This seems the time of the year when the temptations to do anything except finish syllabi and other course preparation action items are at their highest. To that end, I offer the following five steps to staying focused and productive.
Turn off email
Once you’ve addressed the emails that are urgent, it is time to unplug and exit your email program. Otherwise, the emails that come in get treated with the same importance as everything else we have on our plates. Most of us think we can multi-task – but what we’re really doing is called switch-tasking, which slows us down considerably and also can increase errors in the work we’re doing.
Keep your social media in check
Many of us faculty enjoy seeing what friends are up to on Facebook, or looking at the latest articles and tools talked about via Twitter. However, this habit can turn into a serious time drain, if we’re not careful. Consider having a social media fix as a reward for accomplishing today’s goals, or at least as an incentive for getting the next big task done. At the very least, set a timer before you login, so you limit yourself to the amount of time you want to invest in these activities.
Plan for the low energy points of the day
For me, when it hits 2:00 pm, I have a hard time fighting off the urge for a nap. Some days, I let myself have this luxury and don’t worry about it. It is, after all, summertime… and we deserve some perks. Other times, I have too much on my plate that needs accomplishing and I need to stay at work, despite the low energy point. I find the following steps work well:
Go for a ten-minute walk
Drink a glass of water and eat a small snack (a handful of nuts works well)
Do something mindless to give my brain a break
Put on some energizing music
Look at the big picture
There’s a reason we do all the unrewarding stuff. Most of us feel a special call to teach and have an impact on our students’ lives. Try reading a few encouraging letters and emails to give yourself the motivation to get through the less fun aspects of class preparation.
Get a perspective on priorities
Start each day with your master to do list in front of you. Decide what is most important to get done today and figure out how to schedule things to accomplish it. If you think about other actions you need to take before the school year starts, be sure to capture those tasks while they’re on your mind. Otherwise, you’re wasting precious mental capacity trying to keep all that in mind at the same time you’re trying to be creative with class ideas. An earlier post talks more about getting things done (GTD) as a professor:
I hope you’ll be able to put some of these into practice. Let us know what else you’re doing to stay focused and productive during this time of the year in the comments.