Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trying Not to Go A.S.U. (a post with many strained metaphors)

A.S.U. It stands for "All Spun Up," and in my hands, it can be just as deadly. It's also a weakness of mine. Here is a fictional-but-might-as-well-be-real conversation:

COLLEAGUE: Hey! How's your summer going?

ME: Oh my god. So busy. There are all the things and I've only gotten half of them accomplished which I suppose is typical but this fall I've got This Many classes plus The Same Many independent studies plus Big Committee X and Y plus organizing the events and this is supposed to be my research semester and o my god ALL THE THINGS...

COLLEAGUE: [flees in terror, resolving never to speak to me again]

This is me. This is what I do. I say yes when I've resolved to say no, I panic, and then I talk myself into a greater panic.

So, I'm gonna take this like a twelve-stepper: one day at a time. One task at a time. Or maybe a marathon runner, who focuses on the next mile, rather than the whole 26.

This will be for my sanity. But it will also be for the sanity of the people I work with. I want to be a positive force in my work life. But I need to secure my own oxygen mask first.

And remember: the correct answer to "How is your summer going?" is "Not bad! [omit details that will send me into ASU territory and shift the topic] But I want to hear about you!" Cheezy, but it keeps me out of the bad place, right? 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Getting Stuff Done, Summer Edition: A Couple of Tips

(source: http://phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=2013)
A belated welcome to summer to everyone out there. And to all the academics, there's this:



Yes, most of us probably begin the summer with an overly ambitious list of Stuff I Will Accomplish (otherwise known as Write All the Things). Some of us were also dumb enough to take on some teaching-related projects, which provide equal doses of fulfillment (yay! students who want to learn stuff!) and recrimination (boo! i should be writing!). I'm going to try to chronicle these for myself a bit this summer, but that'll be later. Right now is the unsolicited advice portion, which I hope will be helpful to others (and even to myself, if I can manage to take my own advice), whether your degree of self-overload is insane or merely unreasonable.

1. Don't beat yourself up. I've learned the hard way, over and over, that I always think I can do more than I can actually do. I still set overly ambitious goals for myself, though those have moderated with time. But I also learned to count 70% as a win. Hey, a C is a passing grade, right?

2. Remind yourself to do a little every day. For me, this means that The Chore Chart is Back. Over spring break, I had tons of categories in there because the need was urgent. This time, I've stripped them down to the following: write something, read or transcribe something, do something student- or teaching-related,[1] do a chore, try to do three physically healthy things.  The daily goal is to be able to check off four of the five categories. As I said in the previous post: I'll do just about anything for a gold star.

3.  Don't forget that you're not just a collection of deadlines. The "do three healthy things" goal is part of this for me, but yours may be "do something with family or friends" or "go to religious services" or "go outside." I don't personally care for the phrase "self-care", for reasons I won't get into, but I guess that's more or less what I'm talking about here. A fat lot of good an impressive CV will do you if you turn into a troll-beast. You're a person. It's easy to forget that during the semester. Use the summer to hit the reset button on that idea, and see how far into the fall it can carry you.

That's it. For the moment. In a couple of days I'll check back in with something really cool that I did with my students recently, one of those things where I didn't regret saying "yes" one bit.


[1] Yes, I actually somehow said yes when I was supposed to say no, and now I've got weekly meetings with students all summer, and syllabi to revise, and and and.... It'll all be to the good, but only if I tackle it one thing at a time.





Monday, May 7, 2018

Surfacing

Another Very Short Post, because it's time to get going for work. I now stand at the precipice of Summer Break: one week of courses, one week of finals, one week of frantic grading and commencement exercises.

But this is also the time that things start to surface. All those promised writing projects that I put in cement overshoes and let sink to the bottom are floating to the top, bobbing up like unquiet corpses, staring accusingly with sightless eyes: "You promissssseed...."

