Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The days are long and the (summer) months are short

Summer is the season that non-bar prep ASPer's decide they are going to get caught up on everything. However, that is rarely the case. Although it can feel like eternity to be stuck in an office when the sun is shining and the beach is beckoning (especially for those of us in New England and the Midwest, where the sun only shines 5-6 months a year), the reality is that the summer flies by. UMass begins orientation next week. Classes start for all students in two weeks. My to-do list is still very long, and I have little time to finish everything that needs to get done. Despite the pit in my stomach when I look at my list, I know everything will get completed. Here are some tips for wrapping up the summer: 

1) Make a two-column list:

In the first column, lists everything that has a concrete due date. In the second column, list all the amorphous, ambitious projects that have no end-date. Start with the projects that have a concrete deadline that is coming up soon, things like a lesson plan for orientation, or finishing a syllabus. At the end of the day, take 20-30 minutes to analyze your date-less projects; are these projects that need to be done? Are these projects actually many mini-projects, that can be tackled by task, over time?

2) If you have big projects on your list, break them down into manageable components:

I read some great advice in an Inc. magazine article; whenever you have a major goal that you can't seem to reach, work backwards. Break down everything that needs to get done, then group the tasks into categories. When you check off a category, you will feel a special excitement--you can see that you are getting closer to your goal.

3) Minimize distractions:

Don't multi-task. You just get a lot of things half-completed, usually poorly. If you need to compulsively read the news (me) or compulsively check email (many people), try one of the free software programs that de-activates you from the internet for a period of time (see Freedom, http://macfreedom.com/). This article gives basic information on ten other programs that help you focus on one project at a time http://99u.com/articles/6969/10-online-tools-for-better-attention-focus.

4) Schedule your projects, and move meetings around to accommodate project completion (not the other way around):

There is an excellent TED talk that discusses why meetings are a waste of time (see here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html). Alas, I also find they are a necessary evil. But I find that when I put meetings first, and task-completion second, I never get anything accomplished, but I have acquired a new to-do list from all the meetings I've attended. When you really need to get things done, it's best to switch priorities. I schedule tasks into my calendar, and all meetings have to be scheduled around the tasks.

5) Schedule your email:

In nine years working in academia, if there is no constant refrain, it's that email is a massive time-suck. I've read a thousand different suggestions for minimizing that time-suck, from only reading email three time a day, to answering all emails immediately, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. None of these worked for me. However, I learned to stop using email as an excuse. I let people know when I will be answering emails immediately, and when they should expect a wait before they receive a response. What I have found is that people respond quite well when I let them know ahead of time that I am in a busy period and they may have to wait for a response. Students, who are known for becoming angry when professors don't respond to their emails immediately, have been amongst the most understanding when I have let them know they may need to wait for a response. Students become angry when they feel like they are being ignored. If you let them know what is on your plate, and promise them a response within a certain time-frame, 95% of them will be great about the delay. When I know I have to get things accomplished, I set an auto-reply on my email that tells people what I am doing and when they should expect to hear from me (usually within two weeks). I also add a message that lets them know who they should contact in case of emergency.

(RCF)

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