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.
This quote reminds me what a gift mindful listening is. I refer to being present and communicating. We are all so busy and giving the gift of our time is a real present. This is really about the gift of mindfulness when we are with others. Are you a good listener? Are you present when you are with your loved ones, friends, and co-workers? I remember one of my professors from my undergraduate days could never be bothered to actually look at me or near my direction during office hours. She was too busy doing her mail and putting together her next lecture. I never felt like I had her attention. I learned something from those visits to her office, though.I learned that I would never do this during my office hours. I am present.
I have my limits and know what times of day that I am best for better listening or office hours, for instance. It is important to know when you are productive for the work that you need to do. As much as I would love to have my office hours one day a week, like some of my friends, I just can’t do that. I need about an hour or hour and a half at tops to focus, listen, and help. Then, I need to take care of the paperwork from the meetings, and get to the next task. I feel that I can offer my full presence two to three designated times per week and then for appointments as needed another hour in the week. Now these are the sort of meetings where I am working with my undergrads. I’m not referring to meetings with my graduate students or colleagues.
I attend lots of meetings based on sitting on different committees and I have to say that it is easiest to be present with the focused or organized meetings and most of the university meetings have an organized agenda, which I really appreciate. When the Chair of the meeting leads effectively, the meeting is more successful. One colleague from the Law Faculty would also time the different points on the agenda. These organized meetings kept all of us present. I wish that I was able to follow suit with this tactic, but overall, I learned lots from her. She was present and made sure that we all were present at our meetings.
Thinking of friends and presence is important, too. I really need to feel like the friendship is mutual in order to be present and give my attention. I can recharge after a great coffee or lunch with a good friend and I hope that they feel the same way. And, of course, I try to be present at home with my family. How do you focus? How do you stay present? One easy tactic is to keep the technology at a minimum or to have technology breaks. I will do this with girlfriends, a social media break when we all spend 2-3 minutes checking in or we agree to no phones. My family keeps me on track: they ask me to unplug. How are you mindful?
If I could give students some advice this time of the term it would focus on the importance of time management. Sound time management should pervade all aspects of your life right now. Students are on a specific schedule with classes, tutorials, and paid work. You add to this the need to study more and time to think. Thinking time is time to strategize about assignments and writing.
It’s really hard to schedule writing time, as you might have the time window, but not be in the writing mood. Use that time to research, mind map or outline your paper. Then, when you are ready to write you will have a plan for the next step. I realize that it’s hard to “schedule” writing–trust me–I really do understand. One of my mentors told me to try to write a page everyday and this was excellent advice. For undergrads, I suggest that managing your time means that you set up time almost rigidly for studying and planning for the term.
As I have suggested before, use an assignment calculator. UVIC has a great one that I emphasize (I use this term and others might say recommend or nag) to students. It’s a great way of setting up mini-deadlines for the research process. Another important thing to do is to schedule down time, sleep, exercise, and eating properly. You can’t function at your best consistently if you’re not taking of yourself. I like to say that a major part of being a student is managing your time well and demonstrating that you can start and finish a project–this includes coursework. Please don’t be too surprised if your instructors aren’t too sympathetic when you ask for a deadline and note that you have other assignments due around the same time. We are well aware of this and will most likely note that students have had the due dates noted in the syllabus weeks or months in advance.
Managing time is something that everyone needs to do well. Teaching is a major part of my job, but I am also advising, sitting on various committees, chairing the Academic Women’s Caucus, sitting on Senate, and working on different professional organizations or boards. I use Outlook and appreciate its functionality to invite other Outlook users to book meetings. My point here is that my schedule is like a well-oiled machine. Try to do the same with your schedule–stay on top of it. Stay focused. Highlight due dates, go to class, read, and meet with your instructors.
Pink says, “We’ve had a shit day…” This is going to happen to all of us, but try to lessen it by managing your time better.