Tag Archives: time management

Faculty Interrupted

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Hi there! Long time no write….I wish I had a better set of excuses but sadly, I don’t. I guess the quote is true, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I made plans and then life happened.

Let’s see…since four months ago…..

  • another semester
  • a few more grants
  • promotion (yay!)
  • development trip to West Africa
  • holiday (that I spent in West Africa)
  • new semester
  • new class
  • new opportunities
  • adapt and change

Opportunity has been knocking and I’ve been answering. Probably more than I should but I’ve been answering nonetheless. Some great things have happened, the highlight is the promotion. After a semester of negotiating and working with my department head, it finally happened right before the end of the semester. I was and am elated. Being promoted from a contingent research faculty to a more permanent faculty member has been a goal for two years. The biggest difference to me is that I don’t worry every day about being a contingent faculty member. The stability alone was worth every ounce of effort the past few years. While it was always part of the ‘master plan,’ it was certainly not a guarantee and I find myself with more time to worry about doing my job instead of if I’ll have a job. Big difference.

I said “yes” to another development trip and left the day after Christmas for West Africa, returning the day the new semester began. Nothing like the last minute. The work was similar and very different to my trip to Nepal last year. I was teaching agribusiness curriculum and capacity building to college faculty to expand their programming to a masters level program. The country was painfully beautiful in so many ways and the work was hard and easy all at the same time. These are not vacations, these are hard work. The conditions alone sometimes seem impossible to many westerners and adapting to the situations is key. I have to hand it to my squad stateside and abroad for this one. I said “yes” on a shorter time frame, was asked to produce more curriculum before I left, and cut the holiday short with my family and friends at home. They always have my back and take good care of me. I even had a “why didn’t you pay us to live in your house?” moment while gone and a friend took the wheel and helped me manage my business after an online payment fail. It takes a village to keep me on the straight and narrow for sure.

Returning the day the semester began was really great and really terrible all at the same time. Besides exhaustion, I felt behind the game for almost two weeks. I did everything I could before I left and while in country, but if there’s no current, no internet, and no water-you don’t get much else done in a day in the US (maybe the water isn’t a big deal to class prep, but the other two are more important).

So, here we are. Halfway through the spring term. I’m teaching a new course, developing another, working on my scholarship, my pubs, and it’s grant season for me. As my position evolves, so does my place of work. A new funding model, new classifications of faculty, and other changes keep us all on our toes and adapting.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

I’ll ry not to go four more months between posts. But I make zero promises ;~)

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I’ve Met Mr. Magoo

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I’ve been on the struggle bus with an undergrad researcher this fall. He’s been fighting me the whole way and needless to say, I hit my personal “full” line with him this week. Seven weeks of not taking instruction, fighting back with me every week, arguing with me about due dates and other trivial things, and finally….for the last three weeks, he’s refused to take any mentoring-all my words passed right through his head and exited as soon as they entered.

I’d been in touch with his academic advisor, who is a great advocate for all of his students and our dialogue had been productive.

  • I’m frustrated.
  • And I’m out of strategies.
  • So I admitted it to my student.

Part of being a mindful and self-aware faculty member is knowing when you’ve hit your limit. Your stomach tells you when it’s full. Your body tells you when it’s time for bed. My “stress bone” (wherever that is) was screaming pretty loudly at me and while I read the students latest attempt to convince me that I’m wrong and he’s right, I thought, “why am i fighting this so hard?”

There’s a few reasons: I am an educator, I love helping students, I believe anyone can be taught, and I’m aware of my imperfections so I try to remain unbiased.

But–in a society where we only want to blame one party but never look anywhere else, the students academic advisor shed some light on the whole situation for me that helped me finally pull the plug and have a ‘come to jesus’ with the student.

The advisor likened the student to mr. magoo. Not because he has poor vision, but because of his stubborn refusal to admit there’s a problem and that he is indeed part of it. College is a place to stretch, to practice, to self-regulate, and to be challenged. Learning how to fail is equally important and my message is clear: you’re failing but in order to correct it, you have to admit it to yourself first.

