Keeping Calm

So it’s mid-semester here and I just made myself a cup of tea.  I’d rather do that than face the pile of grading, the nagging thoughts of all the emails I need to send, and the department agenda I need to prepare.  The mug that’s holding my work-avoidance tea (pictured here) was a door prize from the IDEA Center, a nonprofit that provides “assessment and feedback systems to improve learning in higher education.”  I attended one of their sessions at the Academic Chairpersons Conference this February.2014-03-17 12.50.05

The “Keep Calm” meme is everywhere these days, but in this context, it does raise an interesting question.  How do you keep calm as a chair?  Do you keep calm?  Recent research into our brains and happiness suggests that we will do better, more creative, and more productive work if we are already happy.  In other words, don’t wait for success at work in the hopes that it will make you happy; rather, start happy and the good work will follow.  Calm and happy are not necessarily the same things, but I think the benefits of a happy state of mind are probably not too far removed from the benefits of a calm state of mind.

With this in mind, today’s blog is of the very practical variety.  While musing about types of leadership and the future of higher ed, we all have to deal with our daily workload.  So let me propose two things I do to minimize disorder and keep calm.

1.  Before you leave your office at the end of the day, tidy it up.  I’m not suggesting you can get everything organized and properly filed–especially if it’s been a busy day involving lots of different tasks.  But even if it’s just arranging things in neater piles, when you walk in the next morning, you won’t be greeted by chaos, and you can start the day in a calmer state of mind.

2.  Before you leave your office at the end of the day, make a list of what you need to do tomorrow.  The simple act of writing those things down is a kind of tidying up, but it will also empty these things out of your brain so that you don’t worry about them overnight.  In other words, it will calm your mind.

What strategies do you have for keeping calm?

2 thoughts on “Keeping Calm

  1. Excellent tips, even for those of us who aren’t chairs. For me, I find that the “this, too, shall pass” idea (even when I don’t express it to myself in words) helps me put the small problems in their proper perspective so I have the energy to focus on the truly important ones.


    1. Notorious PhD: Thank you! I like your strategy, too. I often frame it as “how much will this matter in a week/two months/six months?” Like you said, it helps me sort, the little problems from the big ones.


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