Monthly Archives: February 2013

“Work Smarter Not Harder”

Work Smarter Not Harder | New Faculty

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When I was in grad school, one of my committee members told me to “work smarter, not harder” on some things. Apparently, I was fluttering about like a wild chicken at the time. I took those words to heart and began to think about how I could “get it all done” and still maintain some sanity. I was not being wise with my time and quite frankly, I was stressing myself out more than anyone was putting pressure on me. I cried and broke down at least once per semester. I remember calling home in tears wailing more than once. My health suffered, I gained weight. Grad school taught me what being isolated was, even after finishing, it took about a year to begin to feel ‘normal’ again, like an integrated citizen.

I received an email from a graduate student a few weeks ago (and again today). Both were asking if the pace and emotional turmoil of grad school ever subsided. Sadly, the frenetic pace of it does not, but there were lots of things I would recommend, like working smarter, not harder. Carving out time, taking emotional and physical care of yourself, and finding people outside of your discipline that can climb on board “team _____” to be your support network.

The same rings true for new faculty. I spent the first portion of year one running around like a nut, but this time: I had things under control mentally and I had learned to go with the flow a bit better. It was still crazy for about four months before it did calm down in many ways. It was important for me to learn to cope. I had a support network, and I had a better feel for my identity as a researcher and scholar. There are still days when I’m a ‘hot mess’ and other days where nothing goes “right” and I’m back to square one, but I am learning how to manage, how to adjust, and how to stand my ground as a professional.

I follow Tony Schwartz and his piece that ran in the NYT resonated with me for many reasons.

“Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company.”

Today, I would consider my energy input for my job high and consistent. I DON’T work 16 hour days or FEEL like I have too. Quite frankly, I don’t think I could. Brain drain takes over within a few hours and I have to go do something else. I also know that I will ultimately have to go out to collect data, losing hours that I could be reading or writing, so I have to be smarter about how I work, where I work, and when I work.

Today, I am still a morning person. I do my best thinking during the morning hours. I capitalize on this and am up early going through a quick check of email, answering anything pressing, but then get to work on the ‘big thinking’ task(s) of the day. Working smarter, not harder has enabled me to fit it all in and a mid day work out many days of the week.

I was not managing my energy very well in grad school. It caused me to get crazy mentally and emotionally. I had break downs. I cried. I was a hot mess. The first few months I was on faculty were also crazy, more because of work than anything, but I found myself also struggling cognitively to make the jump from student to faculty. It did take time. I’m there now, but it was a journey. For any grad students reading this post, I promise you’ll feel like a colleague before too long!

“Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.”

I work really well for about an hour at a time and then it’s time to do something else for a few minutes. Working from home many days of the week, it can be something as simple as changing laundry over, putting dishes away, unloading the dishwasher, or some other mundane task. These tasks only take a few minutes but it’s just long enough to redirect my energy, clear my brain, and reboot my thinking.

There are some tasks that I can only do for an hour and then I become frustrated so this is a great way to maximize my thinking. I know that if I can do something for an hour, I can move on. There’s always times that I may not have the luxury, but I do try to plan ahead to make life easier when things do get busy.

“More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

I’ve started going to bed earlier, about 15 minutes. Not much earlier but it’s making a difference. I’ve started to consciously stop using technology before bed, and NOT going to the office. It drains me. I went yesterday for about four hours and could not wait to leave! I don’t know if it’s the environment or aura the place gives off, but I looked forward to heading to my afternoon meetings. Working from home allows me the ultimate in flexibility and I still work very well. I’ve started to spend Friday mornings at a coffee shop. I have no idea why I like it, but I do so I’ll keep doing it. Because I work from home, I also work out late morning/lunch time when my brain needs the boost.

As a new faculty or grad student, it’s imperative that we learn how to be more efficient to maintain our sanity and contribute positively to our longevity. Burn out is still very high and staying the course can be difficult, moreso today than other years due to increased stress in funding and other politics. By learning how to work smarter, not harder, I’m still maintaining productivity without sacrificing my sanity. There will always be times when things just get ahead of me or when things get super busy, but as long as I’m not on survival mode every day, I think I’m better off.

