Tag Archives: burn out

Summer Habits Worth Keeping

Summer Habits {New Faculty}

It’s officially summer! Well, in my neck of the woods it is. Town has settled into what will be the norm, students are stressing over summer classes on Yik Yak, and there’s enough construction going on to build a whole new campus by Aug. 15th. I discussed my summer schedule last week but wanted to follow up with one more post about how to set up to be more successful over the summer. As I draft this post, it’s about 9:45 a.m. and I’m at the local coffee shop. Having just enjoyed a breakfast sandwich and currently listening to them staff vacuum out the roaster, I cannot help but think about how much I’m enjoying the ambiance of the white noise. (A shop vac is totally white noise and necessary for cleaning a roaster).

I need to have some schedule disruption to keep myself on my toes. Schedule disruption can come in the form of a change of scenery, a change of pace, or a change in the schedule as a whole. Changing up the schedule helps me in numerous ways:

  • I can plan my work and writing. I have a trip next week, guess what I’m doing this week? Getting ready to be out of the office. Having a deadline (or a trip) helps me get ahead by planning more efficiently.
  • I’m choosing different days to swim (or other activities) each week (yes, I realize those choices are limited), but since it’s summer, I can take a little bit longer of a leash and swim when I want or feel like it, not when my calendar dictates me to do so.
  • I head to a coffee shop or somewhere different at least one half day a week. I like certain places, but I also know I need to be disrupted a little bit too.

It sounds a bit silly, but I grew up on a schedule at school and with extra-curricular’s, but I also grew up on a working dairy farm where changing things up was the norm. If the hay was dry, you baled it; if it was going to rain, you made silage. If a cow was calving, you helped her, even if that meant it was the middle of milking time. Schedule disruption has worked for me because it keeps me on my toes cognitively. I was in a rut this spring and it was largely due to the same schedule every.single.day with no changes whatsoever. My life was over scheduled and I experienced burn out.

On the opposite side of the coin, I like the schedule too. I like writing group and having goals. I’ve already polished, edited, and submitted two manuscripts since classes ended. I’ve coded 2/3 of another data set and have begun piecing together that manuscript and while it’s in its’ infancy, the pages are coming together in my google doc. My goal is to submit that before summer sessions end. I’ve reached out to collaborators to get other projects polished and finished. I’ve set aside time for the tasks and also written in my calendar ‘VACATION’ to make sure I give myself a break. I’m taking an unprecedented amount of vacation this summer (for me) and am looking forward to it all.

As the summer settles in and the long days begin, remember to keep things fresh for yourself. Skip out an hour early to enjoy the day, head in an hour late to enjoy the pristine mornings, and do what works to keep your head in the writing game. Find your own happy-medium with all of it, remember that I’m just telling you what works for me. Being over scheduled killed me this spring, traveling for a month straight does the opposite in a different way. Since I live alone, I can always tell how much I travel based on how much garbage I make. May = 1 bag of garbage. My house is currently enjoying having someone in it for at least half of a month and I’m enjoying a nice 50/50 split between scheduled and unscheduled time.

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I Don’t Have an Eight Hour Workday

I Don't Have an Eight Hour Workday | New Faculty

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I can’t remember the last time I worked eight hours. I don’t think I can. Eight solid hours of productivity at least. My brain just won’t do it. And neither does yours. Hours of monotonous screen time isn’t natural & forcing yourself to think it is is foolish beyond measure.

Think hard. Challenge yourself. How long are you productive in spurts? How often do you break? Working fewer hours leads to efficiency for me. Are there still some long days? Of course. But rarely are they days of continual work. Breaks, food, meetings, trudging back across campus, those moments all add up.

Accepting I just can’t do long days has helped me be more efficient w my time and maximize my productivity the hours I do work. The Atlantic ran a nice article about the European way of life, taking 31 days off a year and doesn’t that sound glorious? Inside Higher Ed ran a nice post too about maximizing time, minimizing the “busy” game (which we all know I loathe). And then Fast Company came out with a great article about how much time our brains can sustain continual work: 52 min. (average). Validation?

“A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work.” Rather, “the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”

I try to stay on some type of schedule. I realize it’s easier because it’s just me right now in my life, but still, finding anything that resembles work life balance isn’t really a reality for me. I still check email at home and on weekends. I still do personal tasks at work. It’s a gentle push/pull kind of relationship that I’ll always be navigating, always be adjusting depending on my life and my work. I don’t have any notions of this stopping, technology has made us all more fluid in our work. I think the key is knowing when to say no, just like nancy reagan told us in the 80’s.