I’m stubborn, but I’m also exhausted and my stress bone was aching at the thought of trying to muddle through more of this students work with no real direction, no ownership of the problems behind it, and the continued notion that “it’s all of my fault” without accepting any responsibility.

I shared my concerns with the student, let him go for the week, and got an email “how can i be better?” In the meantime, I laid out a plan of achievable benchmarks, sent it to the advisor and student and said, “i need  break-i’m at a conference next week, see you in two weeks.” I can’t battle like that every week and I’m learning that I don’t have too. Instead of taking time to reflect, this student continues to miss the mark, insisting a meeting where he will defend himself to me because it must be my fault, will fix things.

I refused to meet with the student. I’m taking my two weeks and I told him why, “I’m taking a pregnant pause for both of us to regroup on this.” I want him to think through the benchmarks, I want him to meet with his advisor, and I want him to assume some responsibility over his education and his research. I need to do the same-think through my responsibilities to him and my other students, what I can offer, and what my upper limit is on the capacity for my time and resources. I’ve learned that the absence of anyone to fight with is a powerful tool.  On the outset, it sounds cold, but it’s for self-preservation at this point for me. I cannot reason with a student who will not take the reins of their life. Self-regulation, motivation, and self-awareness are all skills that should be kicking in and until this student assumes responsibility for those, I cannot help. I can coach, I can mentor, I can praise effort, but I cannot assume his share of the work.

 

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30 Minutes a Day

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Writing. Your best friend. The bane of your existence. The bread and butter of an academic. Seeing your name published is rewarding but mandatory if you want to play in the game, dance with the devil, whatever crappy figure of speech you’d like to insert.

After getting almost nothing from a grad student after a summer worth of payment, I had to tackle a manuscript and go it alone. (that issue is a ball of wax that i melted in a prior post) Filled with vitriol, caffeine, and fortitude, I opened the file and got reacquainted with my writing. I had set it aside to give the student ample time to write on it and had given myself the deadline of a trip to get the draft drafted and passed off. A month later and with sparse additions from said student, I ripped it open like a bandaid from my skin and took the nestea plunge.

Since no one eats an elephant in one sitting, I knew I wasn’t going to bang the rest of this out in one sitting either. I then consulted my calendar, said several curse words, and decided that the weekly email I get from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity was correct and that 30 minutes a day was a lot more manageable than the 83 hours it was going to take to get this one out into a journal’s hands. I’m no dummy at this point and I’m aware that I will not and cannot sit down and write on something for hours at a time.

Employing the 30 minutes a day has worked. REALLY WORKED. I’ve been able to do it the first few weeks of the semester almost every day with the exception of weekends and the weekend I dipped out early to go see my sister for my birthday. I can be taught and I do listen most of the time. Here’s what I’ve done, maybe it will work for you too:

  • picked the morning, morning works for me cognitively. if i can’t do it in the morning, i do it before i leave. it’s like my exit card.
  • closed the door or eliminated distractions. we’re a friendly group, but a closed door means “try not to disturb.”
  • left a printed copy of the manuscript on my desk, front and center to remind me
  • keep a log on my desk so i can track it, the reward is worth it of being able to write it down (screen shot below)
  • selected a piece to work on each day, a chunk, not the whole thing
  • weekly email check in’s with a virtual writing group

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I made my planner in a word doc, but it was after going to an Anthropologie store and seeing one that was put together neatly, coveting it, but not wanting to spend $18 on it. My colleague was with me as we were traveling for work, and she purchased one. I came home and made my own, printed and stapled together. It sits on my desk in a booklet, much like the one from Anthro, but not quite as pretty. It serves as an excellent reminder to write each day.

There are days when I do go over 30 minutes. But if my schedule is tight, I know I can spare 30 easily and will often leave a note in the printed out copy of the manuscript of where I want to pick up the next day.

Thirty minutes a day. I can do almost anything for that amount of time including writing. If your strategy isn’t working, maybe give it a try?

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Asking Questions to Manage Expectations

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Faculty life is all about managing expectations. That’s the mantra for today’s post.

