Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to Have a Life on the Tenure-Track

One of the events at our new faculty orientation in August was an encounter with a group of faculty who came to this university one, two, and three years before us. The central theme of everything they told us was "Say good-bye to your loved ones, your friends and your hobbies. You will have no time for them from now on."

As I mentioned before, I am probably the biggest slacker you have ever met. I procrastinate as a way of life and I love it. So the news that I might have to give up on my favorite occupation of being a total layabout was not particularly welcome. In response, I came up with a series of strategies that, I hope, will allow me to procrastinate my way into tenure. Then, of course, I will be able to indulge in my lazybones lifestyle with a vengeance. So here is what I do to avoid feeling overworked and burnt-out:
  • E-mail is your enemy. One of the things that robs us of a lot of time we could spend much more productively reading or snoozing is e-mail. I receive several dozen e-mails from the university mailing list, university services, colleagues, and students. In order to avoid spending the entire day reading and answering e-mail, I allocate 7 minutes a day to work-related e-mail activities. I actually use a timer for this purpose. The way I go about this, is scan the titles of e-mails and only open them if I believe they might be very relevant to my life. The rest just get deleted. When the 7 minutes allocated for this activity elapse, I stop reading work-related e-mail. My rationale for deleting most of the e-mails is that if it is something really important, they will find a way to contact me again.
  • Every piece of paper matters. Create a folder subdivided into Teaching, Research, and Service sections. Whenever you get any e-mail or any document that is relevant to these 3 areas of your activities, print them out and add to the folder. E-mails where students, other faculty, or your Chair thank you for any of the things that you performed for them, should be printed out the minute you get them and placed in this relevant section of this folder. If you prepare an article or a talk for a conference, print an extra copy and add it to the folder. If you come up with a great original activity for your classes, print an extra copy and add it to the folder. If you attend a workshop offered by your institution, print out your thank you letter and add it to the folder. As a result, when the moment comes for your retention review, annual merit review, mid-point review, or tenure review, you will not have to run around as a headless chicken trying to collect all the necessary papers. You will have them all gathered together in your nice big folder that you can just hand in and spare yourself the hassle.
  • Close the door. One piece of advice that our colleagues insisted upon during orientation was "Keep your door open and something interesting/useful/fun might float in." Sounds nice, but in reality, the open-door policy robs you of incredible amounts of time. So I am always willing to talk to students about anything. But I keep the door closed for colleagues who want to chat, gossip, bitch, and spend time talking tome. 
  • Do you really need to have an opinion? If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that having opinions is what I do. This was actually the reason why I started this blog in the first place. However, in the work setting, people often waste a lot of time having, expressing and insisting upon opinions on very trivial matters that do not merit such excessive attention. To give an example, we had an endless exchange of e-mails among our school's faculty on whether we need to have clocks in our classrooms. Sure, having a clock is good, but is it worth dedicating hours of your time to discussing this issue? Whenever you allow yourself to be dragged into a debate, ask yourself: Do I really need to have an opinion about this?
(To be continued...)

    No comments: