Making time

Each Tuesday, our center for teaching and learning (LTC) hosts a lunch session covering some topic of interest to the community. Faculty and staff propose and run the sessions. It’s a great way to hear what’s going on across the college, see what my faculty and staff colleagues across the college are doing, and talk to people I don’t normally see or interact with regularly. The shared meal component makes the event feel warm and collegial.

I try to make it to at least a couple of lunch events each term. Some terms I’m more successful at this than others — a lot depends on the schedule of sessions and my overall workload, and in terms where I’m not teaching 5 days a week, I try to work at home on Tuesdays as much as possible, and am reluctant to commute in just for the session.

This term, I’ve gone almost every week. I am teaching 5 days a week and thus on campus 5 days a week. The topics have been interesting to me personally. I’m presenting / facilitating at 2 of them (the next 2 weeks!). And since my schedule this term precludes me from being on campus late in the day, when many across-the-college events occur, attending lunches allows me to still connect informally with colleagues outside my department — connections I’m craving more than usual recently.

Prioritizing these lunches wasn’t something I did consciously, and in a different term I likely would have prioritized other things over these events, citing busyness and a heavy workload. As I walked back to my office yesterday after the session pondering this thought, I recognized the way attending LTC lunches fits perfectly with my theme of the year, next. Attending LTC lunches is a form of information gathering. What’s on everyone’s mind? How are my colleagues thinking about the bigger and the daily aspects of higher ed and the liberal arts? What catches my interest and why? What ideas might I build on or explore further? How might I use this information to build the next stage of my career?

This realization also helped me recognize other ways I’m making time for this kind of “what’s next?” reflection and information-gathering. On a micro level, I find myself time blocking my tasks more often, which frees up more open spaces for serendipitous conversations, mind-wandering, and reading widely. On a macro level, I structure my task list each week so that every minute is not crammed full, so that I have the energy to think more deeply about any number of things. Deliberately making time in this way has brought a new creativity to my work — something I felt was missing from my work for a while.

I’m eager to see what ultimately results from making time in this way.

What I’m reading: I’m listening to the audiobook version of I Miss You When I Blink, by Mary Laura Philpott.


(Nearly) Halfway there

We’re deep in the thick of Week 5 of our 10-week Winter Term, limping along to our one-day midterm “break” next week. So far the term’s gone fairly well. I submitted my conference paper on time and with little drama (other than a really terrible user interface for the conference submission site). My Software Design students are finding new and improved ways to struggle with the material — but they are a fun and inquisitive bunch who seem game for just about anything I throw at them in class, and overall I think the shift in topics is a net positive. I’m still looking for a successor for the cohort program, and I’m bracing myself for the deluge of applications (deadline is Friday!).

Excerpt from a paper planner page, with highlighted meetings and tasks.
For you fellow paper planning geeks, this is a Hemlock & Oak weekly, which I am loving!

Largely, I am staying on top of things. I credit paying more attention to what blocks of time I have available in a day, matching the blocks up with expected energy levels, and slotting in specific tasks during specific blocks. I also finally learned, after many years of beating myself up over undone tasks, that perhaps it’s healthier to approach undone tasks with curiosity and grace (“what are the reasons I didn’t get to this today?”) than with self-loathing and self-hatred.

(My therapist is proud of me for that insight!)

February is always a bit bonkers, and I’m giving two talks this month on top of everything else. I am looking ahead to summer, partly out of necessity since there are a lot of Tetris pieces of family and kids’ scheduling, and partly because I’m applying for a curricular grant and I need to figure out what I’m proposing to do and how much time it should take (and where I can slot that in!). There is also a conference paper deadline on the last day of Winter Term classes in March (of course), and a completely rational person would say “thanks but not this year”, but this conference is a perfect fit for one of the projects I’m working on so I might try to squeeze that in….somewhere. (I’ve given myself a deadline to come up with an outline — if I make the deadline, I’ll go ahead and write something up for submission; if not, that’s perfectly fine, too.) Unlike previous years, I’m feeling good about the systems I’ve put in place and somewhat confident that they’ll stand up to the usual February onslaught of All The Tasks All The Time.

What’s keeping you busy this month, and how are you managing your workload?