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
In this issue, you'll find:
- Not Enough Time
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Not Enough Time
If you are like most professors, you never have enough time
to get everything done. You dash from classes to meetings,
multitask during office hours, and try to fit in a little
scholarly work late at night when the grading is done. You
might be trying to solve the wrong problem. Too little time
is not the problem - we all have the same 168 hours a week;
the real problem is too many goals. In order to become a
peak performer you must dream big allowing your imagination
to run wild about things you would like to accomplish in
your life but at the same time work small on just a few
projects at a time. Here are some tips that will help you.
- Get all those dreams and goals out of your head and
onto paper. Write each goal on a small sticky note, one per
sticky note. Free your brain from having to remember your
goals and you will feel like you have enough time to
accomplish all that you want to do.
- Group your goals under the six to eight Vision
statements. If you attended any of my workshops you
probably wrote them while building your life management
system, the Pyramid of Power. If you haven’t yet built
your system consider attending my complementary on line
seminar entitled, “Creating Your Ideal Life” (see notes
at end).Vision statements are 6-8 umbrella summaries of
your goal categories. For example, a health vision
statement would be, “I keep fit and healthy by eating
healthy, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of
- Park all of your goals in a Dream Book distributing
them across the 6-8 sections labeled by your Vision
statements. Writing your goals does not commit you to
doing any of them. When you write goals on a written
list, an uncommitted goal just sits there, uncrossed
out, screaming “failure” at you. Writing goals on
sticky notes allows you to toss out an irrelevant goal
without the goal police even knowing you got rid of it.
With this technique, you can write a limitless number
of goals because you will later decide on the timing
and appropriateness of each before you make a
commitment. To paraphrase the Gallo wine ad, “No goal
before its time.” The problem comes when you move from
dreaming globally to acting locally. This is when you
can overwhelm yourself with too many goals that you
are trying to complete simultaneously.
Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two
Limit yourself to only five to nine projects at once,
this recommendation based on a memory law discovered
in 1956 by a young psychologist named George Miller.
While studying the memory capacity of college
students asked to remember random words, he found
their capacity averaged seven items with a range
between five and nine. That finding held up for
fifty years until recent research discovered that
while students in an experiment could recall that
many single simple words, when it comes to sentences
anyone can hold in memory is four.
Now for the really bad news: when it comes to ideas,
the number you can hold in mind simultaneously is
exactly one. No wonder it is so hard to think and
takes so much energy. There is an exception to these
numbers. Miller found that memory can expand if you
“chunk” or group words that have similar meanings
under a word. So when you are working on goals, if
you can chunk goals under goals you will not
deteriorate your memory with those additional items.
You might be able to handle four projects with four
goals under each but you will strain your brain by
holding them in working memory. Many faculty attempt
to do their intellectual work in their heads without
writing down their projects or goals. It makes them
tired, doesn’t really work, and amounts to
intellectual arrogance. Instead, writing down the sub
goals of a project will allow you to be able to work
on one at a time and not “forget” the other important
Projects as Chunks
Projects such as “revise western civilization course”
or “refinish hardwood floors” are really multi-goal
goals. To accomplish those two goals, you will have
to complete many small goals or action steps.
Revising a syllabus will involve checking the
college schedule to find out when the semester
starts, ends and takes a break. It will involve
reviewing last term’s course evaluations and
scanning descriptions of new textbooks that might
be used for the course. Likewise, refinishing the
floors might involve many small goals such as saving
money, selecting a company, and setting a date.
- Instead of making daily to-do lists of random
items consider how those items relate to each other
by chunking them under a heading of the project
they relate to. Manage those goals one at a time
and you will experience less overwhelm.
- Pick projects that are timely, interesting, and
use your strengths. Make sure the projects are really
things you want to do or at least that lead to
something you want. For example, you might not want
to co-direct your department’s self-study in
preparation for re-accreditation but doing a good
job might lead to better future funding for your
department and for your own special projects.
- Corral all projects, personal and professional
on a Tracking Sheet, a table document where you
manage the tasks related to the projects. Label the
rows with the project names and the columns with
dates, usually the Mondays or Fridays of each week
or any unit of time you wish. Write the tasks for
each project inside the cells formed by the
intersection of rows and columns. Use the Tracking
Sheet to watch the progress of all of your goals
simultaneously. You will easily see the intersection
of all due dates and can stop yourself from an
intersection error such as committing to a due date
on a major project the week of your daughter’s
- Cross a line through the cell tasks as you
complete. You can tell at a glance what tasks are
yet to be done. If many are left undone past your
personal due dates, don’t take on more projects
until they are completed.
- Keep data on how many goals you can do per day
and you are on your way to setting realistic daily
to-do lists with timelines that really work.
- Notice how many projects you do get done and
what their scope is so that you can more accurately
estimate how many projects you can do per unit of
time (month, quarter, semester, or year). Write
down your estimated time frames for how long a
project will take and then the actual time frame
for how long it really took. You will quickly
develop a data base of “reference class
forecasting,” data on how long it takes you to do
similar work with a similar class of projects.
That recommendation comes from the Nobel prize
winning research in economics from Daniel Kahneman,
who developed this technique as a counter to the
“future planning fallacy,” the universal tendency
to make mistakes about what we can get done in the
future. We expect to magically have more time than
we do now and we magically expect that projects
take less time that they really do.
- Run every project through your “reference class
forecasting” to estimate how long it will take
compared to other similar projects. You will be
able to more accurately predict how much work you
can get done in certain time frames and how many
projects you can work on simultaneously. For
projects you have never done, you should double
the time you think it will take. I would love to
hear results from readers. What happens when you
try to limit your total number of projects to
four or so? What is the magic sweet spot where
you can get things done without feeling frantic?
- After completing one project on your
tracking sheet, pull out another from your Dream
Book. You will be amazed at how setting limits
on the number of projects you work on
simultaneously will help you get many more
projects done in a year’s time. Less is more.
Now you have all the time you need for the
completion of key projects. And you will feel
relaxed and productive while you are working.
Dream big, work small.
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
Title: "Creating Your Ideal Life"
Date: April 12, 2011
Time8:00 - 9:00 pm EST
Place: Elluminate Live! (an online classroom)
Registration: no fee register by emailing Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com
Title: "Peak Performing Professors: Vital Teaching from Vital Teachers
Date: May 21, 2011
Place: The Teaching Professor: Atlanta, GA
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://www.teachingprofessor.com/conference
Title: "Strategic Career Design and Work-Life Balance
Date: June 2-5, 2011
Place: Lilly East Conference on College and University Teaching
Registration, fee, and directions: see http://lillyconference.com/dc/default.html
Since this is a big writing year for me, I am
limiting my speaking engagements and only accepting
a couple more invitations for presentations on the
speaking topics above for the fall of 2011 and winter
of 2012. Contact me if your college or university
needs a presenter on any of the topics listed above.
To start receiving the Professor Destressor e-Newsletter
send an email with “Please send Professor Destressor” in the
Subject to: Susan@Professor Destressor.com.
To stop receiving send an email with “Stop Professor
Destressor” in the Subject to: Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com.
Professor Destressor e-Newsletter is intended for
informational and educational purposes only. Coaching
should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for,
counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.
© Copyright 2010 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or
distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a
single word is changed, added or deleted, including the
contact information. However, you may not copy it to a
web site without the publisher’s permission.
Susan Robison, PhD.; 9005 Chevrolet Drive;
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Voice: 410-465-5892 or 410-461-1382