Grad school guilt left the building some time ago and I’ve tried to quit working on weekends in general. My idea of a good time isn’t working on a manuscript on Saturday. It happens from time-to-time, particularly when a deadline looms, but for the most part, organizing myself on Sunday evening sets me up to be more successful M-F. The idea of down time is luxurious and feels very guilty still, but I’m learning that if I don’t take a break and switch it up, I’m totally useless.

In the age of the “busy contest,” the only people in my life who get to pull that card are my parents who have an additional 150 cows and calves to feed, 500+ acres of land to look after, and the countless other tasks that come with it. They take their down time too. They vacation several times a year, have enough help (which is wonderful) so they can sleep in at least once a week, and are taking day trips to ease the pressure. Simply breaking up the routine can be refreshing as long as the cows are fed and the hay is harvested.

I know the semester is now in full swing and on days when I can, I’m giving myself the gift of going home, swimming laps in the campus pool, and enjoying some more reading when I can that isn’t related to work or research.

You can call me selfish, I’ll call it self care and self preservation. In order to thrive, I’m going to need some down time and so are you.

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Feeding My Soul Recap

Feeding the Faculty Soul | New Faculty

sunset off the Georgia Dome

June was a big month for me. I started the month with intentions to feed my burned out soul and lick my proverbial wounds:

  1. To feed my soul.
  2. To slow down.
  3. To take some time to take good care of my spirit.

Feeding the Faculty Soul | New Faculty

A patio set I was gifted. Before and After 🙂

The month has passed and several things have happened:

  • I’ve traveled.
  • I’ve read.
  • I did some things I wanted to do vs. what I felt like I should be doing.
  • I’ve finally got more than 5 hours of interrupted sleep (yes, i need to stop being so cheap & turn my AC on-more later)
  • I took it easy on myself. Skip a work out? it’s ok. Didn’t do something perfectly? the sun will rise again tomorrow.
  • I’ve meditated and sat still to not only observe the world around me, but listen to the voice inside of me.
  • I made a point to reconnect with people in my life who add to it positively: they challenge me, they love me, they push me to the greatness that I cannot see in myself and they enhance my life while being themselves.
  • I indulged myself with gifts that could not be bought at a store.
  • I acknowledged my feelings many times and found it to be freeing, cleansing, and not as scary as I’d been conditioned to believe.
  • I turned off my cable.
  • I turned on my inner voice. It was quiet at first but became louder with each passing day.
  • I facilitated a summer camp.
  • I continued to push my career while doing all of this.
  • I became more honest. I let my truth be known without doing harm or I stopped worrying and having so much anxiety about being truthful.

Feeding the Faculty Soul | New Faculty

Enjoying AC, a fluffy bed, a complimentary robe, & too much Bravo in the hotel….

I took an hour to just ‘be’ each day–or as close to an hour as I could carve out. I’m talking no working out, no technology, just silence with some reflection, reading on meditation, or other quiet type activities. I often sat out on the patio in the evenings reading and observing the people out with their dogs in the big green space.

June was a powerful month for me. I took the burn out I was experiencing and piggy backed it with the things I actually wanted to do vs. what I needed to do for survival.

I’m working on the sleep. In the interest of being the cheapest mo-fo possible, I didn’t turn on my AC at all in June–my electric bill was next to nothing, but I would find myself awake at 5 a.m. (which is fine but i hadn’t gone to bed until midnight) with the birds singing outside my open windows. First world problem??? YES! But, perhaps, it did finally force me to turn on my AC after my trip at night so I could sleep better. I began struggling with sleep months ago from stress and continue to work on getting my brain space quiet at bed time.

I lived alone for the month. It was just what I needed. I like to be around small groups of people and have introverted tendencies but the solitude was a needed respite from having a roommate. I planned for this intentionally and have a new person moving in. It gave me the freedom to be in my space, fill the space with positive energy, and reflect quietly. The pro’s and con’s of having a rent reducer. I will be glad to have someone around again, provided they are a positive energy in my life.

I didn’t push myself over the limit mentally. I traveled for work and instead of feeling like I had to be everywhere all the time, I stepped away from the conference for a day to see the sights with a friend from grad school. I quit trying to be everywhere all of the time. No one missed me–at the conference or at work. I was back in my hotel by 9 p.m. every night and usually in the big, fancy bed watching bad tv. I still ran a summer camp, did PD with adults, and presented my research all month, but didn’t kill myself chasing the imaginary pot of gold.

