Reclaiming My Time

I went to bed last night feeling Friday-night level exhausted, again. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way. The summer of COVID-19 has been extremely busy, and while I am grateful that I got to spend it with so many fantastic students who have done incredible work during such uncertain times, I find myself utterly exhausted.

For many faculty members, summer is typically a time to recharge – a time to catch our breath after usually very busy fall and winter semesters. This doesn’t mean we aren’t working – just that the work is different. Most of our time shifts from teaching and service to research programs, grant writing, and working with grad students.

Obviously the pandemic changed that.

I don’t know what the case has been for others, but I feel that I spent most of my summer in Zoom meetings – parked in front of a screen with little time for anything else. This means I’ve been spending too much time after Zooming (is that a word now?) trying to get work done. Hours spent working during the evenings, late nights, and on weekends have become far too regular.

Clearly this is not sustainable, especially if I want to be present and useful to the students in my classes or in my lab this fall. And I do. The students deserve the best version of me that I can offer. And if I’m preaching to them the need to manage their health and wellness, and their life-work balance, I probably should be offering a far better example than that which I am currently offering.

So what am I going to do? I’ve given it some thought and I’ve come up with the following rules for the semester:

  • I need at least one day every week to catch up on whatever work I’ve not been able to do during the rest of the week because of meetings. Beginning this week until at least the end of 2020, Fridays will now be known officially as NO MEETING FRIDAYS. The all caps is intentional. The only exceptions to this include the two Board of Undergraduate Studies committee meetings I have in the fall that were scheduled over a month ago.
  • I need a break between meetings to reset. The move to online meetings seems to have eliminated the 5 to 10 minutes that gave us time to travel across campus, take bio breaks, or find coffee. I’ve learned that my brain needs to reset between meetings, and that I need to get off my ass and move more often than I am currently doing. Plus, sometimes I just gotta pee. As such, as of today I am reclaiming my time. From this point forward, my meetings will run 25, or 50 minutes.
  • I need to move work back into the workday. To accomplish this, I need to reduce the number of hours I spend in meetings. So, for the fall semester I am limiting my time in meetings to at most 3 hours per day (excluding NO MEETING FRIDAYS). Further, meeting start and end times must fall between the hours of 9 to 5. The only exception to this will be meetings pertaining to my role as a University of Guelph Senator, or as faculty co-chair of the UofG United Way Campaign. This still allows up to 12 hours of meetings per week, and honestly, that should be more than enough.
  • I need some down time to rest my wee brain. Next week I will be off. I will absolutely not reply to any email unless it’s an emergency that can not be solved by anyone else but me. I will also not be replying via Messenger, Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, Teams, text messaging, Twitter DMs, or through any other media unless those messages are about non-work related things. I will respond to any and all messages that are funny, inspiring, entertaining, or related to pie, travel, or scotch, or that involve physically distanced plans to meet up and share a pint.
  • Continuing on the theme of needing down time, weekends will be made for weekend related things, not for work. If I absolutely have to work on a weekend, it will be limited to early mornings and only one day per weekend. This means I will do everything in my power to not grade or edit papers on weekends. As with previous semesters, I will work with my TAs to have all grading done between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday.

Why am I sharing this here? There are several reasons. First, I think that the pandemic has caused a lot of us to lose control of our life-work balance, and we need to take the time to recognize this and work to correct it. Perhaps as a team we’ll be more successful than any one of us on our own? Second, I think it’s incredibly important to practice self-care and to share these practices with students. They need to know that it is not only okay, but essential to take care of ourselves. Third, I believe this semester in particular is going to require patience, kindness, and empathy above all else. This means sharing our struggles when it feels comfortable and safe to do so.

The start of the fall semester is one of my favourite times of the year. It’s full of nervous energy, excitement, positivity, and possibility. Taking steps now to make sure I take care of myself should help to make those feelings last as long as possible.

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