Monday, June 28, 2010


In graduate school and probably as far back as kindergarten, I was the student who got my work in early. I did not miss deadlines, forget assignments, or miss work. Even at age eight, I was annoyingly focused on meeting expectations and being timely. In the tenure-track life, so many things compete for our time that I can no longer be that person with projects done weeks in advance. I have accepted some days (weeks, months, semesters) are busier than others, but struggle when I feel a lack of control over my time dedicated to projects. I have found that the most pressing item gets done while other tasks sit waiting. So, the syllabus gets edited since students will be arriving while the data sits un-entered or un-analyzed.

To combat my personal tendency to leave research as a secondary focus at my teaching-based institution, I embrace deadlines.

Is productivity benefited by deadlines? Do deadlines motivate you? My ability to balance research/teaching/service is getting better, but I still find research to be the hardest task to tackle since, for me, it requires an unwearied mind and blocks of time where I can focus (difficult in a multi-person office). My best tool to moving research forward: my love of deadlines. When it comes to organizing any project, I generally create "sub-deadlines"-- a mock deadline a week or two ahead of a larger project in order to give myself extra room for final details or for anything that might go awry. It is akin to the snooze button on your alarm. It generally works quite well for me. This summer semester I find applying my love for deadlines and structure can help my research. The deadlines are serving two key goals in my research world.

First, deadlines are motivating me. I have put them in my digital and hard-copy calendars. The digital calendar shows reminders, color-coded for type of work, and set to encourage forward momentum. The hard-copy calendar is tactile evidence (the blessed check mark!) of small tasks tackled for that larger project. The date with the giant star or exclamation point reminding me to submit is a constant reminder to keep the research at the forefront of my academic work.

Second, deadlines are, in themselves, rewards. I feel a huge excitement when I mark off an item that has been staring at me on my "to do" list. It is victory, it is accomplishment, it is relief. "When you get a task completely finished, your body naturally releases energy and good feelings associated with accomplishment. The bigger the task, the better you feel, " according to Whiteside of the Self-Improvement Association.

Deadlines and sub-deadlines help me manage my research goals when facing a busy week of committee meetings or grading. This week, midterm week, my students have a large presentation to complete and exams to grade alongside the June 30th deadlines for grant reports, conferences, and revisions or submissions for publications. It seemed everything would hit at once and the deadlines were slowly suffocating me. I re-evaluated what I could cut out (I had to let a conference submission go) and prioritized (grant report first) and then made all the calendar notes about sub-deadlines, slowly tackling items bit by bit. Despite a busy semester, I am two days away from my final date for submission and have all but one project completed EARLY. The final edits will be made on my last project and I'll submit one day before the deadline...which feels like sweet victory!

Then, of course, the next deadline looms and the another project gets underway--such is the life of the tenure-track faculty member.
Whiteside, R. (2009, June 24). 7 steps to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Retrieved June 21, 2010 from the Self-Improvement Association web site:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strategies: A two-week reflection

After nearly two weeks of the fast-paced summer session, I find research continues to be an area where I must pressure myself to emphasize. With the immediate needs of my students, I often put research aside thinking, “I’ll work on this over the weekend” only to find myself buried in emails and exhausted by the time the weekend comes. I love my research areas and enjoy reading and exploring communicative concepts, but find my time is prioritized with teaching tasks always landing at the top of any to-do list. With this continued push and pull of the research requirement at a teaching institution, the last blog post focused on several strategies to continually focus on research this summer. How are they working? Here’s an update:

- Checking e-mail twice a day: Success! I am still responsive to the students’ needs and aware of institutional news but do not rush to immediately address every email I receive. Has led to more focused work time at the office where I can write.
- Scheduling (in day planner) and protecting blocks of research time: Success! I still have a long way to go but I have dedicated blocks of time to research and don’t allow anything to “steal” that time away. This week, however, this has been hard with conflicting meetings scheduled by those in administration where I feel I must attend. To off-set this concern, I re-scheduled the time. I have noticed that I must force myself to put away my grading and stop answering emails, though, so my natural inclination remains toward teaching-related tasks and I will continue to work on this throughout this term so the busier Fall term will see success as well.
- Accountability with research journal and “motivators”: The most successful strategy so far. I have reported in with colleagues both inside and outside of my institution and we have served as cheerleaders and points-of-reference for one another. It is exciting to see the progress we are all enjoying with this co-mentoring attempt.
- Organizational grids: These continue to work extremely well for my personality type.
- Weekly check-ins on project deadlines: A wonderful addition to the research plan—I have continued to stay focused on the on-going projects while determining if various deadlines are realistic or need to be modified with plenty of time to accomplish the tasks. This, however, has also shown me that I might want to employ a new strategy regarding limiting what is tackled during various points in the semester. For example, I have a lot of items due at the end of June, which will coincide with a big speaking assignment for my students (increased student needs, emails, grading). If possible, I will try to navigate my research tasks away from heavy teaching times to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Office hours: Keeping my teaching work during office hours hasn’t been as successful. The teaching tasks spill over to home and to other hours of the day, especially this summer. I am continuing to work on a more balanced allocation of time, but continue to struggle in this area.

There are many strategies those of us at teaching-heavy institutions employ (and at research institutions as well) to manage the pull of teaching, research, and service requirements in our professional lives. As noted, “Ultimately, you will be most successful, and feel most comfortable in your chosen career, when you learn how to balance competing demands on your time, both personally and professionally.” This lesson is particularly challenging for me, but as Blackburn (1979) showed, the gap between productive and non-productive faculty increases over time. So those who learn to be research-productive early stay productive and those who are less productive only continue on that pattern. He also noted that faculty productivity is often influenced heavily by the institution, organizational factors such as support, colleagues, and environment. For all of these reasons, I believe it is important to continue to focus on discovering what helps me be productive and what my needs are institutionally so I can co-create the professional culture which allows for the most success with the least stress.

Blackburn, R. T. (1979). Academic careers: Patterns and possibilities in faculty career development. Current Issues in Higher Education, 2, 25.