I’ve learned to manage my own expectations for myself, but more importantly-for others as well. Keeping this in mind, I also ask a lot of questions when expectations go falling off the back of the wagon. My favorite thing to ask a naughty student when I taught grades 6-12 was, “why are you behaving this way?”

I need to employ this technique for bigger kids I teach and do research with too.

I work with a lot of grad students. They’re invaluable in the research process and I respect them the way I respect my colleagues. No matter what they do when they graduate, I try to give them a holistic education that will prepare them for faculty, industry, private sector, etc…so they’ll have a skill set that’s marketable and adaptable. I have students who say to me, “I want to write/publish with you” since they might want to work in higher education or think a publication or two will help their marketability. I will work with almost any student who wishes to get writing/publishing experience.

Learning how the student likes to work is one of the most important things I work on first. Do they need deadlines? Do they do the work and let me know they’re finished until I read it? Do they need to sit and process together or out loud? How much experience do they have under their belt? What’s their course and work load look like? What do their writing skills look like? What are my expectations from them? How much time do they have? How much time do I want? When is the deadline? What else is leaning on this project/work to go to the next step?

Questions. Always questioning from my end.

The trouble can begin when the expectations aren’t met on one end or the other. Even after all of the questions, the follow through is the key. Holding students and myself accountable is still the hardest part of managing those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a two-year old to write a sonnet, so when I expect a grad student to write a whole manuscript, I’m letting everyone down.

This has happened. I did not expect the grad student to write the whole thing. I gave it to them about 75-80% done and they still couldn’t get the pieces done I asked. They were paid to write and they mustered up two sentences during the duration of the project.

About halfway through I asked the questions again, “do you want to do this?” I gave them the out. “Do you need help? How can I help? Would you like to partner write it?” I gave them options. “Do you need a deadline instead? What’s a measurable one we both can commit too?” I tried the deadline since they weren’t working well autonomously.

In the end, my expectations were not met and I was left underwhelmed if I’m being nice. Grad students are here to learn, not only about the content and process but about themselves too. I’m here to learn. Sitting down with the student and discussing objectives, asking lots of questions, and holding everyone accountable is my game.

Managing expectations through questioning is a technique I’ve employed successfully and unsuccessfully for years. In the end, it’s the relationship with the student in the end. The relationship with me but their relationship to finishing or contributing to a project that matters just as much. Whether it’s a manuscript or something else, their proximity to buying into the work can make or break their process.

 

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Saying No to Sunday

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Summer isn’t that long for us nerds. Once you get through with conference travel (yes, fun but also work), service for on-campus events, and the sheer amount of administrivia that comes with the end of the FY, summer is boiled down pretty quickly. Summer is a great time for us to read, write, think, and have the time to actuall do both things without constant interruption. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been taking full advantage of the time to take care of several life tasks to keep my adulting game going strong, but I keep pretty regular hours during the summer too.

One habit I try hard to NOT engage with is working on the weekends in the summer. We had a large grant due recently and my writing team wasn’t planning ahead, leaving much of it until the last minute. The Friday before it was due, the PI said to me, “want to work on this on Sunday?”

“No. I don’t work on Sunday’s in the summer.”

I caught the guy off guard. He replied, “Oh!” pretty surprised and his face widened out at my response.

“It’s the one rule I try and give myself in the summer. I’ll be on the grid first thing Monday morning to finish this up.”

“Well, alright, good for you,” he rebounded.

Why bother telling you about this? Because BOUNDARIES. It’s the only thing I try to NOT do during the summer and here I stood, being asked to do it. Dang it! New faculty me three years ago would have been all, “ok, but just for a couple hours” but New faculty me in the present gave it a “hell no, I won’t go” as quickly as I could. Yes, I considered it, but then realized we had several days to get this together, not mere hours.

I enjoyed my Sunday-went paddle boarding and enjoyed my day in general.I was pretty proud of myself and quite content with what I did instead of running to campus. My friends/family were also properly happy for me-saying no is hard for me. Whether it’s because I’m a female, a minority, a young faculty member, or I just have a hard time saying no, follow my example, follow Nancy Reagan, and “just say no.”

