Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and productive life while making a difference.
In this issue, you'll find:
- Back to School and Having the Best Year Ever
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Back to School and Having the Best Year Ever
Our students don’t know that as the start of the school year
approaches, we teachers are as nervous as the students. What
to wear, how to make a good first impression, or whether the
revised syllabus will work in our most difficult course are
all giving us back to school nightmares about showing up to
class in our pajamas with the wrong class notes.
In addition to worrying about the first day of class, we also
have some anxiety about the rest of our job duties such as
how to find time for our research and how to fit in advising
and committee duties. Here are some tips to help you lower
that anxiety and look forward to this next school year as
perhaps your best year ever.
Tally Your Brags and Nags
Look back over last year and enumerate a brag/nag list.
- What things worked well for you and what things did not?
- In the coming school year, how you do to do more of what
went well and to decrease the things that did not go as
Starting a brag list now for this coming year will give you
all the information about your accomplishments for your part
of that departmental end-of-the-report without launching any
archeological expedition into your calendar or PDA.
It is important to milk the lessons of the past. Most people
set goals in motion before they review the events of the
past year. As an academic, you get two chances to set New
Year’s goals: the academic year and the calendar year. The
brag/nag list also allows you to do a semester or a
quarterly review asking, “How have I done since the
beginning of the semester (or during the first semester)?
- Nag list. Items not crossed off became your “nags.” Ask
yourself which ones really mattered and which ones could
have been completed with help or other resources. Then
focus on the important items and consider dropping,
delegating, or deferring the less unimportant.
- Emerging themes. Leadership research from the Gallup
organization has shown that the ability to play to your
strengths is an essential leadership quality. The brags
can tell you the strengths to develop and the nags might
tell you what you need to delegate, ignore, or outsource.
- Reviewing your accomplishments at the end of the year
gives you a great feeling and motivates you on the bad
days filled with interruptions and temptations. It
doesn’t seem like you are accomplishing much from day to
day, but at the end of the year, you will be amazed. Many
action oriented professionals are on to the next task or
deadline and fail to enjoy and celebrate accomplishments.
One of the findings of the positive psychology research
is that happy people savor their good experiences. What
nice things happened in the past year that you need to
pause and celebrate before you move on to the new year?
Dream Big; Think Small
A dream is what you would love to see happen but don’t
have total control over. A goal is a set of action steps
that you determine and control. For example, a dream
might be to publish three articles but all you can
control is researching, writing, and submitting the
content of those articles. At the end of a year you can
evaluate whether your goal led to your dream being
In addition to work dreams and goals, personal dreams
and goals for the year need to be acknowledged also. Work
life balance is half about the work and half about the
life. Maybe this year you have a watershed personal
experience coming such as the birth of a baby or a move
and can’t predict what life will be like until the water
cascades down the other side of the big change. So this
might be a year to set goals prior to the watershed and
then set new goals after the watershed.
- Select a theme for the coming year to focus your energy
on one area of your work life. A theme does not exclude
goals in other areas of your life but it helps to give a
focus for setting your priorities. All demands on your
time can be evaluated relative to the theme. A theme
- Preparing my tenure application.
- Improving my stalest course.
- Revising and submitting my next article.
- Reorganizing the lab so that students have a better
space to do their research.
- Getting the nursery ready for the new baby.
As a busy professional you need a simple tracking system
to keep from getting overwhelmed by your complicated life
and multiple roles. Here in one that is simple to set up
but rich enough to track all your projects in one place.
Use a simple word processing or spread sheet to see how
your goals are going. Labels the rows wit the names of
your goals or projects. Label the columns with time units
such as weeks or months. Type the subgoals of the
projects into the cells. Horizontally, you have all the
steps to completion. Vertically, you have a to-do list
for tasks per week. Thus, you can tell at a glance which
weeks are too full to commit to any other projects.
When you complete a subgoal, highlight it in a color so
you can see at a glance when they are done and to
celebrate its completion. Cut/paste any incomplete tasks
as nags and move one cell over. Strip off each column as
the week passes. The stripped off column can be archived
so you can do a quick annual or quarterly review. Add a
new column to the back end of the working table.
If incomplete nags keep moving over each week as, stop
and think about whether they are tasks worthy of your
time or need to be deferred, delegated, or ditched.
Presuming they are things you really want to do, break
them down into 15 minute sub-subgoals and list those
sub-subgoals in the cells under their deadline. You will
probably discover that most leftover nags are things you
don’t really like to do but need to do to complete a
project that you do care about. Now you can whittle down
the sub-subgoals. The time management experts refer to
this trick as “eating the elephant, bite by bite.” (Why
the experts use that analogy is a mystery to me.)
Consider making yourself accountable to a colleague or
coach that you report to by email, or phone when the
pesky nags are completed.
The above tips sound deceptively simple. Applied week in
and week out they will add up to less stress, increased
productivity, and more personal time. You might just
have your best year ever.
One of the participants in a faculty development
workshops this summer said he was afraid to even dream
about “having the best year ever.” He wasn’t specific
whether he was more afraid of failing or succeeding.
Finally, he announced that he had decided to try to have
a “good year.”
Best wishes for your best year ever or least a
“good year” whichever you choose.
Jinny S. Ditzler. (1994). Your Best Year Yet: A proven
method for making the next twelve months the most
successful ever. New York: Time Warner.
Marcus Buckingham & Clifton, Don. (2001). Now Discover
Your Strengths. NY: The Free Press.
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am currently accepting speaking invitations work-life
balance workshops for the fall. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
Title: “Staying Sane in Insane Places: Managing Diverse
Faculty Responsibilities with Clarity, Balance and Ease.”
Date: October 25-29, 2006;
Place: Professional and Organizational Development
Network Conference; Portland, OR
Title: “Playing Well With Others: An Introduction to
Communication Skills in the Workplace.”
Date: November 3, 2006
Place: Johns Hopkins University Medical School:
Registration, fee, and directions:
Linda Dillon Jones, Ph.D., Director,
Center for Training and Education: 443-997-6800
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