We academics are lucky, in a way: we get a fresh start at least twice a year. We have a new school year in the fall and a New Year in the winter. With this luck, though, comes the requirement to start anew. Old schedules and habits are over; we have to commit ourselves to new ones. Whether we like it or not, we have to start over.
Following peer pressure—something nobody should ever do—I am therefore setting out some of my winter New Year’s resolutions. These are public, and idiosyncratic, so I will probably regret them many times over before I do it again next year. I am already afraid (see number 7) about posting them!
Academic life comes in three forms—teaching, research, and service—and then there is the personal. I’ll skip the exercise, yoga, meditation, clutter-conquering, calling-my-parents, eating-more-kale, bringing-my-own-bags (hey! I already do this one!) resolutions. You can find these everywhere you look. Instead I’ll look at my academic resolutions.
1. Procrastinate and fret less. The plan is to start doing the things I’m putting off—grading, bureaucratic reports, polishing articles, reviews, grading, making decisions about scheduling, responding to complicated emails, and, by the way, did I mention grading? Once I am in the midst of a semester I often find myself constantly worrying about getting responses back to students. Once I start I almost always find it takes less time than I expected. So, in order to get to these things, I just have to begin. Preferably this occurs in an empty room with the Internet disconnected.
2. Plan my daily writing in advance. I already reserve mornings, my most productive time, for writing, but I don’t always get to the writing part. This resolution requires having a concrete plan about what exactly to do. The Pomodoro Technique takes care of this.
3. Work on fewer things at a time. Instead of compiling lists, starting new things—Oh the joy of starting!—and having oodles of unfinished work weighing down my heart, I will keep in mind what two of my productive colleagues have revealed in the last year, as I’ve asked about work habits: (a) Work on one thing at a time. (b) Recognize that the last 10% takes 90% of the effort. So in order to work on fewer things at a time, I will have to finish the half-dozen articles that are on my list, so I can get to the 600-page manuscript that I am especially excited about.
4. Stick to my resolution about taking on only tasks to which I feel I can offer something unique. Keep relying on my “No Committee” (my next-door colleague and friend) when asked about new obligations. Each talk, manuscript review, committee, independent study, conference seems intriguing itself, but they add up to an unmanageable whole.
5. Continue trying innovative approaches to learning, aiming to reach my students where they begin and move them to a new understanding and inspiration, rather than blaming them for not being academically oriented.
6. Remember that my position is one of a certain amount of privilege—in comparison with many other academics, and in comparison with many others in jobs that bring only a livelihood, not a calling, and then with so many without employment at all—and that with that comes obligation.
7. Be brave. Speak the truth, as much as I have evidence for this, even if it is frightening. Stop waiting to write the strong views I hold. It might mean people dislike or dispute what I say, but that is supposed to be the point of public discourse. In that vein, I turn to resolution 8:
8. Blog. I’m starting the New Year able to check this one off right away. But like yoga, exercise, flossing, eating kale, calling my mother, and all the rest, it must be done regularly in order to be effective. And though I give my blogging some thought, I usually let the posts go without stewing too long. They are somewhat risky, but writing helps thinking and responses bring additional clarity.
So now I’ve publicly stated my plans. With the theory that accountability helps, I hit “submit” and enjoy the clean slate that January 1 brings. I wish you a similar hopeful beginning. Happy New Year!