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Steamrolling Into Summer

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source: I took this, that’s Henry!

I feel like I’ve barrel rolled right into summer. In case you’re wondering, it was a very clean barrel roll with no big rocks on the path. I don’t know how it happened but I thought I just got back from overseas…. A quick trip home helped my mental state but it added up and the driving alone was a pain in my ass (really, my lower back was screaming). A quick trip to the chiropractor straightened me right out (pun totally intended)!

Alas, graduation and the pomp and circumstance (pun intended again) that goes with it is in full force. Taking advantage of the time to not be on campus, I started to pretend an adult lives at my house who cleans things. The the ritualistic nature of stripping the covers off of the couch cushions, the shame and pride of vacuuming a semesters worth of crumbs out of the couch, and the nice smell that the febreze has when I deodorize the couch and love seat is my internal trigger that the seasons have changed and so has the semester.

There’s other things that trigger the changing of my academic seasons. Move out will and has taken full force, summer happy hour emails have been sent for standing invites with friends, and conference season kicks off in just over 48 hours. Why enjoy that first week of summer when you can get on a plane and hit up your first conference? Relaxing is for quitters…..

We don’t realize what a frenetic rush we put on ourselves as young faculty members. I had not been sleeping well since coming back from overseas and while I could only use the excuse of jet lag for so long, there were so many things to take care of. This coupled with taking a month off to go abroad, on top of whatever else I’ve been up to made sound sleep this elusive thing I chased. I even hung some Tibetan prayer flags over the bed hoping it would catch some good prayers and they’d turn into good dreams or good sleep. It took the internal ‘click’ of the semester for me to sleep like a log for the first time in weeks for a solid 8.5 hours before I stirred and heard Henry moving in his crate to let me know it was time to get up and play.

USDA grant season has slowed, I’ve got a NSF due next week, a NIH in June, and another one (can’t remember the acronym) in early August. I feel like I have one more but honestly, I can’t remember…My pubs for the calendar year are published-looking shiny and real and I am already scheming of what to push out for 2017. I have plans to push out two more this summer for hopeful publication next year. Gotta keep the wheels turning right?

I have blocked out my summer calendar now that summer projects have been decided on and blocked out travel. Two conferences, a week in CO, and then home to the farm. In between, I have plans to read, write, evaluate, work on grants that are currently funded, work with undergrad and grad students that have been hired, and heck-NOT work weekends, evenings, or before a normal time of day (normal is defined as “when the sun gets out of bed”).

All the pre-planning is letting me do one very important thing: it’s giving me permission to slow down. Blocking out the time gives me space to think, write, and read. I ordered 14 books the other day so I better have some time to read (and yes, they’re all for work). Slowing down in summer doesn’t mean productivity lags, it means I actually have time and give myself permission to do the things I can’t afford to do when there’s a room full of students, a pile of things to read, and researchers all staring at me for answers. The grant work alone I’ve neglected is enough to fill several weeks.

August will be here soon enough, but today, May whatever it is, I’m going to slow down. Downshift my internal engine, sleep through the night without interruption, and work through the massive pile of books that will be delivered when I get back from my conference. Now that the couch is clean and my house looks like a living, breathing human who doesn’t hoard a pile of shoes somewhere near the door lives here, I can steam roll right into summer.

 

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It Takes a Village, Spring Break Edition

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Greetings from Spring Break!

I’d like to say I was posting this from a beach, a couch, or an otherwise sunny location but here I am, in my favorite coffee shop where I got a big table since the students are all gone. Winning!

I’m grinding on my to-do list hard this week-why? Leaving for three weeks in a few days for work. This plan has not come together with a wave of a magic wand, nor was it an easy process. Traveling internationally to an under-developed country has been a process. Relying on others with more experience than I have and relinquishing control over the details was annoying at first, but is kind of nice now. A magic folder was FedEx’ed to me last week that contained everything I would need and more.