I leaned on friends. For things like watering my plants and picking up my UPS deliveries while I was gone. I made countless phone calls to my ‘real friends’ and discussed my trajectory as of late. I wrangled my true feelings instead of saying “everything is fine” because it wasn’t, I dealt with it and let people see my ‘messiness’ from time to time. Social media and our social conditioning tell us to only let people see the ‘perfect picture’ of our meal, but no one sees the mountain of dishes in the kitchen (if we’re speaking in analogies here).

I went into June pretty beat up. My soul was hurting, my shoulders were weary from carrying too much, and I needed to give myself a break. I’m happy to say that at the end of June, I feel 100 pounds lighter, my soul is happier, and while I wasn’t on vacation for the month, I found ways to give myself the peace it needed without letting anything suffer.

I think that as a new faculty, we all get burned out after a year or two and it forces us to truly ‘take stock’ in what we’re after. Learn from me: take good care of yourselves young faculty.

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Burned Out & Suffering

Burned out | New Faculty

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I didn’t take any time off during spring break. I’m paying the price. I took two days off a few weeks ago and it felt like a decadent, selfish act. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t enough and I’m sufferin’ big time. My project rolled right into a summer grant program two days after graduation and while pomp and circumstance was playing, I was prepping myself for a new batch of summer researchers to begin.

I’m staring at myself in the mirror and I can smell burnt toast. Yes folks, I believe the proper term here is: burn out. I pushed too hard this spring and while I’m being rewarded with a personal record number of publications this year so far (six), I couldn’t be more exhausted professionally. I feel the need to discuss work/life balance to myself, not you right now.

Instead of pushing through and ignoring my smoldering smell, I’ve decided to take it easy this week. The summer project started out slowly, training and reviewing articles with the new researchers and it was a nice reminder that my team could handle some more of the work. I took the hint, backed off, and have worked at a more leisurely pace ‘brain-wise’ and have carved out more time to finish a bit earlier and read a few books for enjoyment. You might not think it’s a big deal (super slackers unite), but to me, it is. I was brought up getting up, getting to work, and falling into bed. While it serves me well on the farm, it’s not serving my brain. She’s tired and droopy.  I saw an article about the natural process of burn out and it got me thinking: it’s ok for me to be exhausted and a bit crispy around the edges from the frenetic pace of my life and I need to start embracing it, listening to it, and being more proactive about it.

It also gives me a pregnant pause to re-visit my goals for myself this year:

be less generous with my time

I used to think it was a compliment when people would say how available I was, how easy it was to schedule with me, but I’m learning slowly that it’s my best and worst characteristic. I used to greet my students questions with, “how can i help you?” and my supervisors with, “what do you need?” and that is getting me into trouble. I give until I bleed. Perhaps not literally bleeding, although I’m clumsy, but I give until there’s nothing left. It’s a fine line….

I cannot keep up this pace. I’m at the ‘slow burn’ stage and if I keep this up, I’ll be as crispy as some bacon on a Saturday morning before too long. Does it mean I should quit, find a new direction, and move to a communal living camp in TX? No. But it does mean I need to stop ignoring it and ante up. Change up. Re-work what I’ve been doing. Find a new pattern that might work. I admit, I got into a bit of a professional lag this spring. I was downright Debbie Downer for a few weeks about it. Then, I began to think about why I was bored, why I was lagging, and I realized, it was my inability to challenge my brain. I needed a new challenge. I needed to confront what was in front of me as a professional academic and start assessing my direction and where I wanted to steer it. I let it get ‘boring’ and I let my brain get ‘bored’ and since it’s merely a state of mind, I had the control to change it.

As June begins to melt us like popsicles on the Fourth of July, I urge you to embrace some burn out in your life. Don’t ignore it. Instead, embrace it and use it as time to evaluate why you’re burned out and where you can afford to tame your life down to keep the crispiness of burn out at bay.

What advice would you give to a young faculty member to help them avoid burn out? How would you help them cope with burn out?

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RUDE! How the Presidential Debate Affects Everyone

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Have you seen Mad TV?  Remember Bon Qui Qui?  She’s a bit rough around the edges, but she does make a good point.  When she screams “RUDE” and puts her hand up, the person who is acting at the burger joint if caught off guard for many reasons. As I watched those damn debates, all I wanted to do was jump into the stage where Obama and Romney were and slap their hands every time they were rude and scream in my best Bon Qui Qui voice, “RUDE.” Forget the comments about Big Bird, just the rudeness of both men. Perhaps a slap on the wrist wouldn’t have been effective, I would have paid a 3 year old with a gong to just continually bang on it when the men were being rude. That might be loud enough to shut them up. I actually quit listening to the content (it started to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher “wwaaahhhh, wahh, wah, wah, wah”) but instead starting focusing on how many times they insisted on being rude.

