Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Taking back my life

Apparently I took an unexpected week-long hiatus from blogging. It was not intentional at all. No, the reason behind my lack of blogging is simple: I feel like my life is spinning out of control, in a sense. Not in a horrible, tragic way, just in a work-is-controlling-too-much-of-my-life-and-I'm-still-not-getting-anything-done way. My email has exploded, I have way too many people making too many demands on my time, and even though I'm trying really hard to set boundaries and say no, there are still people who persist and who don't get the hint. Ack!

I find myself walking a fine line between self-preservation and what others might call "bitchy" behavior. I know that the way I'm working right now is not sustainable and not healthy, that something's got to give. But the culture here doesn't appear to reward that--on the contrary, it appears to reward the all-sacrificing person, the "team player", the one who has time to drop everything and respond to someone else's needs. So, for instance, senior faculty will say "protect your time! choose your service tasks wisely!", and then will imply that no, you really can't give up that task, and not that task either, and by the way can you just get X done by tomorrow, please, because if you don't then it won't get done? It's enough to make one want to pull one's hair out, strand by strand. Combine that with the fact that I don't exactly have a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings for my department lately, and you've got a recipe for resentment.

My goal for the summer is to take back my life, both at work and at home. I do pretty well at carving out time for research during the academic year and the summers, but the past few weeks have demonstrated that I need a better way of dealing with email, with other people's demands, with saying no and extricating myself from time-sucking and unfruitful commitments. And I'd really like to make time on a more regular basis for pursuing my other interests--I feel like I spend too many evenings working and not enough rejuvenating myself. This is summer, for crying out loud, and it should be a time for doing less work and spending some time enjoying the supposedly "lighter" schedule. I tend to forget this during the summer, and not take time off, and then start off the year burned out and miserable. This year, I've deliberately NOT scheduled the second half of my summer, so that I will take some time off and/or at the very least reduce the hours I work.

My hope is that I can form enough good habits during the summer to sustain me during the year as well. I'm not sure if it's possible, but what I do know is that if I continue on like this, I will burn out completely, and that's not good or healthy.


Ianqui said...

Committing tons of time to other people is definitely not right considering that it's summer! I too am tending way too much to the needs of other people, and it's really grating on my nerves. Take back your summer!

Need to learn to say no said...

Jane, I can so relate. I felt incredibly guilty the first time I said no, but it has empowered me to be able to say it again. (Okay, I say no too rarely, but I'm working on it.)

You hit on the key when you said extricate ... from time-sucking and unfruitful commitments. Ask why a service opportunity is a good thing for you to do. Will this service commitment specifically address a concern that was raised in your three-year review? If not, then it sounds like your colleagues have expressed their preference when they were forced to make a choice.

One strategy that I have followed is to present alternatives. "I could do service task X, but it will interfere with me submitting proposal Y and paper Z." Colleagues who encouraged me to take on certain service responsibilities were less enthusiastic when the constraint imposed by time scarcity was clear.

Most importantly, enjoy the summer. Take some time to relax. Last summer I found that even two days doing something just for myself -- something completely unrelated to research -- was incredibly rejuvenating.

A fellow junior academic said...

Hi, Jane,

I've enjoyed reading your blog - and I can certainly commiserate on a lot of things!

What has worked very well for me has been to keep a spreadsheet of my hours. I decided a few years ago how many hours I thought was reasonable to work each week, how much vacation time I should "get," etc. There are some weeks when one is obviously going to have to work longer (grading finals, anyone?), but you track that, too, and give yourself comp time later on. Once I've done my quota, I don't feel obligated to do more work.

I've found it's worked well to keep me from going crazy - and from slacking too much, since that's also been known to happen. :-) I decided that I needed to contain the work somehow if I wanted to stay sane, and I'm not willing to compromise my sanity for a job. At least not much. :-)

Good luck!

Jane said...

NTLTSN, that's a great idea. I'm finding the direct approach is working rather well for me, too---today, I told my chair that I hated every minute of serving on this one committee, and he said he'd help me extricate myself from it. Woo hoo!

Fellow Jr Academic, I love the spreadsheet idea! I think I'm going to try that. Thanks for sharing!

Ianqui, "take back your summer!" should be the rallying cry everywhere of junior faculty. Let's start a movement! :)