Winter term: Goal setting and structure

After spending over a year holding on for dear life while running as fast as I can on a hyperspeed treadmill and juggling flaming chainsaws, I find myself in the enviable position of having A LIGHT TEACHING TERM. I’m advising two capstone “Comps” groups, running a one-credit seminar for a research cohort program, and working with research students.

To be fair, this is my heavy term for my administrative role, which means I’ll be racing on a treadmill of a different sort. But at least I won’t be juggling a heavy administrative load with a heavy teaching load, like I did last winter. (Do. Not. Recommend.) The workload is still significant, but the rhythm is completely different. More meetings, less rushing to post things on Moodle. More strategic planning, less specifications grading. More reporting, less recording video lectures and demonstrations.

More control over my time, less I-need-to-be-in-front-of-students time.

Knowing myself — and recognizing that the events of the past year, and the past week, have pushed my anxiety and depression into overdrive — I know that if I’m not careful, I can easily fall into a black hole of despair. The lack of a strict structure and schedule is not my friend in this regard.

One thing that does help? It’s the start of the year, which means it’s goal-setting time! And even Depressed and Anxious Me loooooooves a good goal-setting session. So I’ve tried to use this to my advantage — leveraging my goals to set up systems and a structure that should hopefully keep me on track this term, or at least keep me from falling too deeply into the abyss.

Goals

I decided to have my #21for2021 list serve as my goal list for the year, and tried to structure it accordingly, with work, home, and personal goals.

In Week 1 of 2021, I did manage to do (7) (call Mom), but failed to do (9) (reach out to someone in my work network). Whoops.

I usually set monthly goals, goals for each academic term (plus the summer), and weekly priorities (which I set at my Sunday Meeting). This year I’m still doing the monthly goal-setting and weekly priorities lists, but I’m experimenting with true quarterly goals (January-March, April-June, July-September, October-December). Quarters mostly overlap with academic terms, so it’s not a huge departure. It’s in these monthly and quarterly goals where I’ll get SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) and detailed. If 2021 is anything like 2020 (or, er, even worse than 2020), these semi-frequent checkins will allow me to reevaluate and pivot if a goal just doesn’t make sense given the circumstances.

Notebook listing goals for the first quarter of 2021.
My first quarter goals for 2021. “Sustainability” seems to be the theme.

One thing I would like to be better about is rewards! I tend to finish something big and move on, without marking the achievement. (I still haven’t celebrated my promotion to full professor, or being named to my administrative position!) This is…not healthy. And probably not the best example for my kiddos. One of my January goals is to submit a paper for review — so maybe I should start by celebrating that win when it happens!

Crafting a routine

With lots of open time and lots of tasks to fill that time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, or move from thing to thing without making much progress on anything. I’ve had some luck with “theming” my days in the past, so I’m using that this term. I give each day a “theme” that defines the type of work I’ll focus on for that day. For example, here are my themes for this term:

  • Leadership Mondays. I focus mainly on tasks associated with my administrative role. I meet with my dean and my program manager, work through project to-do lists, and do some long-term and short-term planning. I also set aside some time to do some leadership role-related reading — right now, for instance, I’m reading From Equity Talk to Equity Walk, which is useful to approximately 5673 parts of my job.
  • Deep Work Tuesdays. I always reserve Tuesdays for deep work, since I rarely teach on Tuesdays and I try hard to protect the day from meetings. I work on research and writing projects. If there are any big leadership things I didn’t finish on Monday, I’ll work on those on Tuesdays, too.
  • Research / Writing Wednesdays. Wednesdays are a bit more fragmented, with more meetings, so I use them to finish up writing and research tasks from Tuesday, and do research and writing tasks that are a bit clearer and more focused. If I happen to have a light meeting day, I’ll take advantage of that to do more deep work.
  • Meeting Thursdays. Thursdays are my heavy meeting days. This is where I put all those small tasks that I can do between meetings and / or when my brain is fried from peopling.
  • Career Planning Fridays. This ends up being more aspirational, because Fridays also become a dumping ground for everything that didn’t get finished Monday through Thursday and / or tasks from all of those Thursday meetings. But since I do have the luxury of devoting Mondays to administrative tasks, I’m really trying hard to reserve part of Fridays for long-term career planning — touching base with mentors, putting together materials for an administrative job search, figuring out what roles I might want to pursue, career-focused reading, etc. (Right now I’m reading How to Be a Dean.)

I’m also taking advantage of the flexibility to incorporate reading for work into my daily routine, something which all too often gets pushed off of the to-do list. I now read for 15 minutes right after I meditate each morning, so I can check it off the list right away. I’m hoping I can make this enough of a habit that I’ll continue it in the spring, when I have a more traditional teaching schedule.


However you’re approaching goal-setting and routine establishment this year, whether you’re going all-in or stepping back in the name of self-care, I hope this year is starting off well for you. And I’d love to hear your goals and strategies for approaching what looks like another uncertain year.