Finding room in your new year to do the work you want to do means taking other stuff off of your schedule. Often, we can identify potential tasks for elimination when we say we “should” do something. In the coaching world, we commonly say that we “should all over ourselves.” When you hear a should coming out, ask “Who is speaking in these moment? Is it my inner critic or our inner mentor?”  I suggest using Julie Morgenstern’s process of “Deleting, Delaying, Delegating, and Diminishing.”

Strategies for Finding More Time

Delete: What tasks can you just simply eliminate without retribution?
Delay is What items can be put on hold?
Delegate What work and chores can be given to collaborators, students, staff assistants, family members, hired people?

 

Diminish How can you create short cuts and streamline tasks?

“Delete” the parts of your schedule that are a “should” instead of a must. Skip optional lectures and unnecessary meetings. Stop adding more detail to student comments than is necessary. Stop opening social media reflexively. Notice the increase in energy even when you make this decision—that is a sign that it is the right choice.

Include “delay” items on a separate part of the to-do list. Keep track of items include items that can wait for another day but you don’t want to forget about. Include also items that have punted elsewhere and you are awaiting response. Delaying can often mean that issues diminish or disappear.

It took me a long time to understand the value of delaying response to some email. I had the luxury of a sabbatical recently, and I turned on a vacation message that indicated that I would not be responding to emails quickly since I was not on duty that semester. I was fascinated to realize how well people could solve their own problems with a bit of time. Solutions that I would have spent time given were often not necessary after a few days—often people figured out their own questions if I gave them a few days to let them “season.”

“Delegate” tasks that others can do. Give assistants tasks such as copy editing, tracking down citations, and researching specific content. Consider what household chores can also be hired out to maximize writing time during busy periods. Discern when to spend the money to hire others with the question: What tasks can others do that would significantly decrease my level of stress?

I struggled with the inner critic images of the perfect mom and the successful academic pre-tenure. Looking at my internal rhythms, I was keenly aware most efficient writing hours were between 2 and 6 p.m., I was struggled with the limiting belief that they were the “most important” parenting hours of the day (an idea that seeped into my brain as an inner critic from some parenting book). They were certainly the most challenging parenting hours and if was fully honest, they were some of the least satisfying hours of parenting as well since they involved low energy for every one and lots of frustrating errands—driving to activities, meal preparation, and homework time. 

When on a deadline for a publication, grant, and during the critical year before my dossier was due, I invested in childcare several days a week during these key hours. I asked the babysitter to clean the kitchen and prepare dinner for the children and to transport the kids from place to place.

My sense of accomplishment increased and stress declined.  I emerged from my writing cave on those days with a sense of professional  accomplishment. I was much less likely to procrastinate knowing I was paying for that time. I was also ready to fully engage with my children, rather than burdened by the tasks of parenthood of transition and mealtime preparation. On my best days, I  gave myself permission to appreciate this gift of child care rather than feeling guilty about it, knowing that these pressured days were not forever but instead a period of time in my career and in the developmental stage of my kids’ lives.

“Diminish” emails. Handling emails more efficiently and read files only once. Respond to items requiring less than ten minutes immediately. Be precise in the subject line to improve the efficiency of the emails you must send (Morgenstern, 2011).  Move longer term items to folders and add the tasks to your to-do list. Your inbox should not be your to-do list since you cannot change the order easily. Keep focused on your priorities and use your to-do list faithfully instead of email to decide your next task. Beware also of the virus that is “zeroing out your inbox” rather than doing your important work.

“Diminish” schedule gaps. Diminishing also can occur by stacking meetings. Meet with students on your schedule, not theirs. That might mean that people have to wait a few days to talk with you. Stack your meetings around your teaching time so you can limit the time you are responsible to others in your office. Have days where you are only accountable to your five-year writing timeline.

 

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