It’s hard to believe that March is here! I’m not sure why, but there’s something crazy that happens around this time of year. There are more & more events happening around town, people are starting to hang out more, yet everyone seems to talk about how tired they are, how far behind they feel, and how they don’t know when (or how) they will ever catch up. And, of course, there’s lots of fantasizing about Spring vacations and even more about summer plans.
During particularly intense times, it’s easy to get caught up and lose sight of the big picture. The problem with operating this way is that we can easily fall into old unproductive behavior patterns and short-term ways of thinking. If you’re living each day in crisis-management mode, it’s easy to forget to ask yourself if things have to be so chaotic, to seek advice from others, or to work toward creating solutions that will help you work smarter.
We all need consistent feedback (from ourselves and others), and the reality of academic life is that if you don’t proactively create feedback loops, you’re unlikely to get the type of information you need to take control of your work life, be productive and enjoy the job you’ve worked so long & so hard to obtain. Sometimes this is referred to as 360-degree feedback because you place yourself in the center and seek information about your performance and advice from those around you (like the hub of a wheel). That includes people who are both above and below you. In other words, now is the time to make a change by asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I on track?
- What’s holding me back?
- Do I need help getting to where I’m going?
- How can I make a positive change?
- Furthermore, how can I make this change permanent?
Are You On Track?
To answer this question, start by taking a look at your spring time goals. That’s right, go ahead and pull out that scrap of paper, Post It note, napkin, or scratch piece of paper. The purpose of documenting your goals is to give you a tangible tool to evaluate your progress. And if you created a strategic plan already, just pull it out then this will be even easier.
Once you have your goals in front of you, honestly assess your productivity. If you are ahead of schedule or right on track: congratulations! If you are behind schedule, that’s fine too. If you haven’t made any progress whatsoever, that’s okay. This is simply an opportunity to honestly assess your progress without any excessive criticism, judgment, or shame.
What’s Holding You Back?
If you are not satisfied with your progress, then it’s time to identify what’s holding you back. Personally, time management is a bit of an issue for me. Without identifying the problem, it’s impossible to design effective solutions. Here’s a quick & easy way to identify what’s holding you back:
These following types of errors occur when you are missing some relevant skill or technique:
- You haven’t set aside a specific time to fulfill your goals
- You’ve set aside the wrong time to complete your work
- You have no idea how much time a particular task takes. (or you consistently underestimate the time required to complete a task)
- You’re the wrong person for the job & and you don’t realize it
These are situations or environmental factors that are beyond your control:
- You have an unrealistic workload
- A health problem limits your energy
- You are in a life transition (ex: a new baby, divorce, unexpected elder care)
- You are externally forced to work in a non-typical environment
- You have someone in your life who negatively impacts you
- You work in a hostile environment
These are the deeper issues that burst forth & keep you from moving forward:
- Feeling disempowered around research, writing, and/or your intellectual abilities
- Fear of downtime (during which you may have to deal with difficult issues like what you really want to do with your life and/or your relational problems)
- Needing to be a caretaker at the expense of your own needs (i.e. your helping others is out of balance, so you feel resentful, unappreciated and overwhelmed)
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Fear of disrupting the status quo and/or speaking truth to power
- Fear of completion
- Unrealistically high expectations
- A hyperactive inner critic
- Unclear goals and priorities
How Can I Make A Positive Change?
Once you have identified what’s holding you back, think of the most direct way to address these issues. You don’t have to solve everything at once, but pick the greatest problem area, and create a solution. For example, you haven’t started that book you bought a while ago but have been meaning to get to. That’s easy to fix: just bring the book with you when you go out each day, so you can read during your free time when you’re out & about. That way the reading gets done in small spurts.
If it’s your goals, then revise them. If it’s over-preparation, then relax a bit so you don’t overdo it. And never be afraid to ask for help either.
Or maybe you’ve discovered you really want to be a __________ (insert community organizer, documentary filmmaker, wedding planner, journalist, or whatever…), and you’re miserable in your current career. Well, then it may be time to stop running yourself ragged and start creating an exit strategy, so you can begin working on what you really want to be.
I hope that this week brings you the strength to continue to press forward and a spirit of gentleness as you evaluate your progress & identify your problems and the creativity to create brilliant solutions that work just right for you.