Monday, January 31, 2011

The tenure tally

My desk, a normally pristine area of functionality from which I derive much comfort, is currently covered in sticky notes and piles of manila folders. I feel a sense of exhaustion and frustration as the landscape of my brain is spilled out before me in brightly colored notes with exclamation points at the end of each reminder insisting I give it immediate attention: "IRB submission!" "Record 210.01 scores!" and "Follow-up emails after the conference!" I am struggling to conquer these tasks and they are, in fact, conquering me and my work space. I cannot recall a time when my work area looked this unorganized, nor can I ever think of a time when my semester was not thoroughly and diligently planned in advance.

This semester, however, I have been given an over-load course and have been placed on several hard-working accreditation committees. These duties have led to a somewhat frantic mental pace as the semester got under way. I normally can reign this in nicely with my slightly obsessive-compulsive excel spreadsheets, my day planner, and e-calendar alerts. This Monday my workspace has revolted and spilled outside of the carefully drawn excel grid lines resulting in a mess of bright pink, orange, and yellow stickies with thick black marker phrases that appear to be angrily shouting for my attention. They won't be pushed aside. Everything seems urgent.

So I am taking the next half an hour and doing a "tenure tally" for the semester ahead. This trick helped me in previous semesters (usually done before a term begins, it is certainly better implemented later than never or else I might forget what color my desk actually is under the obnoxiously boisterous notes). What is the tenure tally? It is a simple organizational activity that allows me to take stock of my To Do list, to determine what is a MUST item and what item can/should be pushed further down the list. How do I conduct a tenure tally? Well, at my institution it is straight forward. I use the faculty handbook section on tenure and points and use this as a way to examine which items deserve to stay on the list and in what order. If I can see that research is X points and I have a lighter publication output for the academic year, then perhaps I need to push up the research/data section of my list. If, however, I notice I have maxed out my conference points, then I should cut a conference and focus on research (or grant writing, etc.).

These are tough decisions, but let's face it...the life of a faculty member involves many duties and they will simply not all be done by one person if each item is deemed essential. Instead, we have to tally up our duties, structure them carefully around the goals we want to achieve, and learn to let some things go.

The hardest lesson is admitting I cannot do everything and forgiving myself for not attending to each screaming sticky note, but in the end it is a an on-going lesson and I am continuing to try and master it as I navigate the pre-tenure waters.

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