In my last post I shared a random daily schedule. Today I thought I’d share some basic principles that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind when I’m thinking about how the work day/week will play out. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it does serve as a nice foundation on which my work schedule (and to some extent our personal schedule) is created.
Have a plan
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you never know. Yes, there is certainly something to be said for spontaneity and letting your day emerge as it happens. However, when you’re juggling a bunch of different research projects, teaching, meetings, and just daily life, winging it usually doesn’t end well (at least for me). I find that I don’t move forward on anything if I don’t have some sort of plan for the day, week, month, and term. More posts to come on what this process looks like for me.
Plan with the end in mind
I set goals for the year, the term, the week, and the day. Having an idea of where I’m headed in the long run helps guide me in the short term. I have my yearly and term goals posted at my desk, both on campus and at home. I take a look at them as I’m planning out my week to make sure my time aligns with where I want to go over the course of the year.
Setting goals is great, but if they aren’t working for you anymore there’s nothing wrong with adjusting them or ditching them for new ones. If new opportunities arise or my original goals aren’t serving me anymore or if I was overly ambitious it means that I revisit the goals and adjust accordingly.
If it’s not on the calendar, it won’t happen
For me, having a plan means everything goes into the calendar (google calendar is my calendar of choice). Nothing is too insignificant! Everything from pumping/nursing (when I was still doing it), to getting ready in the morning, to commuting, to eating lunch, to major work tasks. Things that don’t need to be on my calendar for that week go into a task list (currently: google tasks) that I check once a week and add to as needed. The exact structure (e.g., super detailed time blocks vs. larger more general chunks of time) has evolved over time, but I’ve been a pretty consistent google calendar (and tasks) user for quite some time.
Share your calendar
Wherever you keep your calendar, share it with the important people in your life. Mike and I can see each other’s calendars, which helps tremendously with planning out our days and coordinating our schedules. If the important people in your life don’t know what you’re doing... they don’t know what you’re doing! Sharing = less frustration/headache.
Write everything down
This goes along with the, ‘if it’s not on the calendar, it won’t happen’ piece. Pre-kid I did a decent job at remembering important things like calling a family member for their birthday or paying a doctor’s bill. Post-kid, nothing sticks. A really important thought will pop into my head and I’ll think, “of course I won’t forget it.” And then 5 minutes later I have no idea what that “really important” thought was. If I don’t write it down (in a place I will remember that I wrote it down!) it won’t happen. Case in point, a friend asked me to send her the itinerary for a trip we’re taking in a few months. She asked a few weeks ago, I never wrote it down, I haven’t done it yet (and literally just remembered as I was writing this)... if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen!
Consistency is better than randomly interspersed large chunks of time
For me, this mainly applies to my writing practice. During my first year on the tenure track I woke up, nursed Ellie, and then got my computer out and wrote for about 30, most days of the work week. These consistent (short) chunks of time allowed me to submit 3 articles, 2 grant proposals, and 2 conference presentations (with co-authors of course!). That’s not to say that I never had longer chunks of time where I wrote for hours, but it didn’t happen that often. Yes, it would feel like I wasn’t making progress in the moment… 30 minutes is short! But then I’d look back over the month and think, wow I am way ahead of where I started! Would I love to have hours upon hours to pour over my writing and think big thoughts? Yes! Is that realistic given the working conditions of higher education at this moment in time? Not really… just working with what I’ve got right now.
Lower your expectations
Yes, theoretically you could decide you’re going to teach a 3 hour class, tackle some edits on a paper, run analyses on another project, grade 25 papers, and write 5 letters of recommendation all in one day… but would you want to? I actively try to set my bar a little lower, focusing in on what I think is important and letting go of the rest. You can’t do it all (or at least I sure can’t!)!
Notice what’s happening when you’re doing your best work and when you’re in a slump. When are you most energized? When are you super sleepy? How well do you do with working at home? What helps you get into the “zone”? White noise? A closed door? Music? Meditation? Something else? I’ve spent a lot of time, both in my current position and during grad school, just noticing the things that contribute to work days that feel awesome and days that feel terrible. This has been really helpful in developing awareness around what makes an ideal and sustainable schedule for me.
Know your family
Just like yourself, know your family! All the above goes for everyone else in your family! Being in tune with their rhythms and quirks is really helpful when planning your day/week. For example, I don’t know about you but in our house getting out the door with a toddler is an amazing feat in and of itself! When I work on campus Mike and Ellie usually drive me to the train station, which means our schedule is padded to account for the inevitable meltdown or “I have to go potty!” or “wait, I need to take orange octopus in the car with me, can you help me find it!”
Embrace trial and error
You’ve got to try things out and see what works for you and your family. You won’t get it “right” the 1st, or 5th, or 1000th time, but you will make progress.