This is the time of year when many of us are regrouping and getting ready for the spring semester. While the calendar year is just beginning, the academic year is at its midpoint — effectively leaving academics with the cumbersome practice of living between two calendars, and those of us with school-aged children are often juggling an additional calendar or two. That said, the beginning of a new calendar year is an opportunity to reflect on what is working in our ways of getting things done and what is no longer serving us.
Last semester, Roopika Risam joined us on our podcast, View From Venus, and gave us some really great suggestions for ways to use our time more effectively, not necessarily so that we can do more, but more to provide for a better sense of balance in our lives. I think her plan for how she gets things done by building on prior content, and also her method of using technology to help her streamline the work that she does and make it manageable, is really important for us to revisit at the start of the new year.
So, what’s her method? She approaches courses, papers, presentations and projects with a “how do I repurpose this?” strategy in mind. What does this mean? It means making sure that the topics she covers in teaching, research, management and service all feed into and reinforce one another. It means going for depth rather than breadth, and using deadlines for invited talks, conference presentations and journal articles to keep yourself on track. It also means incrementally advancing your book thesis every time you give a presentation, getting feedback along the way. What if you are invited to give a talk that isn’t directly related to your current book project? Roopika recommends focusing on the work you want to do, not the work other people want you to do. When you are asked to give a presentation on a given topic, instead try suggesting the topic of your current book project.
Use technology to help you manage your schedule. Roopika uses Asana and TickTick. She uses Asana for project management and TickTick for day-to-day to-do lists. Every night, she reviews the following day’s schedule and determines where she can move tasks from projects in Asana to her daily to-do list on TickTick. Since I am an extreme morning person, I do my review in the morning. I am currently using a combination of blank journals from Muji that I use as a base from which I create my own structure. I also write most of my to-do items, project task breakdowns and project ideas while doing my morning journaling online at 750words. I keep the Muji journal next to the iPad and go back and forth between writing my morning pages in an online journal and picking up my pen to add to the day’s to-do and to-email lists in my Muji journal.
When we spoke with Roopika on the podcast episode, I asked her how she got herself invited to give so many talks. She spends a lot of time cultivating friendships and personal relationships, and she does this through social media and also in face-to-face meetings at conferences. She has a great network of colleagues who are deeply committed to supporting one another, and it shows. She takes building, maintaining and caring for the people in her network seriously. I have found this work to be crucial for women and for people of color. Academia is tough, and you need a community or several communities for reflection and regeneration. Without this space of renewal, burnout is all but guaranteed.
There is even more in the podcast episode. Give it a listen here or just read through the transcript and use some of Roopika’s tips to help yourself get organized for the new year and new decade.
How do you organize yourself? Perhaps productivity isn’t your highest priority. Maybe for you it is more of a focus on mental health and wellness and managing stress. Share some of your own tips below.
Mary Churchill is associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University (est. 2018). Prior to her role at Boston University, she was the vice president for academic affairs at Wheelock College in Boston. She is the co-author of The Good Closure: Authentic Leadership in a Time of Crisis (under contract, Johns Hopkins University Press), which details the merger of Wheelock College and Boston University.