I’ve been an academic administrator for about six and a half years now. I’ve been blogging about it for almost two years of that time. I’ve endeavored to make my shift from faculty to administrator a learning experience and have tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leading people, managing time, and introducing necessary change to the workplace. All of these things can be stressful, and I’ve pondered how to do these things while staying productive and maintaining my sanity. Over and over again I find myself returning to Three Simple Rules to reduce work stress.
Rule #1: It’s not personal. No, it really isn’t. I know the tone of that email seemed condescending and patronizing. I know you made special arrangements to be in your office and the student who wanted to meet with you missed the appointment. I know how angry you are because the dean wants you to teach a different course this semester. This isn’t to say that people aren’t sometimes jerks or inconsiderate–because they are–but most of the time these infuriating or frustrating behaviors are not meant as a personal affront or attack. Most of the time, in fact, the bad behavior of others has everything to do with them–their insecurities and anxieties–and nothing to do with you. And sometimes it’s just business–like the dean asking you to teach that course. Sometimes people just doing their jobs is going to have unpleasant consequences for you; that doesn’t necessarily make it personal. So step back and reduce your personal investment in the situation.
Rule #2: Ask yourself: will this (trouble with a colleague, a missed deadline, a disgruntled student) matter in two weeks’ time? In a month? In six months? Most of the time the answer is “no.” My point is again to step back and assess the situation. The problem certainly needs to be dealt with and solved; you can’t abdicate responsibility. But you can lower the stress involved by realizing that the crisis is temporary.
Rule #3: No email after dinner. This is a tough one for me. I break this rule often. But I have also learned the hard way that little good comes from opening your email at 8:30pm and realizing that a crisis has erupted. Really, what can you do about it from home at 8:30pm? You can worry a lot. You can lose a good night’s sleep. But you probably can’t make significant strides towards fixing the problem until you’re in the office the next day. So put down the smart phone or the laptop and enjoy your evening. The difference between finding out about the crisis at 8pm and 8am the next day probably makes little difference in resolving it, but will make a huge difference in your sanity.
These Three Simple Rules have served me well. What strategies do you have for reducing the stress that comes with being an academic administrator?