How to Segue into the Semester: Six Tips

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Argh!  Summer’s almost over and I haven’t written enough!  How will I ever keep writing during the school year? 

chickenIt’s that time of year where academics start to get nervous.  The 1st of August seems to be a signal that summer is going to end.  This is especially true for professors, although many grad students who teach suffer from the same angst.

You don’t want to spend another year like a chicken with your head cut off, do you?

Here are some tips and reminders to help you keep your head, and to prepare yourself for the onslaught. 

Practice saying “No.”  If you are clear about what you must do in order to succeed in your career, you will be clear about what you should NOT do.  Don’t be the first to volunteer on the most time-consuming committee, if your publication record is not where you want it to be.  Don’t agree to give bonus assignments so that your students can raise their grades, if you will be overwhelmed when it’s time to grade those projects.  And say you’ll pick up the speaker at the airport if you’re already pulling your hair out over how little you’ve written.

Do your share but not more than your share.  Those people who do it all for everybody can get taken for granted.  I know that sounds harsh, but it’s an important survival tip, especially if you happen to be a really nice, accomodating person.

For most people in academia, the one thing you want to say, “Yes” to is writing.

During the semester, plan to write for short, even very short, time periods most days.  Have reasonable expectations of how much time you can spend writing each day during the semester.  When you have other responsibilities, such as preparing for class, grading, teaching, and meetings, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to write a lot each day.  Whether you’re working on a dissertation, an article, a grant proposal, or your second book, even 10 minutes on your busiest days will move the project forward.

Make working on your long-term project a priority.  If you’re only spending 15 minutes a day writing, it is really not hard to put your writing front and center.  As Stephen Covey points out in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s easy to fall into the habit of responding to the urgent needs of others, and to put your own important needs last. 

Write writing into your schedule.  Write it down as if it’s an important appointment, because it is.  Use an Unschedule, and try to schedule it early in the day, before the urgent demands of life take over.

It’s especially easy to stay busy with other things when your important need is the need to write.  That’s because writing is so painful.  Wouldn’t you rather answer a friend’s email, or spend extra time coming up with a way to perfect your next class than figure out the thorny problem in your manuscript?

Limit the time you spend on class prep and grading.  These two activities can eat up the majority of your time, but be aware that they are tempting sirens.  Many professors have admitted to me that they spend way too much time on both, without necessarily improving the quality of their teaching.  The key is to find balance and moderation, as Robert Boice points out in Advice for New Faculty Members.  Also, check out this previous newsletter for some quick hints on planning classes that involve less work on your part.

One trick I’ve seen more experienced professors use is to limit the amount of time they spend on class prep by leaving it until a certain amount of time (e.g. two hours) before the actual class.  They say that this technique focuses them wonderfully and forces them not to overdo it.

Plan now, a little at a time, for an easier semester later.  If you start now thinking through how you will approach the coming academic year, you can ultimately make your life more livable.  Do a moderate amount of preparation each day before September. Then you won’t so you won’t start off the semester off harried and frazzled.

I hope these tips will help you to keep your cool and enjoy the rest of the summer!


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