The logistics on a trip of this size and scope have been a team effort. From my department head, my colleagues, grad students on assistantship, to my current grant projects, to the students I’m teaching, to the ten undergrad researchers who look to me each week for guidance, to my friends taking care of my house and life, it’s not been an easy trip to put together. With so many moving parts, I have been forced to ask for lots of help from various people, groups, and the trickle down effect of my absence will affect more than I think.

Am I that important? NO. (check myself before i wreck myself moment)

It’s also USDA grant season and all of the due dates fall while I’m gone. Oops. Getting asked to collaborate on several grants has forced me to get organized and turn all of my materials in early.

There’s also the long list of supplies I was tasked with obtaining before I leave. Enough toiletries for three weeks,  surge protectors/converters, and one magical Amazon list after another have kept me in line. Borrowing a large suitcase and larger backpack for a 24 hour layover in Asia have had me on my toes.

I have to say: I’m lucky that I have a village willing to support me. From my mom sending me links, to my friends coming to water my plants, to my departments support, I would not have been able to do this without my team, my squad, my village. People forget what a gigantic effort this is and the 22 year olds I teach think it’s this glamorous thing we get to do. I have to remind them that it’s anything but glamorous at points and the work pace I’ve been keeping the last month has run me ragged. It’s one consequence I accepted when I said “yes” to the trip and I knew it would be hard to get it all together but I’m glad I’m doing it. I was so over tired the other night I put myself to bed early, turned down dinner plans most of the weekend, and kept myself in hiding knowing I would be terrible company. I couldn’t even muster the energy to hike a few miles, feeling sloppy due to lack of sleep, poor diet, and just general “blah” lately. I know, I know, “woe is me” but you have to know: getting on that plane to Hong Kong will be a sigh of relief because I’ll know that everything is done and if it’s not, it’s too late.

We cannot drop it all and get on the plane. As a young faculty member, we’ve got too many balls in the air to do that. I need to make sure my pubs are getting published while I’m gone, my grants are getting turned in, and my students and researchers are all on point. This takes a crap load of pre-planning, communicating, and a boat load of work on my end.  Yes, international travel is pretty awesome and I’m pretty fortunate for this opportunity, but this has not been one of those easy, breezy things to pull off. Hell, there’s still a few days until I leave and it could all come crashing down. I hope it won’t and it shouldn’t, but shit happens folks.

The number one thing I’ve had going for me: I’ve known about this for a few months and I’ve done nothing but COMMUNICATE that I was leaving. I’ve made no bones about it to anyone I’ve worked with. From our grant officer in the college to the students to the faculty I’m writing grants with, everyone knows I’m leaving and I won’t be available often while I’m gone. Not going to a first world country means I’m not going to have first world Internet access.

The sky will not fall chicken little, not at all. But my bat brain will be so much happier once I get the last few items checked off my list, shove a bunch of crap and three weeks of shampoo into a bag and settle in for the long leg of my flights: 16 hours…yeah, 16 hours. I’m pumped for that too!

 

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No “Guilt Machine,” No Work

No "Guilt Machine," No Work {New Faculty}

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The American holiday of Thanksgiving was last week. I took the whole week off. It was luxurious. I had made a giant list before I left town and then forgave myself in advance for not working. I also didn’t bring any laptop home, just my iPad and external keyboard. I like the set up, but it’s not quite as slick on some things and I was sure I wouldn’t have any huge emergencies come up.

In not working all week, I observed several things: I went hiking with the dogs every day. I went to the barn and helped my mom feed calves several times, I made breakfast for everyone each morning, and whatever else we were eating, I made Thanksgiving dinner, and I had very little worry about it. Maybe taking my laptop is my silent trigger. When it goes in the bag, it’s more than a computer, it’s a “guilt machine.”

My sister came home Wednesday night and she was working on the holiday and again on Friday. I didn’t envy her one bit. I know she had a lot of stuff to get done and the nature of her work is much different than mine. I can empathize with her but it made me very glad I was not in that boat. The situation could have been reversed if I’d had a grant due or some looming deadline, but thankfully I didn’t. I sent out an article the day before our break began and had my classes ready to roll for post-break. I’m sitting at a local coffee shop chugging (sipping daintily) a mocha, chowing down on a piece of something strudel-rific and have a few more grants to review for another project this afternoon. Leisurely time for once. When the students come back to begin tomorrow, I’ll be ready.

