatory voting does exist, but as of right now it is not facilitated by a social networking site.

Dave Eggers is on to something with the book, though. The want to share everything and also feel accountable to your community of watchers is problematic at times. Here, Mae’s thoughts reminds me of disordered eating and people who report their food intake on Mia and Ana sites. How would you act if you were constantly surveilled? The idea is that with an audience one would be on their best behavior–eat right, exercise, and say the right things. But, being on all the time is exhausting and some of Mae’s friends realize this.

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The book might give you pause as you think about your own connectedness. I know that I walked around campus more cognizant of needing to be unplugged.

 

Eggers, Dave. 2013, The Circle. NY: Vintage Books.

2014: Retrospect

I am thinking about the last year and I have more than a few takeaways; however, I want to focus on five. This year was filled with many highlights and I do not want to do the brag or the humble brag.

What was important to me:

1. My family. My family keeps me grounded. I love the texts from different family members: leave work. Where are you? Are you picking me up? This array keeps me focused while I am work and then focused on my time with them. They are also great at reminding me that I need to unplug.

2. Good health for me and my family. No need to explain more here.

3. Learning. This includes my own learning and others around me. I love teaching and each time I walk into the classroom I think about how lucky I am to get paid to think, read, grade, and write for a living.

4. Leadership. Here I am referring to my own leadership on campus, but also the crucial people who I am learning from thanks to their leadership and mentorship.

5. Listening. Listening is such an important skill to have and when I was an undergrad advisor a major part of that job was listening (and helping) students in my office. Leading a service unit on campus means that I must listen lots to the team and those around me.

I look forward to what the next school term holds. I know that my family will remind me to unplug and that I will continue to learn from those around me.

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How Do You Answer?

I have read Lean In and have blogged about it previously. At BlogHer13 I heard Sheryl Sandberg speak and got to meet her and take a quick photo. I also have read the updated book for college grads. And, I’m a lapsed member of the Lean In movement and circles (Education). At this year’s BlogHer14 in San Jose, California, I attended the Lean In circle workshop.

I am looking at the great cards that Dr. Carole Robin did with Lean In. I saw the question, smiled and immediately pictured a few things: my loveys and coffee. I was chagrined that I saw his face, and my two daughters’ faces, then pictured coffee. The question is not as simple as it looks. What brings out the best in you?

My immediate answer was personal. My family and my home brings out my best. When I think of extending that circle some, I can answer that question with my family of origin, my good friends, colleagues, the warm sun on my skin, my students, a great meal, and a strong Dark and Stormy. There are different nuances to the question and answer that you might give.

When I am teaching, a great class can bring out my best. I try to give my A game to my students, but a strong group of students who like the material can make a big difference with the class. Likewise, when I sit on a committee and other are committed to the agenda and the execution of the final product, the committee work moves more smoothly.

My Loveys bring out my best. My friends bring out my best. My work brings out my best.

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