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Are You Still Working? Imbalance in Academia

Work Imbalance | New Faculty

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On no particular weeknight, I had come home from school and was answering the emails I’d received, downloading work stuff, and updating other work stuff. As the clock ticked towards 8 p.m. PIC said to me, “are you still working?”

I work odd hours. By choice. I knew this when I signed up. My “traditional” days are not “traditional” 3/5 days of the work week. I find myself working until 7 or 8 in the evening, which isn’t a big deal considering we grew up unloading hay in the summer until dark or when a calf was being born, you were often in the barn helping her. As an academic, we often find ourselves squeezing in time here and there, depending on our teaching schedules and personal schedules.

Working hours like this enables me to do my work until it’s done for the day. On the positive side, I don’t feel bad taking an hour or two during the day to work out or stay home and make a good meal at noon instead of the evening. These days don’t happen all of the time but they do happen regularly.

I don’t mind doing it. I know it’s part of my job. It’s what was expected. I have learned to embrace the imbalance of the normal clock because I enjoy what I do, it doesn’t feel like work (unless the weather is really crummy on the drive), and for the most part, I usually don’t mind doing it.

HBR ran a blog piece about the imbalance of work-life and that embracing it from time to time isn’t a bad thing. I don’t know if I agreed with all of the authors points, particularly the one about technology being incorporated into many facets of our lives (yes, there is a time to turn it off), but I did think hard about….

“people who have jobs, rather than careers, worry about work-life balance because they are unable to have fun at work. If you are lucky enough to have a career — as opposed to a job — then you should embrace the work-life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love. If you are always counting the number of hours you work (e.g., in a day, week, or month) you probably have a job rather than a career. Conversely, the more elusive the boundaries between your work and life, the more successful you probably are in both. A true career isn’t a 9-5 endeavor. If you are having fun working, you will almost certainly keep working. Your career success depends on eliminating the division between work and play. Who cares about work-life balance when you can have work-lifefusion?”

How I embrace the imbalance:

  • Magical words. I don’t count hours. Ever. I usually gauge how tired I am rather than if I punched a clock. 
  • I have fun at work (most of the time). I enjoy what I do. I have a great team to work with. I cannot say enough positive things about my employer or the people I get to interact with. 
  • I work with great students and teachers on active professional development, PD that takes place at each session, not necessarily at an eight hour PD day. I still get to see students learn, which is one of the most rewarding things in my life. 
  • Yes, I make money to pay bills. In fact, right now I’m the only one making a regular pay check in my house. Unfortunately, the government loves my single, no-child status and has gently reminded me of that after completing my taxes. 

As the semester gets serious and the pile of work, how are you embracing the imbalance that does happen. There will probably never be balance for very long, so when things fall in favor of work, how do you work to keep things in focus? How do you cope? As a new faculty, it can feel like you’re drowning most of the time, so what do you do when you need to come up for some air?

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Dear Arne Duncan, Let’s Talk

Dear Arne Duncan | New Faculty

Dear Arne Duncan,

I’m an educator. And I’m having a helluva time these days. I spent my years in the public sector of education. I pursued my terminal degree in the name of the student (trust me, i’m not getting rich, in fact, can we also talk about the student loan program too?), and I’m drowning. I’m not alone and I think it’s time for you and your colleagues in Washington to ante up and start listening. Another standardized test isn’t listening, it’s crap. I believe that every child can learn. I respect you, the President, and education, but I’m having a helluva time slapping on my smile every day. Let me elaborate:

I feel uncertain for a variety of reasons these days. I think my 30’s have me coming to terms with the fact that I am disposable. No, this is not a self-deprecating post at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As we look at the changes in the economy, the diminishing funding for higher education and education as a whole, and then pair that with the fact that many of my readers have invested their passion, their love, and their careers in educating students and investing in our youth, it’s hard not to feel disposable. This also adds onto the fact that our parents don’t teach their children to respect education and our public school teachers are coming under increasing pressure to “do it all” from educate to teach manners, respect, discipline, and in some cases–all out combat, to ‘do their jobs’ each day. It’s truly becoming exhausting for all of us.

