Effective Summer Planning

chalkboard Kathleen’s “How to Get More Than You Think You Will Out of a Semester’s Leave” got me thinking about upcoming summer “vacation,” which is fast approaching (barring complications, it should be here by the time this post goes live!) and what I need to do to make sure that the summer is both relaxing and productive. I suspect that I’m not alone in having a hard time balancing the two.

Like Kathleen, I teach at a small liberal arts college, so my semesters are packed full of responsibilities and obligations to my students, my department, and my college. By and large, I enjoy these responsibilities, but they can make sustaining a research agenda difficult. When I have time to pursue my own thinking and writing, I often am without energy, and when I have the energy, I usually don’t have the time. As a result, I have a tendency to romanticize the summer as “All This Time” that I haven’t had during the year to tackle all sorts of different projects, both personal and professional, that I tend to hold in reserve during the academic year. Consequently, in the summer I usually end up biting off more than I can chew.

ProfHacker is full of all kinds of technological tips and tricks for managing your time: applications, plugins, programs, and websites.  While I find many of these useful for managing specific tasks, I find that they also have some drawbacks. Specifically, they encourage a kind of micromanagement, which can lead to terrific productivity, but they can also blind you (or me!) to the big picture. Don’t get me wrong: I love my smartphone, and I love my laptop. Both have saved me from potential embarrassment by helping me to track my tasks and manage my time effectively, but I’ve also realized that both have serious drawbacks for me when it comes to long-term time management.

Moving my dayplanner to my phone has been a lifesaver this past year, and I have come to rely heavily upon the reminder function. I prefer to view the calendar by week so that I am prompted to remember meetings and appointments. The time is blocked off visually, and if I click on a block the details appear. This has been great in helping me stay on top of committee meetings, faculty meetings, student appointments, vet appointments, etc. But obviously, when working on a week-to-week scale, it’s hard to see the month or the semester holistically. I have the monthly view on my computer, but even then I can only track my time in 4 week blocks. For those of us who work in semesters (or summers), this view still limits us to just 1/3 of the picture.

To that end, I’ve been looking for ways to help me think in macro- rather than micro-terms. For this purpose, I’ve basically ruled out the digital. There is only so much space on a laptop display, even if you have a 17″ screen (and I don’t). Even my desktop, which has a moderately sized display is lacking in this department. But because I have ruled out the digital for this post doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to hear about any techno-tools that readers might want to share in the comments section-please, prove me wrong!

Basically, when I say “big picture,” I mean “BIG PICTURE.” In graduate school, I used to wait for Barnes & Noble or Borders to have their annual calendar sales in mid-January, and then I would stock up so that I could have three different wall calendars hanging side by side above my desk. I can’t remember who suggested the multi-calendar system, but it was terrific. Having three months next to each other really helped me when it came to planning ahead. I knew how many weeks there were until my comps or until the next batch of papers came in, or until the deadline for the CFP that caught my eye. For some reason, when I moved to the tenure-track, that habit didn’t make the trip.

For a couple of reasons, the calendar plan won’t work in my house, so this summer I am going to try something new: the chalkboard wall. Basically, I will be painting the wall next to my workspace with chalkboard paint. I am hoping that this wall will help me to both keep better track of the big picture (my chalk board will have calendars) and help me to map out my ideas more effectively. Tracking the big picture will help me to stay on track, I hope, rather than to fall into the Prufrockian trap of thinking “There will be time, there will be time.” Indeed, I can look at the wall and see for myself just how much time there is. Ultimately, my goal is not to fill my summer days and nights with all work and no play. To the contrary, I believe very strongly that we need some downtime in the summer to relax and recharge. What I am after is a balance so that I can advance my research agenda and also return to campus in the fall rested and ready to go instead of feeling frazzled by last minute tasks and the rush to finish some writing before the semester begins.

How do you keep track of the big picture? Do you have tips or tricks for macro-thinking? Please share them in the comments section.


[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Simone Hudson]

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