It is now mid-November. For those in the Northern Hemisphere this is so far from the beginning of the autumn term that you’ve completely lost the energy from the newness of it but not quite close enough to the end to feel like it is almost over.
Are you starting to worry that you aren’t going to meet whatever goals you set for this term?
Are you feeling like you are on a treadmill, with the same things coming up week after week and no real sense of progress?
Clients of mine have mentioned both of those things recently and I bet they are not alone.
You still have 5 weeks left before the mid-winter holiday. That’s lots of time to recapture a sense of accomplishment.
Now is a good time to pause and take stock. Is your perception accurate?
Get out a piece of paper and a pen and write down what you have accomplished so far this term. You probably need to look at your calendar or other documents to remind yourself.
You can group accomplishments under headings if you like:
- Other admin
Think about things like how many students you’ve seen in office hours and what you’ve helped them with; how many papers you’ve graded; how many articles you’ve read to prepare for class. How many student e-mails you responded to.
And for your research don’t just list things that you finished. How many books or articles did you read? How many words have you written? How many outlines, notes, or mindmaps did you write? How much data have you processed? Have you written lists of things you need to do next to move your research forward? Have you made decisions?
Take a look at that list. Really look at it.
Stop and congratulate yourself for doing all that. Notice how much is on your list and what kinds of things those are. Do not diminish your accomplishments.
The one thing I can guarantee you is that whatever you didn’t get done it isn’t because you are lazy or not working hard enough. (No matter what the gremlins are telling you.)
There are 5 weeks left.
What would you REALLY like to accomplish in that 5 weeks? What would make you feel like you were getting somewhere?
Write that down.
How much time do you have to work on this One Thing in the next 5 weeks? Be realistic.
Block off that time. Think about how you work best and block off reasonable blocks in which you can accomplish something. Try to put those blocks in time slots that are less likely to get taken over by something else.
How much progress can you realistically make in that time? Write down small steps that will keep this One Thing moving forward. A list you can consult every time you work on it and actually tick things off. Small steps.
Write a list of stuff you know you have to do whether you want to or not: hours in classrooms, preparation for those classes (how many lectures do you need to write, how many articles do you need to read, etc), meetings, grading, all of it.
Look at your calendar. Make sure all of those things are on there.
Now, go back and really put all those things in your calendar. Not just the time you are actually in a classroom but the time you will take the day before to prepare for that time in the classroom. Time for grading. Time for reading. Time for writing lectures. As far as possible put it around the time for your One Thing.
If this task has been impossible or frustrating stop.
What you have just realized is that you have unrealistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Something has got to go.
You have options.
- You can decide that it really is impossible to accomplish that One Thing you wanted to accomplish this term.
- You can decide to experiment with less preparation for your classes (and be strategic about what preparation you do).
- You can decide to un-commit yourself from some of your other commitments.
Your options are limited but they exist.
Accept that if you don’t accomplish this One Thing before the end of term it is not because you are lazy and don’t work hard enough. It’s because time and energy are finite.
If you would benefit from having me sit next to you (virtually) and guide you through this process, use the Planning Your Semester recording included in Foundations of an Academic Writing Practice.
If this all feels like too much, start with the Emergency Planning Technique.
Edited Sept 15, 2015.