End of Semester: Six Lessons Learned

How I Felt Most Days - Cartoon by me of me
The end of the semester is filled with joy, relief, and a sense of accomplishment that culminates in a mixed emotional response. Carrying on from the lessons I learned during the summer about tasking out my duties through Things, I vowed to myself that I would take my weeks one at a time, one day at a time, and ultimately one task at a time. I am a natural multitasker but this semester, I realized that I needed to focus on small projects one at a time to insure quality and completion.  It worked. The semester was intense with three different classes on top of my administrative work but with careful planning out of each week during the weekend, I was able to stay in control of the numerous tasks that came across my desk. 

Here are six things I learned from this semester:

1. I can work in a weekly headspace

I have a tendency to look at the big picture and become overwhelmed with what I find there. It is not often that I can break things into smaller tasks and take them one by one. The plus side of this is that I know how where I want to end up, in the end. The negative side is that I have difficulty in finding merit in the small tasks that culminate to make the large goal happen. This semester, I forced myself to look only at the tasks that were essential to get through the week. It was surprisingly a relief to know that I could leave one problem until another day or week (and often find that the problem disappeared entirely!). 

2. The importance of categorizing my work day

If a task needs three hours, then I make sure to find that three hours and block it off on my calendar. No exceptions. This semester, Tuesday evenings were my non-negotiable nights to prepare for class. I had to refuse several social outings but it was worth it to make sure that I had everything ready for my Wednesday classes in advance. Fridays, I turned everything off - email, phone, texting... If someone really needed to get a hold of me, they could find ways, but most times, whatever needs attention can wait. These sacred pockets of time are helping me be more present in the other times of my day because it gives me peace to know that I have the time to take care of the projects that require my undivided attention.

3. Sleeping, eating, walking

I am a strong advocate of doing all three of these well. Walking for me is especially important not only for exercise but also to have time to myself to think things through. I regularly walk to work or get out on the mornings during the weekends to think through my arguments that I make for different issues I am dealing with: in my research, teaching, and in life. It sounds cliche, but I rely on all three of these important times in my life to stay active and alert. An old but solid article in the NY Times emphasizes the importance to renew my energy through these three necessary and natural human needs. 

4. Always planning ahead

Even though this conflicts with no.1 above, I am actually constantly looking at my calendar to make sure that I am meeting my professional deadlines. By knowing what is coming up and tasking it out in my Things app, I find that I have missed few events/deadlines and give myself plenty of time to think through the details before submission. This winter, I need to revise my five year plan, as I am currently exactly in the middle of my original five year plan and need to push forward into new agendas and tasks to work towards.

5. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate

This semester, I found out that one of my book chapters for an edited volume will move forward with a great press. I also had my article on Louise Hanson-Dyer accepted for publication. And I discovered a very interesting bit of history from my doctoral institution which resulted in a major blogpost. All three of these things were worthy of celebration. I am a strong advocate for celebrating these and smaller accomplishments along the way. Without stopping and enjoying success, the long hours spent reading, writing, and research during the evenings and weekends would, in my opinion, not be worth all of the effort.

6. Mingle with new people

I find that getting to know new people is a difficult task and yet, it is what inspires me to find new ways of doing things. It keeps me motivated and to not get stuck in a rut, to always look for how other people live their lives, and find out what they are interested in. This semester, I had the opportunity to learn from different people during conferences, hackathons, dinners, gatherings of unrelated events, and simply by saying hello to a stranger in the waiting room. Meeting new people is such a different kind of act from just getting along with daily tasks. It is rather uncomfortable at times. But it is so important.