Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More thoughts on exhaustion

I read Amy's post on exhaustion, and I felt like someone was speaking to me. Then I read Amy's post on not having enough time, and I felt as if someone was answering my un-vocalized concern. Her posts inspired me to add to Amy's suggestions (which are all brilliant, by the way).

Like many of the students who make us want to pull our hair out, I am a "when I feel ready/when I'm in the mood" worker. I can't predict when that time will come, but I do need to match tasks to mood or I don't do them as well as they need to be done. I am disciplined enough so that everything that needs to get done gets accomplished. But emotional and mental energy play a large role in how I schedule my day and when I complete tasks. At this time of the year, my energy reserves are pretty low, and my stress level is pretty high. Scheduling tasks in a way that gives them the time they deserve without completely burning me out is critical to maintaining my own health.

  • If I know I have a day of busy work ahead of me, I come in an hour or so early and try to knock a couple of high-mental energy tasks off my list as soon as I walk in the door. I know I can't do more than one or two of these tasks at a time and I need to psych myself up to get them done. Because these types of tasks suck the mental energy out of me, I choose to do them on mornings when I know the rest of the day will be busy, but not difficult.
  • If I have a high-emotional energy task (such as an angry student) that I cannot choose to schedule when I feel most prepared, I find a close colleague who will give me a pep talk before the task. I am very lucky in that I have a number of wonderful colleagues I can turn to when I need someone to tell me that "this too shall pass" or that I just need to get through the meeting, and then we will go buy some chocolate.
  • Don't fear the mental health day if you need one. It's easy to think of all the things that need to get done and convince yourself that it's impossible to take a day to take care of yourself. But you are no good to the students if you are ready for a meltdown. Last week, after driving 2 hours to a regional campus, and getting stuck in more than 3 hours of traffic on my way home, I chose to take the next day off from work. Did I have 100 things that needed to get done? Yes. Would I have been effective? No. I was exhausted, frustrated (I hate driving), and I had pressing personal matters (doing my taxes) that were weighing on me. I got twice as much accomplished when I came back to work the following day because I took care of myself first.

Keep your head up. Even when you feel like putting your head on your desk would be really comforting, or when the exhaustion makes you want to cry. Remember that smiling, even if you don't feel like it, can improve your mood. And we are all in this together, in an exhausting, but wonderful, enriching field. (RCF)

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