To play my own devil’s advocate, perhaps we had become too comfortable. Perhaps a little stress is good. A little uncertainty keeps us on our toes and striving for greatness (if you will) in many cases. But lately, it’s gone past stress for productivity and seems more and more like we’re all first year teachers in “survival” mode every day. It’s not rewarding, it’s soul sucking. The “teachable moments” are becoming farther and fewer in between, and some of the joy has been sucked out. We don’t support education or its’ educators anymore. We don’t mentor young teachers, we give them more work, we give them more bubble sheets, we give them no respect. Higher ed is pushing for massive numbers of students but getting rid of faculty to teach, conduct research, and simply saying “teach more, advise more students, we’re building more dorms, and while you’re at it, get us a grant so we can take over half of it back in overhead.” I know they don’t say it like that, but they say it. My campus is pushing to add 10,000 more students over the next five years and they’re proud they’ve decreased the number of TT track faculty by 40% as a result. Adjuncts (who do the ultimate work) will fill those roles with no certain futures and will fly by the seat of their pants each semester based on enrollment. Don’t you want all faculty from TT to adjunct to worry about great teaching instead of the next grant, the next paycheck, or if they’ll get fired because their sections aren’t filled to capacity?

To sum it up: this is intolerable. We need an educated workforce to do the 21st century jobs but no one wants to pay or can afford to train them. Employers don’t have the manpower or infrastructure to train all of their own employees and they simply don’t want too. Universities are losing ground and funding quickly, competition for grants is increasing ten fold, and each election season brings more stress and anxiety as a result. Public education (pre-k-12) has become a massive sinkhole and our students, our children, our future–are paying the price. We have great teachers in those buildings but they are ruled by tests, SOL’s, and bubble sheets. They no longer teach, they test. They no longer inspire, they memorize. They no longer have passion, their retention is down from seven years to five years at most before our system burns them out and they look elsewhere for work. I’m one of those burn outs. I cared so much that I exhausted myself in five years. I sacrificed my marriage because of my passion and I paid the ultimate price. It was my choice, but the notion that I had to give every last drop I had did not just come from my innate sense of love for students, it came from my students’ parents, my administrators, and the standards that your office and my state government sent to my school.

I challenge you today, to start thinking about education in our country differently. You claim to see it every day. You say you have your hand on the pulse. You claim that job skills are important but there has been nothing done to educate our students on how to handle themselves professionally. Schools are giving out “top bubble sheet” awards.  Arne Duncan, if you ever read this post, call me, email me. Send me a fb message. Pull out your big data and let’s talk. I promise I can hang with the lingo. I do “big data” and I’ll tell you that the majority of our profession (including your office) doesn’t look at big data the way its’ meant to be read. Let’s talk students. I’ve taught the “rich kids” and the kids whose parents won’t buy their kid glasses because they’re too much money. Let’s talk workforce. Let’s talk CTE and the arts. I love them both. A child should be educated holistically to learn that each subject area compliments another and they’re not separate entities. Let’s stop racing to the top. It’s setting our kids and teachers up for failure. Education is not a race, it’s a marathon. You should know that. I know my colleagues and I do.

Let’s hang Arne. I’ll buy the coffee.

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The Busy Contest

The Busy Contest | New Faculty

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We are stuck in a contest over ‘who’s busier’ and it’s pretty annoying. Whenever someone asks how the workload is or what we’re doing, we’ve become programmed to respond with the ‘worst possible scenario’ and make it sound like chicken little (the sky is falling) and we just don’t have time for anything else in life. It is true: we’re all pretty busy people. Our days are filled with teaching, advising, meetings, and the half-hearted attempt to eat right, work out, and be home to see our loved ones for a few hours before passing out in exhaustion. I’m not going to stand here and say that you’re not busy or accuse you of over dramatizing your work schedule, but what I would like to do is have everyone take a look at their schedule and think about how “busy” we truly are.

What kind of busy is it? Busy work, tasks, to-do lists? Busy like writing chunks of an article, prepping or grading for a course? Or busy like endless meetings with students, colleagues, or research? If you’re an academic, the odds are, your busy-ness is coming from one of those three strands. Let’s keep it to the work related busy shall we?

