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.

Aragon Rant_Twitter

 

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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5 Facts About Me

1.  I am committed to lifelong learning. I regularly read books outside of my area of education and training to learn and grow.

2. Related to number one, I am reading an array of books, magazines, and articles. I never leave the house or my office without something to read.

3. I have an irrational fear of zombies. My family and friends tease me about this. This fear does not stop me from reading zombie lit and watch terrible zombie movies. <This also didn’t stop me from buying a shirt about zombies liking us for our brains.>

4. My family centers me. Sitting around the dinner table or talking with them takes me to my happy place. As my kids get bigger I find that our conversations about life offer insight into the people they are becoming.

5. I will never get tired of working with students. The other day I shared an enthusiastic high five with a student, when I verified that he was ready to declare his major. This was his moment and we shared it.

 

When Students are Petty

This is an old post, but worth sharing. As an academic, you must develop thick skin. We are constantly critiquing one another and praise is not common. However, I try to rectify this with sending note cards via campus mail and positive emails to colleagues and people who work with and for me. Overall, at times people can be petty. This post speaks more so to some of my experiences with students.

Once again, I’m in the process of reviewing my annual Faculty Activity Report. For those of you not familiar with this process, once a year you meet with the department Chair and review your productivity. The array of information includes publications, service, and teaching. I just reviewed the teaching portion with my evaluation scores that the department is most concerned with for my review. My numbers have always been pretty good as a part-time worker and now as a full-time employee. However, I did notice a blip, if you will in one course from the Fall 2009. I had to think back and I recall two industrious people who were so kind to remind me, “We don’t care if you were in a car accident, keep your personal life out of the classroom.” Now, this isn’t a direct quote, but rather a paraphrase from two of the written evaluations. These same two lovely people also scored me with all 0’s. This was the first time ever in my academic career that I was scored with the lowest score.

In July of 2009, I was in a car accident and consequently to this day am still recovering from injuries sustained in the accident. This particular class was in the afternoon and afternoons in the Fall 2009 were hard for me. During the first week of classes, I explained to the class that I was going to stand at the podium more than usual. Usually I work the room–I walk around the room and am very animated. That term–not so much. The truth was that there were some days that I held on to the podium for fear that my left knee might just give out and I might collapse. On one other occasion, I was walking into the class and my knee did give out. I heard a few students gasp.  I was quite embarrassed and explained that this was part of my health issues and end of story. I never belabored my accident more than this.

I was frustrated when I read these two written comments. And, the 0’s factored into my overall score did influence the numbers for that particular course. What is really interesting for me is that per the university guidelines, I have to work with students and their learning disabilities, illnesses, and other registered issues. Students can register with the Resource Centre for Students with a Disability. Their learning plan might include more time with exams or more flexibility with due dates. But apparently for some students–I am not allowed to be human. I cannot mention twice that I am not as mobile around the classroom. I certainly hope that those two people look back at the class and think fondly of those two minutes when they chose to write a cruel comment and circle a series of 0’s.

The good news is that my evaluations were still at or above the department mean so this didn’t mean that I wasn’t eligible for a raise. However, I don’t think that some students realize how they can be cruel. I was more troubled with the statements than the 0’s. The 0’s are really an outlier for the statistical scores. I know that I take the written comments more seriously.

Updating that in 2012 when my partner had a serious illness the vast majority of my students were patient; however, a few were clear that my turnaround for graded work in 10-14 days was unacceptable. I wish them good luck in their lives. I am usually a super star and get graded work returned in 3-7 days. But, alas, my partner was in the hospital and I dropped the ball. <Note sarcasm>. Did I see a drop in my numbers for one class–yes I did. Were the qualitative comments interesting? Yes, the first year students applauded my availability knowing that I had a family crisis, while some of my students in an upper-division course complained about the turn around time for graded work. I had to smile. I cannot please them all and surprisingly the first year students were the most patient.

Continuing the Conversation About Leaning In

Many are still responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. People have both applauded and attacked the book and Sandberg. I was recently catching up on my magazines and read a review in the April issue of the Atlantic and came across Garance Franke-Ruta’s “Miss Education.” Franke-Ruta notes that women are doing a great job in seeking higher education. Women are leaning in at university, but once they leave they fall behind. In short, we do well at school, but when we get our first job we do not negotiate well. I do not really agree with all of her article. Franke-Ruta uses dating as a metaphor. She explains that women are waiting to be noticed or wooed and this is different for men, since they seek out the job and feel more comfortable negotiating their salaries. Many articles and books point out that women do not negotiate their salaries and benefits well or as well as their male counterparts.