Yep. Summer of the walking dead, coming to a theater near you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

End-of-Semester Questions

... and things are much as normal; i.e. No Time To Post. But here are the eternal end-of-semester questions:

1. Why do faculty (myself included) assign all their major papers to be due in the final two weeks of the semester when we KNOW from experience that this will cause us pain and distress?

2. Why does the time crunch seem to leave some faculty time for writing long, crazy missives (and even longer responses to said crazy missives) to faculty online discussion lists? How are they doing this? Are elves doing their grading?

3. Where can I get some grading elves?

4. Do students not know where my office is until the last three weeks of the semester? Does it disappear like Brigadoon for the rest of the semester?

5. Why do I assign so much written work?

6. How is it that I have already booked my summer solid with work obligations?

7. Seriously: Where does one pick up those elves? And do they have relatives that do things like shop for groceries and do laundry?


Please feel free to add your own questions to the list...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Here beginneth the week of tea and murder.

Three times now, in the last two weeks, I have laid down to bed at night, only to experience (for the first time ever) heartburn so painful that it drove me out of bed, dressed again, and to the store at midnight to get OTC medicine.

This morning, after ingesting my usual double-strength french press of coffee before work (and god it was delicious; I make a truly excellent pot of coffee), I realized that this might be the problem.

So, for one week, beginning tomorrow, I am giving up coffee. As an experiment. As a substitute, I plan to drink green or herbal tea. And probably kill people.

Consider this your warning.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Getting Stuff Done (and its exact opposite)

Spring Break, I got stuff done.

I should explain: I am gold-star motivated. That is to say, you give me an opportunity to earn some completely meaningless recognition, to check of the maximum number of things, and I'll do it. I am much more competitive against myself than I would ever dream of being against another human being. To give an example: in the sixth grade, the math teacher gave us the textbook and told us that our grade for the year would be based on how many of the pages we completed (with a satisfactory grade). I can't recall now how she combined this with actual teaching, but I can recall that about two thirds of the way through the year I had handed her back the book and said, "I'm done. What do I do now?"

So then it will be no surprise to anyone that, when I decided that I wanted to not piss away my spring break, I decided to make a chore chart:

Seriously: I posted this on my refrigerator. Like I was effing ten years old.



And it will be no surprise to anyone who knows me that this worked. By the end of spring break, I had filled in 49 of the 54 boxes. BOW DOWN BEFORE MY PRODUCTIVITY. AS GOD IS MY WITNESS, I WILL NEVER BE UNMOTIVATED AGAIN!

And then, the following week happened. I have missed all three of my exercise classes (though one of those was on accident). I have gorged on sugar and caffeine. I have written a total of 1000 words, read no new books or articles, and watched the grading pile up. I think I washed my hair once. I have spent a lot of hours that I have no idea where they went. I feel psychologically greasy.[1]

Do I need a new chore chart? Is there no way, even at almost fifty years old, that I will ever overcome my need for a gold star in order to do anything more demanding than putting on my pants in the morning?


[1] Though not literally greasy: my hair is of a type that only normally gets washed every three days, so while only washing my hair once is definitely a sign of my general apathy, the visible result is not as bad as it sounds. I may have problems elsewhere in my life, but anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have Objectively Very Good Hair.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Naming Your Own Terms

This is just a short post that begins with two anecdotes from this semester:

1. Person asks me to review a book that I'm actually interesting in reading. They say "we need it in six weeks." I say, "Sounds interesting but I have a number of projects that I've already committed to over the next several months. I could do it, but only if you can wait until August." They respond, "Perfect! Where shall we send it?"

2. Person contacts me asking me to blurb a book. I respond about commitments, say "Not available till July." Response: July will be great; do you want it in hard copy or pdf?

Something that both of these have in common: they both respond to my offer to get back to them about four times longer than they want... within 15 minutes.

Lesson from midcareer: When you are doing work for free, you have a lot of power to set the conditions. You can say no, but if you want to say yes, you can say yes on your own terms.