Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Surviving a busy spell: phase 1 = acceptance

I mentioned earlier this week that April is a month that is really "rich and full" for me -- a euphemism for "busy".  Every academic year is sort of like the 1812 overture: it starts all sunny and soft, but it build in intensity, ending with all instruments full voice and cannons going off.  Okay, so I'll admit it: I'm getting overwhelmed.

For me, one of the ways I get through this month is to realize that this is the way I decided to live.  I didn't choose the particulars, necessarily (no, I do not want to make 5 trips to the pharmacy again this week!), but I did choose the general outlines that make up my tasks.

Occasionally, I've been surprised to find that other people don't see it this way.  I remember a conversation with a friend who was complaining about how much grading she has to do.  I made what I thought was an obvious remark:  how lucky we professors are, that we set the amount of work we have to do, and we work hard because of our own high standards.  My friend was insistent that the grading she faced was just way, way too much.

Now, at my college, no one tells professors how many papers we have to assign.  No one tells us that we have to serve on national committees.  But we still assign a LOT of work to our students (and it comes back in spades as piles of papers to grade).  And many of us join all sorts of committees, and end up doing all sorts of extra work because of that.  But I quickly realized that trying to push that point with my friend would turn me into a jerk, so I eased up.

And yet, I still believe there is a heck of a lot that I do that's not other people's fault.  It would be easy to rail against the system that made me spend 8 hours in the offices of doctors, notaries, schools, and pharmacies last week.  I'm betting you didn't do that, after all . . . but that's my point.  *I* chose to adopt a child from the Statewide Adoption Network, and *I* agreed he ought to move in the Thursday before Easter.  Okay, so all this was a choice.  My choice.  In the same vein, I spent the past weekend (and also much of Monday . . .  oh yeah, and then again much of Tuesday) grading piles and piles of papers . . . but *I* assigned those papers to my students.  Another choice that was mine, all mine.

It might not be that the particular flavor of busy-ness I face is what I would have chosen, granted.  It's reasonable to ask, "Is this worth it?"  Sometimes, I think, "no".  Then it's time to extricate myself gently.  I've resigned from committees because of this in the past.  I've often said "no" to things I really want to do, just because I know how awful April is.

I also know that my situation doesn't apply to everyone.  A tenured professor has freedom that few other people have.  If my dean says, "I just thought of something I need you to do right away", I can say, "Sorry, not going to do it," and nothing bad happens to me.  (Just think how miserable it would be to be my dean!!!).

But for me, at least, the first phase in surviving the onslaught of too-much-to-do, too-little-time-to-do-it, is to own the busy-ness.  It's mine.  

No comments:

Post a Comment