Why is it bothering me?  Because people watch this and then think, “this is how I should be behaving.”  It’s no secret that education as a whole gets less and less respect. Teachers are exhausted because of increasing standardized demands, having to basically raise their students in many cases, and continued battles with things that shouldn’t even be on the table like etiquette.  Higher education is no different anymore.  I overheard a grad student say he was becoming a college professor so no parents would bother him and I did LOL at him (oops) and then share with him the semesters that I had parents emailing me and calling my office phone because their son/daughter had not received an A in my class. What the what??? What happened to manners in general? Where did they go? Classroom civility has become an issue at the undergraduate level as students see others model bad behavior, they come to class with their ‘guns blazin’ and have no problems being disruptive, rude, and extremely confrontational on purpose.  While debate is healthy, getting in a peers or a professors face for a 9 a.m. class is not.

I had a conversation with PIC about the debates a few nights later and he commented that of all the news outlets he looked at (he’s a bit of a news junkie), not a single one mentioned the fact that both candidates were extremely rude to each other and to the moderator.  They were not respectful of one another or anyone they might be speaking too. Don’t get me started on content, I’ll get on a far-away tangent. People were critical of Jim Leherer as the moderator and while he might have done a better job commanding the two men, the bottom line was that neither of the candidates gave a s*^t about respecting Leherer. No one cared about the respect or lack thereof that the two candidates exhibited.  In the world we live in today, it seems the loudest mouth gets the crumbs and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when will being a polite or introverted person come back in style?  I, for one, can’t wait and it can’t come soon enough.

Education continues to face major put downs-not from lobbying groups, decreases in funding, or by bad press, but from PARENTS–perhaps the group that should be the biggest advocate for education of all kinds.  Instead of crapping all over your kids teacher or professor, sometimes it’s best to say nothing until you get the facts.  I don’t think parents do it on purpose all of the time, but I do recall that some of my hardest working students were the ones whose parents took two minutes to invest in their kids education. These were the parents who sent emails to check in, not attack. These were the parents who came to parent night just to be informed. These were the parents who volunteered to help, not scorn. Their only agenda was for their child and creating a positive educational environment, not sneaking around to dig up dirty dirt and then freak out every faculty in the building.

This trickle down even exists in higher ed.  Outside my office window I heard students discussing a professor they didn’t like and one said to the other, “if I don’t get the grade I want, I’ll just keep emailing and arguing with him (the professor) in class until he just changes it.” Hey you little brat, why don’t you try EARNING the grade you want first, then the argument will be null and void?  But that’s not how these young people think.  True learning and grades are often not directly correlated and today’s generation is having a tough time with that. They only see winning as the outcome. They LEARNED this behavior from somewhere though and odds are, it was their parents or from parents in their former peer group. This saddens and frustrates me to no end.

As a former public school teacher, I burned myself out and the rudeness of my students and parents was one of the contributing factors.  I had a student who announced to me on the first day of school that on December 13th he would no longer be in school.  He was dropping out.  Every person in his family dropped out of high school and he would be doing the same.  He was so PROUD to be quitting school and quite frankly, he made my life a daily hell when he did come to school until December because of his rudeness, lack of any kind of human respect, and because he knew his days were numbered and neither parent gave a shit, so why should he? A few years later, his younger brother graduated against amazing odds and not one of his parents attended his graduation. Out of four siblings in that family, he was the only one to earn his high school diploma and his parents couldn’t be bothered to attend.  Even if education wasn’t their priority in life, shouldn’t they support their son (first and foremost) and then support the institution that was working with him to get him to graduation day?  No, instead they emotionally beat their kids into thinking that education was worthless and the child that wanted to succeed, they shunned from their family. I’m sure they have good reasons but there is no excuse for allowing anyone to be as rude and disrespectful as that young man in my class was.  That goes into human decency and it is unacceptable.

I would insist that the two candidates clean up their acts for the next debate. If nothing else, stop being so damn rude. To each other, to the moderator, and to our country. Basic principles are still important and it’s important that as a first world country, as role models, and as decent human beings, they go back to the basic rules their moms and dads taught them. You don’t have to be a privileged child or a poor child to know that common etiquette is important and this ‘show’ we’ve been giving all of the other countries of the world is making us look like jerks.

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