Adjusting to the Academic Schedule

... workaholic, career-driven insanity to opt for a more balanced and

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Ready or not, here we go! Time to get used to the return of the academic schedule. Like our new set of students, we probably had a much more relaxed schedule during the summer. Maybe we didn’t have to study, plan class activities or grade at night, for example.

Like me, you probably work pretty hard at night and on weekends during the academic year. So, when the new year begins, it’s an abrupt change in my schedule. Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to get any class prep done during the workday with all the meetings, student appointments and email we deal with at work.  As I get older, I find that it takes a while to ramp up my energy levels to be able to work at night and on weekends again. I also have to push aside all the things I do at night and on weekends when I’m not in academic-year mode. Like reading for pleasure.

Time to shift schedules and get more efficient! Here are some things I do:

  1. First I spend the last two-three weeks of my summer preparing for the first two weeks of each class. That way I have a little cushion of prepared material and firm plans. This is crucial because the first couple of weeks are absolutely jammed with advising, meeting new students, attending meetings, and various welcome receptions.
  2. When that first week gets going, I begin working at night and on that first weekend. Not a lot, but I try to work ahead a little bit more, to extend that cushion. That way, when that first batch of papers to grade stacks up onto my desk (or shoves its way into my backpack or into my email inbox) I can divvy up my evening and weekend time into class prep and grading stints.
  3. I begin making lots of lists. Typically, I will set up my “weekend work” list on Thursdays. I try to break down the workload into one or two hour batches. I usually spend about 10 hours of the weekend working. I reserve Sunday evening for Monday class finalization and then work my way backward to fill in the remaining 8 or 9 hours. As I set up the batches of time, I have to make room for things like grocery shopping, cooking, taking my kids where they need to go. I try to work in an hour each day for my own exercise and I have a weekly call to my mother. Usually, by the time I’ve set up that schedule, my weekend is so jammed that I have to get up pretty early to cram it all in. Then, on Sundays, I make my “stuff to do during the week” list that often includes a few things that I tried unsuccessfully to fit in on the weekend. This list is a rolling one in that I add things to it as the week goes along, until the items roll over to Thursday. Things like recommendation letters tend to roll a bit before they get squeezed in, for example.
  4. To increase my productivity, I try to think about class activities or learning strategies while I exercise. An early morning bike ride is sometimes just the thing I need to come up with an innovative assignment idea. Or, I direct my mind to my teaching while I shower. Pretty soon, by about mid-semester, work has consumed virtually every waking moment and those sleeping moments get fewer and farther between.

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As I write this, on the first weekend before classes begin for me, I realize that I’d better schedule in a couple hours to vacuum and straighten the house now. It’ll probably be fall break before I can do that kind of thing again.

Yes, this sounds a lot like workaholism. But…..there’s so much to do and not enough time to do it. I tell myself that I LOVE this life and I’m trying hard not to begin the semester countdown too early.

I wonder, how do you manage your time? I’d love to hear some fresh ideas!