Now, as you look at which strand consumes the most of your time, is it the strand you love or hate. I’ll put it right out there and say, writing is my least loved task. Somedays, I can rock it, other days…..little crickets jump across my screen. It’s truly an ebb and flow kind of thing. Unfortunately, my feelings of burden don’t always correlate with deadlines. I’ve already mentioned that bringing back the busy signal is a good idea, but I would be so bold this week to challenge you (and me) to start feeling like you’re less busy or burdened, and create some space to get in the zone to tackle those tasks. It makes me feel busy because I feel as though it’s a burden. I know, it’s part of my job, but it’s the least favorite part of my job. I have no problem teaching, advising, training, and meeting, but when I think about writing, I immediately go, “ugh.”

As I’ve worked through the last year or so, I’ve been working on figuring out how to feel less like I’m always too busy and less burdened by writing. NYT ran an article and one sentence made an excellent point:

“Some industries are so highly volatile that people need to be connected all the time, but most of us over exaggerate our own importance,” said Dalton Conley.

He’s right. Why was I burdening myself with the feeling that I HAD to be writing ALL of the time I wasn’t doing those other things? I was over exaggerating my need to write and it was stressing me out. There’s always times when it is truly stressful and necessary- end of semester, deadlines, and other times, but for the most part, the life of an academic is purely self-motivating and usually self-fulfilling if we manage our time correctly. There’s always a certain amount of stress in life, some is good (so I’ve heard), but by always feeling negatively busy and burdened by writing, I was killing my own productivity.

Here’s what I started doing:

  • I stopped writing for a week or two at a time.
  • I stopped reading up for things on purpose. If I saw something I might want for later, I began saving it to my zotero (citation) and the pdf to zotero or a dropbox folder. 
  • I stopped being productive on purpose when writing.

Hear me out, I know we can’t just ‘stop’ but I did take a pause to NOT write, to NOT keep reviewing articles, and to NOT keep badgering myself about it. Reverse psychology perhaps? I don’t know, but it actually worked. By being LESS productive in my writing (forced productive), that when I did sit down to actually write, pages came out in a matter of an hour or two at the local coffee house. Being less productive on purpose was good for me. By loosening my grip on productivity, it gave my brain some much needed space to clear out, reboot, and begin to look at what was truly valuable in terms of scholarship.

Jackson says, “At first, this may sound crazy; we’ve become so conditioned by the language of efficiency. But there are sectors of the economy where chasing productivity growth doesn’t make sense at all. Certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention. The caring professions are a good example: medicine, social work, education. Expanding our economies in these directions has all sorts of advantages.”

We’re in education, so why are we pushing for productivity? Tenure. I know. By taking a creative pause, I was able to evaluate what was going to work for me in my current position and how I could offer up the most value to the team I’m working with. I was hiding out at a starbucks a few weeks ago, which I do at least once a week now, and reviewed articles, drank coffee, and read through at least a half dozen articles for an upcoming submission. In four hours, I accomplished more in terms of writing (or working towards my next manuscript) than I had been able to do in months. I chose the space, I chose to NOT be in the office around social colleagues, I chose NOT to have my email on, but music/headphones instead, and it was quite productive.

Unplugging from writing, being more lenient with myself (b/c I can right now), and by saying “no” a few times helped me carve out the space I needed to be productive without feeling like it was a burden or ignoring it because I felt too busy. As a new faculty, I need to do this more often and urge you to begin to do the same.

  • Figure out what burdens you and makes you feel bogged down by busy-ness with all of the other negative feelings associated with it.
  • Put it away for a day or several if you can (mentally and physically). Hide the stack of grading on yourself if you must. 
  • Forgive and acknowledge the fact that you don’t like it. It’s ok. 
  • Allocate the time for it. Instead of feeling like I had to ‘fit in’ writing in every nook and cranny of my days, I started to block out chunks for it to really give it the time it needed, not a half hour here and there. 

There will always be times when I don’t have this luxury. There will always be things that make me feel too busy or burdened but I challenge you to stop competing with yourself or others in the “busy contest” and start giving yourself the time to do get a grasp on the parts of your academic career that you fret over. Whether it’s writing or meetings or simply slowing your productivity in order to spend time with loved ones, by carving out the space to focus, I hope it will help you as much as it’s helped me the last 4-6 months.

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