‘Tis the season–back to school! Even through I worked through the summer, August is that time of year when I fall under the happy spell of the promise of a new year and a fresh start. The classroom, the office, the lab all seem shinier in the fall than they do at the beginning of a spring term. I recently got a fresh start with something else. After being sidelined by a stress fracture, I started running again this week. It is a humbling, sometimes frustrating, experience to return to something I love without the stamina and (relative) speed that I had twelve weeks ago when I had to stop. But, starting over has also given me the chance to think about and fine tune various parts of my running regimen: my form, speedwork, what kind of an event I want to train for (a half-marathon, perhaps?). In other words, I’m trying to take advantage of being back at square one. How might that lesson translate into beginning a new academic year? What can you do differently or fine tune in this season of fresh starts?
1. Mapping the campus. If you’re a department chair or other middle management administrator, chances are you’ve been around the block a few times and you know the lay of the land. Or do you? I find that the org chart and personnel at my university are constantly changing. Suddenly, the office of International Programs no longer reports to Admissions, but instead reports to the Provost; this will change how we handle study abroad. There’s a new person in charge of graduation applications; this changes my contact for questions about graduation. Not to mention offices that have moved. I had no idea Counseling Services was in a different building; now I can refer students to the right location. You get the idea.
2. Mapping your day. After five years of being in the office most days of the week for 6-8 hours each day I have discovered that my powers of concentration evaporate between 1 and 3pm. So this is NOT a good time for me to do anything detail oriented or to read for class. It is a good time to finish relatively mindless bits of paperwork, to sort through the ever-increasing number of piles on my desk, and to answer simple email inquiries. This also means that the hours between 9 and 1 ARE good for reading and writing documents that require focus. There are some things I can’t change about my workdays: my teaching schedule, regularly scheduled meetings, but I can take the times that are my own and use them as productively as possible.
3. Breaking bad habits. As a runner, I am really bad about stretching after a workout. As a chair, I am really bad about organizing my electronic files. I use Dropbox and tend to just “throw” files in there, willy-nilly, reasoning that I will go back later and sort them into folders, etc. This strategy has not served me well. Time to change it. Also time to stretch after a run.
4. Mixing it up. Look around your workspace, wherever it is. Could it be organized more effectively? Would moving a chair or a bookshelf or hanging a bulletin board somewhere else contribute to better work flow? Or what about changing things just for the sake of change, just to make it look different as a way of signifying a fresh start? Hang that poster on a different wall, put down a throw rug, buy yourself a new coffee mug. Do something with your workspace that says this is the beginning of a new academic year.