What the author is getting at in an interesting if not problematic way is that women are socialized to not negotiate well and to not find work in the same way that men do. This might explain why some 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (28). What we might actually need is more leadership training for women, better mentoring programs in university, and in the workplace. Franke-Ruta is correct that education is not the panacea, but it is not just the formal education that is needed, but re-education of peoples’ expectations about women and men. We need better career education and mentoring all along the education and work pipeline. And, we need stop dismissing the career advice in Lean In and other books. They are targeting professional women and we need to embrace the message and not just attack the messenger. These books are clearly not for everyone–which career book is? I am including a screen shot from the article that assesses other similar books. Many thanks to the Franke-Ruta for her provocative review. You can see that these books share one major point: it’s important to ask for a raise.

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Patience Works Both Ways

There are easy terms and there are terms that make you earn a every penny. About three years ago I was in a car accident over the Summer and when the Fall term started I was quite aware that this would not be a normal term. I tried to work my schedule so that I could make a good impression on the job and meet the needs of my students. I was partially successful. And, this post offers me an opportunity to reflect on what I could have done better.

In most situations in life we do not get a change for a “do-over,” but it’s good to occasionally have the chance to think about the what if situation. Thinking about that Fall term I wish I had moved my afternoon class to earlier in the day, so that I would have had full use of my mind and body. That term was one of the toughest ever, as by about 4pm I was absolutely exhausted and could barely walk across campus. It was a rough. I was mildly embarrassed, but did announce to the class that I had a car accident and that I would not be my usual self. I stood by the podium must of the term and didn’t walk around and was not my usual peppy self. I found that most students were quite patient with me and I thank this for them. The morning class got the regular me, but the afternoon got the extremely tired, stiff version.

I have found that some students, though, have no patience for anything short of perfection from their instructor. And, this makes things interesting. You see, I have to accommodate students who are registered with the Resource Center for Students with a Disability, have notes from Health Services, are student athletes, and the like. And, I have no problem with flexibility, when it’s warranted. Some students are a little thick to understand that an instructor could have an illness or some other issue in their personal life. And, I learned that term to just roll with it and let it go. I also think that if I could go back I would have reminded the students more than once that I was struggling. I tried to act like things were fine. I’m not going to lie, though, the student evaluation that noted, “We don’t care if you were in a car accident–keep your personal life out of the classroom” really stung when I read it a few months later. I hope that person is never in a car accident or faces any physical hardship. This is really the only negative reaction that I recall.

My morning evaluation numbers were normal; however, the afternoon class numbers were slightly lower than the previous four times that I taught that class. Was the .7 difference because of my health? Maybe. What I do know is that term taxed my patience and I bet that some students felt the same way! My advice to other faculty–honesty. Let your students know if you are facing an unusual term. Most students will understand and offer you some compassion.

Catching my Breath: One Week Post-Breathe Now

It’s been more than a week and I am still processing the magic behind the Breathe Now ( #breatheyyj ) conference that I co-cordinated with Angela Rafuse-Tahir, Janice Mansfield, and Yukari Peerless. We wanted to organize a conference that we wanted to attend in Victoria. Between the four of us we have attended business women conferences, social media conference, academic conferences, BlogHer, Blissdom, and other work-related conferences. We wanted something completely different that spoke to women’s need to balance work and life and remembering to take time out for yourself and breathe.

The conference was a resounding success from head to toe. The energy was pulsating at the various panels and workshops that the 100 delegates attended. I saw lots of smiles, tears, and heads nodding during the presentations. A common theme throughout the weekend was that it’s important to have balance in our lives. Many women spoke to how imbalance led to different types of crises and the need to reflect and reboot life. I was pleasantly surprised to hear repeated speakers talk about how important therapy, exercise, sleep, eating right, and taking time out for oneself was crucial to mental health and overall physical well-being. When the conference ended, I got sentimental and felt a little sad that the weekend was ending, but so many great connections were made.

I’m thankful for all the emails, coffee dates, and tweets that I’ve read since the conference. I learned lots about myself, my friends, and the various speakers. Our choice of keynote speakers was perfect, too. Rona Maynard and Bif Naked both spoke their truths and offered the delegates a chance for important reflection. We all left the conference energized and ready for everything and anything. I look forward to chatting with my friends about Breathe Now 2013!