By not engaging with my Mac (AKA: the guilt machine), it allowed me to engage in other things that are much more important. Don’t get me wrong, I can play some games on my iPad and stalk social media with the best of them, but it was a purely psychological undoing. I’m going to keep trying to not bring my guilt machine with me when I know my odds at getting work done are slim but also understand I’ll need to tow it around sometimes too. It’s taken me four years to get some clarity and this was one week. I’ll consider this a “W” and keep moving forward to the end of the semester.

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The Writing is Never Done

A Lull in Writing? {New Faculty}

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I’ve had a lull in manuscripts lately. There’s a few reasons for that. Some are out to co-authors to write/edit/revise. I’m waiting for grad students to light fires under their keyboards and I’m also in the middle of reporting season for a few projects.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s writing happening  every day, but it’s not necessarily the manuscript type. Reporting on grants annually is equally important, getting my undergraduate researchers headed in the “right” direction has been important, but I noticed I went almost two weeks without a manuscript sitting in my files or inbox needing work. Two came in last week and I’ve already put a dent back in one, but the luxury of time gave me the opportunity to do other things:

  • catch up on grading
  • contribute to a new NSF proposal
  • read new articles and new books I’d purchased this fall that had been sitting in my pile
  • time to reflect on work, the direction I wanted to head
  • pick up new grant work

The time is not time wasted. Even though I wasn’t actively banging on the keyboard every day, it was nice to reflect, it was nice to read chunks of a book uninterrupted, and it was nice to have a smidge of time to contribute to new work that I want to do, but had not had time to previously look at.

The writing has trickled back in and will trickle back out. I’m mindful of several things:

  • writing for publication is important but so is writing for reporting in order to keep grants and/or get more.
  • writing for a grant proposal is very academic in nature, but the nice part about the collaborative nature of my last proposal was that I wasn’t tasked with all 15 pages, but about 5-7 per say.
  • not banging on a manuscript helped refresh my brain. When I picked one back up that had come back in, I was much more efficient and got through it. The  writing was distant enough where it was a little “foreign” in a sense, I had forgot about it some.

As we race toward the bottom of the semester and a break is near, it’s important for me to set myself up well for that break. I will take some time off from work in general but I want to be set up to return to work and get my boots back on the ground starting with day one. A conference proposal is due right away and I will make an effort to start that before I leave for the holiday.

Planing ahead, using a writing calendar, and making sure I’ve got the pre-work done will be key to hit the ground running post-holiday. The writing will never be done, but it’s nice to try and keep up with it.

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An Email-less Weekend

An Email-less Weekend {New Faculty}

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Something weird happened. Weird is a relative term, so let me rephrase. Something weird for me happened.

I didn’t receive a single student email this weekend.

Strange for me. Very strange….and then I remembered it was Halloween and that students had many other things to do besides email me. And I was very, very happy.

I was away on family vacation last week as well. Disney World and Universal Studio was AMAZING and a ton of fun, but it also didn’t leave much time for work, much less email. I knew I was going for months so I could set myself up well. I did read email during the waiting for rides and in lines, but really, there was very little work that took place. It was a cognitive break that was a nice change of pace and appreciated. I returned to work with lots of mental energy and graded 60 mid-terms to get the day started right. (Ok, I also finished the day grading too meaning I graded all day and my brain was in great shape, only my feet had averaged about 7-8 miles a day walking).

Email has turned us into these monsters that we cannot escape from. My love/hate relationship with email continues, along with my calendar, my writing habits, and my intake of carbs. I had not realized how UN-common weekend email was until I realized I had received ZERO from students this weekend. Murphy’s law states that as soon as I hit “publish” on this post, 12 will come in back-to-back, but it’s a good reminder that I don’t have to read them or respond to them immediately either.

As October is now a fleeting memory and the rush of the latter third of the semester falls with the rest of the leaves, it’s nice to remind myself that technology is great, but I need to engage less to get more done.

I wish you an email-less weekend too!

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