As we are [hopefully] settling into the start of our academic years, you may have been noticing some patterns in your calendars and weekly schedules. It can quickly feel overwhelming with the various administrative tasks to accomplish each day and week, and with the unexpected items demanding a more urgent response which redirects our focus. I wanted to offer a few pieces of advice and thought-provoking questions on how you can use creative scheduling to help to increase your productivity and assist you in setting boundaries within your career.
1. Chunk Out Larger Process Work
You may find yourself tapped for a departmental work group or committee that has a larger goal and/or project to complete. As such, setting up some time to think through that process with limited interruptions is clutch for allowing your brain to fully explore options. Do you ever turn down the radio in your car while you parallel park? Kinda the same thing here! Focusing your brain on an idea so that you can truly concentrate on the end goal produces a better outcome and you’re not feeling as rushed and/or scattered. Of course being realistic is important, too. You wouldn’t block off an entire day to think about benchmarking a process – allocate time accordingly and with time to complete the “homework.”
2. No Lunch Meetings/1:1s
This is a concept I have become increasingly passionate about. Hear me out – every now and then a lunch meeting is necessary and even appropriate to connect with folkx. What I am cautioning against is scheduling business meetings and 1:1 supervisee meetings while you are eating lunch together. First, this robs you of a needed step away from work to fuel your body. Second, oftentimes there is sensitive information to review and a public dining hall is hardly an appropriate location. And finally, trying to focus and actively listen while eating and surrounded by others does not often result in a solid conversation with actionable items. Even if you’re not a lunch person, schedule a break from your work to allow for a reset on your mind and energy level.
3. Buffer in Travel Time
Though this sounds logical, it bears repeating. As we all return to in-person meetings, remember that it takes a few minutes to get from one to the next. Even if you’re not moving from your office in back-to-back 1:1s, schedule 5-10 minutes for a bathroom break, a glass of water, a stretch, etc. Instead of going hour-to-hour, can you schedule 50-minute meetings allowing for a short break to check your email for any immediate issues that need to be addressed? Reacclimating to campus traffic, weather delays, etc., and planning accordingly, can help you from feeling panicked and running to the next meeting as well.
4. Know Your Energy Levels
Are you a morning person? Do you have a sudden surge of energy around 2pm? When are you feeling your most creative in a day? Does it take all of Monday to get you back into the groove? Knowing these things about yourself does wonders for how you schedule your week! If you are constantly feeling chatty in the afternoons? Try to move your 1:1s to that time frame. I am most email-focused first thing in the morning as I warm up with my coffee, so I do not schedule anything before 9:00am unless absolutely necessary. After a pro staff meeting, you may find you have a gaggle of visitors in your office. Try scheduling some task time so that folks can pop in without interrupting a formal meeting. Or better yet, push departmental meetings up to end before lunch and allow folks to continue social connections at the dining hall or elsewhere should they choose to do so.
5. Expect the Unexpected
In housing and student affairs, there will always be some sort of crisis that detracts us from our intended plans. I try as much as possible to keep Monday mornings and Friday afternoons open so that I can follow up from the weekend, as well as wrap things up before the next weekend. This also conveniently allows for extended weekend vacations to have little impacts on my schedule. Creating calendar invites on your work calendar for checking conduct, on-call logs, weekly reports, etc. also helps prevent forgetting, but also sets you up to work a little ahead so that when an unexpected situation occurs, you’re not completely behind and having to work extra just to catch back up.
Whatever method works for you – paper planner, online calendar only, or reminders – notice when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out and see if you might identify any pinches in your schedule that are causing that. Did you plan to knock out a large task, but then had someone stop by for an informal chat, leaving you to feel behind? Sometimes you have to close your door even when you’re not in a meeting to preserve that time. Be sure that you are planning administration with availability and talking with your supervisor on the priority level of an item you’ve been given to complete. Something that may not normally be a priority may have an upset parent attached to this particular one, making it an urgent matter in this circumstance.
Setting your calendar up for success early in the semester can allow you to identify these patterns for yourself for a successful and productive fall. Then review and rethink for the next semester with any newly added objectives. Happy planning y’all!