I keep thinking to myself, “Ok, I’m going to be really focused today.”
And then I think about what I’m going to focus on:
- student attendance
- preparing for this week’s appointments
- preparing for break
And I realize that this is not focus. It is, however, a starting point.
Lifehacker and The Simple Dollar have been posting more content than usual geared toward college students, and it got me thinking about my own college experience. It was a great one. I worked hard, but I didn’t work smart at all, and because of that I’m not sure I lived up to my potential.
This isn’t intended to be a list of regrets. I’m reflecting on a path I set out on when I was 17, and my perspective on it from my mid-twenties is understandably a little different.
What I Wish I’d Done In College
Basically, I wish I’d scheduled my time as though college were my 40 hour per week job. Mind you that when I was in college I’d never had such a thing as a full-time job. Still, I don’t think it would have been beyond me to:
- set a regular (reasonably flexible) work schedule, planning to spend about 8 hours a day either in class or involved in studies;
- spend time at the beginning of each semester marking not just mandatory class times on my calendar, but also project due-dates and my own draft due-dates;
- make it my business to go to each prof’s office hours at least once;
- treat class time more seriously (like it was a meeting or a conference) by taking notes and behaving in a more openly friendly way to my classmates.
I also wish I’d done a few less serious “school is your job” -type things, such as:
- joining a club that would take me off campus on a regular basis;
- sleeping more consistently;
- spending more than one semester taking a karate class.
And honestly, I can’t help but wonder if taking a year or two between high school and college and doing AmeriCorps or some such work would have made the above wishes realities instead.
Again, no regrets. I took interesting classes, did respectably well in them (except chemistry), made incredible friends, enjoyed participating in music programming, and reached out to some profs and acquaintences I hope I’ll still be acquainted with years from now. I was also introduced to life in the Twin Cities and have continued living here since graduation. I think of it all as a success. And I’d have a different kind of success if I started it in September 2009 instead.
Juggle Strobe by Sam UL on Flickr
Wednesdays are new student registration day at my learning center. I’d never get anything done if I took new students whenever they walked in or called, so I have everyone come to fill out their application and take their placement test on one evening out of the week.
Yesterday I had 8 students signed up for registration, and I usually get additional people who haven’t contacted me. That would have been pretty chaotic, even for me. So I did the unthinkable. I asked for help.
It was great. My volunteer told people about the schedule and helped with the application. Then I could focus on finding the right test for each student and monitoring their progress. We ended up only having five new students (it was about 3 degrees outside, so I wasn’t surprised) but it was still a much calmer, more controlled process than other nights with five or so intakes.
So I want to know why it took me so long to ask for help, and why it still feels a little like cheating to change the system so that I’m not needing to juggle five (or eight) people at once.
I’d like to announce an official hiatus, effective immediately, to end when I return from vacation in mid-January.
This is my effort to truly take a break. A teeny part of me feels guilty, I’ll admit it. However, I really believe that it’s not only ok to stop working sometimes, but that having that break improves work quality and productivity in the long run. So off I go!
Have a wonderful month!
At work we’ve noticed some… communication escalation. By this I mean:
- One person will call 3-5 of the staff running our program and leave them all the same voicemail, which does not mention that she was calling several of us.
- One person will both email me a question and leave me a voicemail about it within five minutes.
- Someone who leaves a voicemail at 8AM (I don’t get in until 9) expresses frustration that she couldn’t get through to anybody when she calls again at noon and I “finally” answer.
It’s a typical case of people not seeing the big picture. They’re thinking about their isolated concern, not about what they’re doing to the office and our ability to address everyone’s concerns. Let me tell you, it’s frustrating to listen to a two-minute voicemail, look up some answers, call the person back, talk for ten minutes, then bring other questions to another colleague, only to find that that colleague had just talked to the person in question an hour ago about the same thing. Yes, that has happened. It’s a pity I couldn’t have used that time to call back 5 other people who also needed answers.
I honestly don’t blame people for getting worked up and feeling that they need to bombard us in order to receive an answer. I do want to offer them some guidelines for not slowing down everything for everyone else though.
I’m not the only one in the office who’s noticed that this problem has been increasingly insistent, and we’re discussing some policies that might help us reign it in within our department. Measure’s we’re considering:
- Sending out an automatic reply to every email stating our reply policy (i.e. staff set aside x amount of time to reply to emails per day. Non-urgent emails will be answered, but not immediately.)
- Leaving a new voicemail greeting everyday outlining our meeting schedule for the day and when callers can expect a reply.
- Indicating on our voicemails and emails that staff check both regularly, so a message in one of those systems will be sufficient.
Has anyone else noticed this happening? What do you think causes it? How have you addressed it, or how do you wish you could address it? Can social media help?
I had a great conversation with a coworker recently about how to deal with constant interruptions. You know what I mean: those days when the moment you hang up the phone it rings again, and all the while your red-exclamation-point emails are piling up, and people are lined up at your door looking worried… it can seem like a conspiracy.
On those days, I take the top thing on my to-do list, write it in large letters on a post-it note, and stick it right in the middle of my desk. That way when (if) there’s a moment between distractions, I don’t waste a moment trying to remember what the heck I was trying to do. It’s right there.
Post-It Reminder: Simple, Obvious, Effective
It’s also extremely satisfying to crumple up and chuck the post-it into the recycling when I finally finish with it!
What do you do when it’s “one of those days?”
The other day I happened to read two pieces that both touched upon habits.
The first was an article called Warning – Habits May Be Good For You from the NY Times.
- a branch of successful marketing creates consumer habits, i.e. using Febreze.
- some people think this is wrong, creepy, etc.
- a nonprofit partnered with one such marketing company to promote the habitual use of soap in parts of West Africa, which saves a lot of little kids from dying.
Then I read a post called The Meaning of Life from the Positivity Blog.
- we don’t have to go through life playing out the same old tired, automatic habits.
- we can choose how to react, and therein lies our freedom.
- it suggests working toward synergy and also doing what you love.
It was fascinating to read them on the same day because they’re so close to contradicting each other. I think, though, that they both point to the idea that habits are powerful and can to some extent be controlled.
My takeaway is a whole bunch of questions to ask myself that I’ll also share with you:
- Are you aware of your habits? Habits of mind, relation to your environment, treatment of others, technology usage, verbal tendencies, etc.?
- Is your organization aware of its habits, its automatic actions?
- How are said habits serving you? Your organization? What would you change if you could?
- How can we make positive change in personal or organizational habits?
- How can we move beyond writing more policies and procedures to actually change our everyday experience? Is this a logical place for Social Media to step in?