How 15 Minutes Can Save 24 Hours of Stress

I don’t mean to disappoint the legions of ProfHacker readers who have come to expect talk about super smartphones, unicorns in your Google Maps, or a host of other technological things from me—this post is not technologically-oriented at all.

Well, with the exception of my trusty pad of sticky notes. The paper kind. That’s some good tech right there.

A few days ago on Twitter I lamented the fact that I couldn’t settle on something to write for ProfHacker. I got several good ideas (very quickly), including this one, from my fellow PhD candidate at WSU, Lisa Anderson:

@mirrorcove32: @jcmeloni what can you spend 15 minutes doing today that will make tomorrow’s work day better?

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “that’s pretty good.” Several other people in my Twitter stream stopped and said “whoa. How about that!” And thus this post was born—simplicity and common sense FTW.

[edited to add: turns out Natalie Houston said the same thing a few months ago. Apparently I need multiple people to tell me something before it sinks in!]

I’ll give you all two examples of how 15 minutes one day can reduce my stress for the next 24 hours. First, the overall life organization sticky note example. Yes, I have sticky note applications on my laptop and my phone. But the application I use every day—usually at the end of the day—is the application of pencil to paper. This particular example I happened to have in my Flickr stream from 2006, but I can confirm I have a similar sticky note in front of me right now.

At the end of each day, I write a new sticky note; I transfer the old information to the new note, and take off the completed tasks. I have a strong streak of kinesthetic-tactile learner in me, so the act of writing and then re-writing these notes that actually point to a heck of a lot of work spinning around in my life (this particular note includes: book chapters, grad school coursework, language school coursework, general life errands, job tasks, and important job tasks attached to a specific day and time).

Going to bed having written a new sticky note that condenses everything I have to manage into a 3″x3″ space goes a long way toward my productivity the next day—not just because I’ll have my plan in front of me, but because I won’t be subconsciously trying to make my plan while I’m trying to fall asleep. The sticky note is the closure to my day.

Now, having just written a few hundred words about the glory of the sticky note, I’ll offer the second example: 15 minutes that improve the next teaching day. Luckily, Billie Hara wrote about Reflexive Pedagogy yesterday. In that post she said:

Reflexivity, on the other hand, is to engage in the moment, to understand the thoughts and feelings of an experience while experiencing that experience. As a self-reflexive professor, for example, I would evaluate my teaching as I’m teaching. I wouldn’t wait until the end of a course to see how I’d done or to think about changing my pedagogical strategy. I would ask some hard questions at the end of each lesson to help understand what I was doing and why I was doing it.

When I get home from my teaching day, I often write a post on each of the course blogs that in part summarizes what we did in class, points out some key concepts to remember going forward, highlights bits of class discussion, and looks forward to the next class meeting or assignment that is due. The act of writing this post—which really does just take 15 minutes, or less—forces me to contemplate the strategies that went into that day in the classroom and to figure out for myself if I need to change things up for next time. I try to write the post, however, so that the students reading it can engage in a little reflexivity about the material as well—it can help bridge some gaps that might still linger in their heads about the material such that they (and I) come into the next class period having continued to think about how things fit together.

FIFTEEN MINUTES to save 24 hours of stress? Sign me up. What about you? What can you spend 15 minutes doing today that will make tomorrow’s work day better?

[Image in this post by Robbert van der Steeg, CC-licensed.]

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