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:
- Powerful To-Do Lists
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Powerful To-Do Lists
A new semester brings the ongoing challenge of how to
structure your time and tasks to get done what you need to do.
You have an hour with nothing on your calendar. Do you
prepare for class, get ready for a committee meeting or grade
a set of papers? How about at home? Do you make dinner, check
the children’s homework, or exercise? What’s a busy faculty
member to do to feel that this semester can be a happy and
College professors have two extra time management challenges
that other professionals don’t have. The first is that the
profession of the academic involves more discretionary time
than other jobs. Notice that I didn’t say you have more free
time. You might have less free time than professionals who
can leave their work at the office but you have less daily
structure imposed from outside your choices. The bad news is
that you are the one responsible for structuring your day.
The second challenge is that your job is made up of several
sub-jobs or roles: teacher, scholar, leader, and community
member. Each of these roles has its own tasks. For example,
the teaching role includes grading, class preparation,
teaching the classes, advising, and writing letters of
recommendation. Furthermore, each of these tasks has
sub-tasks. Preparing for class may involve researching ideas,
making an outline, setting pedagogical goals, deciding on
what methods will accomplish those goals, and tying
assessment with learning. That’s a lot to do for a 50 minute
class period and those tasks must be repeated for each class
hour across the week, across the semester.
To help faculty answer the question of what to do next, I
developed the Professor Destressor Life Management System.
In this and the next issue of the eNews I will apply tools
of the system so that you can take control of your to-do
lists and actually complete them in an eight hour work day.
This issue of the eNews will review how to build your
Pyramid of Power, the philosophical basis for all of your
time commitment decisions, and how to construct a quick
procedure (the four times three technique) for making a
Daily To-Do list. If you have attended any of my workshops
in the last several years, these techniques will be
familiar. If you are not familiar with these tools, you can
request a longer version of these steps by writing me
The next issue will review two other tools to make your
lists, the Dream Book, a planning tool for generating and
managing all the wonderful ideas, professional and
personal, that you would like to explore in your lifetime
and the Tracking System, a way of keeping track of all
your current and future projects at home and at work so
that you can see at a glance if you are overcommitted,
procrastinating, or completing your work in a timely
The Pyramid Process for Building a To-Do List
The Professor Destressor Life Management System is built
on a pyramid, the strongest structure possible because of
its wide base and narrow top. Imagine that your Pyramid
has four levels, like the floors of a four story house.
The most basic level or first floor is the “Purpose,” the
second level “Mission,” the third level “Vision,” and the
fourth level “Goals.” Once you construct your Pyramid of
Power, writing and completing your Daily to-Do List
together will be easy. You will no longer have a list of
randomly connected items but a list powered by the
motivation of what really matters to you.
- Purpose statement. This bottom level of your Pyramid is
a short phrase, comprehensive enough to encompass all that
you do and inspiring enough to motivate you to keep doing
it. It answers the question, “Why am I here in this life?”
It is usually short, abstract, and, once articulated,
changes very little across your lifetime.
Some examples of purpose statements I have collected from
faculty and other clients:
- I am a bridge connecting ideas and people for the
- I am here to manifest God’s love.
- I add joy and peace to the world.
- I bring order and beauty to an ugly and chaotic world.
If these statements sound very big, they should. A Purpose
statement does not usually change in a lifetime or
changes only in its language but not much in its concept.
- Mission Statement. The next level of your Pyramid is
your Mission Statement, a longer statement that describes
how you live out your Purpose. It changes more frequently
than the Purpose statement, often in a 3-5 year cycle. It
is more concrete, behavioral, and action oriented than
your Purpose statement. The best formula I have ever seen
for writing a mission statement was developed by Laura
Beth Jones in her excellent little book, “The Path.” To
use her formula, write:
- 3 action words (verbs) of what you are good at;
- 3-8 values that you hold dear;
- 2-3 groups of people that you serve (you do what you do
Here is the formula to fill in:
I __________, __________, and ____________(verbs)
for/to/with__________ and ________(people)
who want ___________, _____________, and ___________
Here is what one client, a medical researcher on the
faculty of a medical school, came up with for her
“I research, promulgate, and teach about coronary artery
disease to students, colleagues, and patients who value
clarity, integration of ideas, and hope.”
