The start of the spring semester (or winter quarter) is both all shiny and new and a bit worn and familiar. You’ve probably got new students, maybe a new teaching schedule, and possibly new courses or course modules to prepare. Maybe you have lots of energy coming out of the winter break. Maybe a new haircut even.

But on the other hand, your desk may still have some of the same (literal or figurative) things on it: your long term projects begun months or years ago; the same thesis students to advise; the same professional organizations or responsibilities; and you’re probably serving on the same department or college committees (and possibly still discussing the same issues).

15 minutes and three index cards or three pieces of paper can help you quickly clarify your goals for this semester without feeling like you have to start all over again at the beginning.

On the first card: list three things that worked really well last term. Maybe you used a new method for planning lectures. Maybe a new assignment really helped your students learn the material. Maybe your standing Wednesday lunch date with a colleague really lifted your mood each week. Maybe your workout routine continued to preserve your sanity through the calendar’s ups and downs. Maybe it’s something small or something big, something new or something familiar — but no matter how difficult last semester might have been for you, there were probably at least three specific things that were working well, whether in the classroom, in your research, or in your personal life.

On the second card: list three things that didn’t work so well last term. Maybe your syllabus was too tightly packed and you felt rushed all term. Maybe your committee tasks were more demanding than you’d expected. Maybe you never followed through on taking your lunch to the office. Making your list as specific as possible (rather than “my 9:00 class” maybe it was “managing discussion for my 9:00 class”) will help you see what actions you can take to change or prevent the situation this term.

On the third card: list three specific actions you can take to improve the quality of your work and personal life this semester. These might be strategies for addressing the items on the second card: if taking your lunch to work is an important goal, then maybe packing your lunch the night before would help. These might also be actions that build on the successes of the first card: continue your regular morning run or standing lunch date, or adapt the new assignment to a different course.

The point of the 3×3 exercise is to give you quick, simple, and specific actions that will help you build on both the positive and negative experiences of last semester.

[cc licensed image from flickr user tandemracer]

Questions? Ideas? What are your goals this semester? Let us know in the comments!


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