Monday, January 16, 2012

Focusing for a fresh, energetic semester

You're editing a syllabus, reviewing a new text book, and wondering about your previous commitment to teach two new course preps this term. You're quickly losing your energy for the new term. It is easy to understand, as professors we multi-task through each day, work until we fall asleep, and rarely find any instant gratification for our efforts. If you're feeling the pre-semester or new semester blahs, here are some of my tips to starting the term with new, fresh energy: FOCUS.
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  • Focus on your classes. Do something NEW in each class. Delete an assignment that hasn't been working, modify the delivery mode, give some democratic power to the students, add an assignment you've been wanting to try out. Try a new approach to a topic that has long been your favorite or least favorite to teach. Give yourself something to help you click out of "auto-pilot" and back into your excited self. 
  • Focus on ONE research goal at a time.  If you are like me and EVERYTHING is interesting you may struggle to focus and finish one project. (I can see my doctoral chair nodding vigorously at this point). I love learning, I love studying, I love researching. But, it can be draining to look at a to-do list that never shrinks because nothing is ever fully finished. Focus on one item until it is done. Move on to the next one. Keep moving. Keep your focus. This can help amp up your energy as you see the reward of moving through your projects.
  • Focus on a non-academia activity. Teaching multiple classes each day can be draining, especially when you're working with large numbers or new preps. Plan one day a week (I like to plan this on my busiest teaching day of the week) where you take an evening (or morning if you teach evenings) away from academia. If you taught multiple courses all day on a Tuesday, then Tuesdays are now your NON-WORK evening. We can't do this each day, but if you know you have one evening to look forward to, it can help you keep your energy up throughout the week. Make sure you are not sneaking in grading or research. Truly do something non-academic. My treat: roller derby! No way can I try to edit papers or answer emails if I'm on my wheels.
  • Focus on fitness. It may sound silly, but as I continue throughout my career, I have learned the importance of those vitamins, the necessity of physical activities, and healthy eating. Scale back on the caffeine (gasp!) by slipping half-caf into your coffee maker and slowly cut back on the cups you have each morning. You'll soon find your energy lifting and lasting!
There are many times when a new semester seems to have materialized without a break, without the renewal of energy we so desperately need. Combat the dreary, beleaguered return to another semester. Shake things up, find your zest, and face this new semester with a fresh outlook full of energy by focusing on a few simple areas for small changes. 

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  1. What an awesome and informative entry Lora!

    Most of us --including highly educated individuals-- have long forgot that by NOT carefully monitoring what we eat and drink, mental performance is just going to happen, one day more... one day less...

    Here is my little input to easily enhance one's daily performance ;)

    ..."Scale back on the caffeine (gasp!) by slipping half-caf into your coffee maker and slowly cut back on the cups you have each morning." You may actually impact your daily performance on a long run, by reducing coffee consumption, while still being able to enjoy the magic moment of drinking a naturally supplemented coffee with no taste compromise. Right before you start to brew your regular coffee, add one tea spoon of organic grape seed flour (Google search suggestion: "grape seed flour" "oxygen radical absorbance capacity" nutraceutical) and one tea spoon of acorn flour (Google search suggestion: "acorn flour" phenolic)... You may even add a bit more water to it, ...More to drink with more health benefits...and of course, lots of energy ;)

    Reference: (2012). Retrieved Jan 19, 2012 from

  2. Great suggestion! Thanks so much for sharing this -- I can't wait to give it a try.