You might wonder if the people you serve actually want
your values. Remind yourselves that values are caught
not taught and that when you are living your Mission
your students and others will get the real you with all
your values and strengths even if you never mention
- Vision Statement. The next level of your Pyramid
will contain your Vision, a statement or statements
(personal and work) describing what will happen in the
future, say, five years form now if you keep doing your
Mission. Answering the question: “If I work on my
mission, “What will result?” your Vision represents
dreams conceptualized and outcomes hoped for. It is a
reminder of what will likely happen in you and the
world around you if you live your Mission. It could be:
- A list of statements written in the present tense of
what is happening as a result of your living
out that Mission.
- A poem or a song to describe the results.
- A collage of pictures clipped from media to represent
aspects of your Vision.
Your Vision statement will take you the longest to
write and will be the longest of these pieces,
actually composed of substatements based on categories
you create as you dream big. It should be about your
Mission and its results for you, your immediate world,
and the wider world of your career, family or the
One client wrote this Vision statement about caring for
herself: “I am a good steward of my health in body,
mind, and spirit.”
Write your Vision as vividly as possible. Use sense
images to see, hear, and feel what is happening as
result of you living your Mission.
- Goals. The pinnacle of the Pyramid contains your
Goals, the action steps you will take to achieve the
vision of doing your Mission to fulfill your Purpose.
With the firm foundation of your Pyramid in place,
goals will become very easy to write and will make the
abstract philosophical pieces of your Pyramid come
alive and become real. They answer the questions: If I
am living my Purpose what would I be doing? How would
I spend a typical day? What tasks are relevant to the
Mission and Vision?
There are two ways to generate your Vision and Goals,
an inductive and a deductive way. Regardless of which
way your brain prefers, write all your Goals on sticky
notes one to each sticky using the smallest size you
can find at the office supply store. In the deductive
method, you first define the major areas of your life,
such as household, spiritual, parenting, etc. and then
generate all the goals you have for each area, writing
only one goal to a sticky note. In the deductive method,
you generate the Goals first and then sort the sticky
notes into piles with ones that seem to group
Some of the traditional New Year’s resolutions are
goals; some of what you want to accomplish this semester
are goals. Most professionals already have lots of goals
more than we can complete in a lifetime. We academics
suffer from the cognitive equivalent of that familiar
Mommily said when you piled more food on your plate than
you could eat: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
What is different about the Life Management System than
the way you have been setting goals is that that now
your Goals will be anchored to the rest of the Pyramid
of Power instead of floating around by themselves. The
Goals generated by either the inductive or deductive
method must relate to your Purpose, Mission, and Vision,
the Big Picture of why you are here, what you are doing
while you are here, and what you hope will result from
your actions. Your goals are ways to carry out those
hopes and dreams.
Powerful To-Do Lists
You might be wondering what to do with all of these
sticky notes on your dining room table. For now, get a
3 ring binder and a few pieces of different colored
pieces of paper hole punched and put into the binder.
Park the sticky notes on these pages, using the
different color paper for the categories of your Vision
such as household, parenting, writing, etc. In the next
issue of Professor Destressor eNews, you will learn how
to organize all these goals into a Dream Book and how
to track your goals and subgoals in a tracking system.
Until then here is a simple easy way to put together
your daily To-do list.
Each day ask yourself these four questions. You can
write out the answers in the morning or the night
before. I call this the “three times four To-Do list.”
As a result of answering these questions your To-Do
list will contain nine essential and three optional
tasks to be completed that day.
- What are three things I can do today to advance
productivity in my career and satisfaction in my
satisfying life? E.g. Write one page on my book
- What are three things that if I don’t do them today
dire things would happen to sabotage my best goals for
future satisfaction and achievement? E.g. Failing to
work on my tenure packet thus assuring that I won’t
get it in by the deadline.
- What are three things that I can do to take care
of myself so that I can continue to serve others and
feel great? E.g. Eat five fruits and vegetables, take
a walk at lunch, get to bed by 10.
- What three tasks might be considered optional for
today but essential for tomorrow that I could start
on if I finish the nine essential tasks?
Here are some guidelines for your list.
- Each goal should take no more than 15 minutes. These
goals should not be huge far reaching goals. Huge
goals go into your Dream Book to be broken down into
smaller bites later.
- Each goal should be linked to your Mission.
- Avoid activities that don’t fit your Mission. If you
do find yourself wanting to do activities not in your
Mission it might be time to rewrite your Mission
statement to include those activities.
- Learn to say “no” to goals that don’t fit your
Pyramid. Be firm, polite, and skip the explanations.
If you have a hard time breaking the habit of
agreeing to do things that are not central to your
values say, “That’s not part of my Mission.”
Commonly Asked Questions about To-do Lists
- What about goals other people give me that I don’t
want to do?
Who are the people and what influence do they have
over you? While we all want control over our to-do
lists we sometimes have to do tasks that do not have
intrinsic satisfaction but do lead to long-term
desired outcomes. For example, I don’t know any
profs who love writing letters of recommendations
but that task goes with the job of teaching because
helping your students succeed extends your influence
in the world. Imagine a future moment when a
well-placed student offers you a job or asks you to
present at a conference she is chairing. To make the
task less onerous, routinize it by having a form for
letters with fill-in-the-blanks for major items you
would write about the student such as teaching
skills, writing, researching, ethics, etc. Set up
some template choices, have the students fill them-
“I have known __________ for ____ years,” - and then
you can smooth out the prose into a professional
- What about goals that someone else gives me like
when my department chair says I have to serve on a
Remember your set of items that are things that if
you don’t do ruin your life? This might be one of
those. Some goals like teaching a good class give
you an immediate proximal connection to your ideal
life plan; other goals such as service to your
department are less immediate and more distal to
long-term goals such as maintaining the good will
of those who evaluate you for promotions and
tenure. If you can’t find even the remotest
connection of an assignment to your Pyramid, discuss
with your chair how you might offer to do something
you are good at that someone else doesn’t want to do.
- What do I do about things that I hate to do but seem
necessary like washing the kitchen floor?
Go back to your Vision statements to see if you have
written anything about your environment. For example,
my Vision statement reads, “My home is clean,
organized, and aesthetically pleasing and supports me,
my work, and my spirit.” Last night I spent an hour
filing bills related to tax preparation. I could have
resented every boring tedious minute but instead
reminded myself that my Vision of “organized” was
being served by the time spent on filing. You will
have many yucky tasks but if they relate to your long
term Vision you can whip them out quickly without
- I keep carrying over the same goal - write an article -
from day to day and it doesn’t get done. What should I
It usually means you have a goal is too big to be done
in one day. An article can’t possibly be done in just
one day so why even start. Instead break the goal of
writing an article into smaller 15 minute incremental
goals such as: review notes on the Smith article or
outline section IA3. You can get each of these goals
done in a day and the momentum for their completion
will cumulate into getting that article written.
- What do you mean only 15 minute goals are allowed on
my list? Nine of those will only take two hours and
fifteen minutes. Even if I do all twelve items that
will only take three hours. What will I do with the
rest of my day?
Teach classes, have office hours, eat lunch, drive to
work, sit in a committee meeting, wash out the shower
stall, walk the dog any of things you are going to
anyway that you never think of as goals on your To-do
lists. A few goals will take longer than 15 minutes
no matter how well you try to break them into 15
minute tasks. Some will take less. Some can be
scheduled for more because of their nature like a
30 minute exercise work out. The rule of 15 minute
goals can be flexed to accommodate longer writing,
class prep, and house tasks. Just notice that
whenever the tasks are too big, you will feel
overwhelmed and not start of them.
Make To-Do lists work for you each day by tying the
items to your Pyramid of Power and using the four
times three technique.
Jones, Laura Beth. (1996). The Path: Creating Your
Mission Statement for Work and for Life.
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 2009. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
Title: "Peak Performance Practices of Highly
Effective and Engaged Faculty”
Date: June 2-5, 2009
Place: Washington, D. C.
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://
Title: "Time Management: Why You Don't Need It,
Can't Do it Anyway and What To Do Instead”
Date: June 26, 2009
Place: Textbook and Academic Authors Conference;
San Antonio, TX
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://
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