What’s the most important thing you do? If you had to had to pick just one activity, what would it be? I have an answer for each of the major roles I play (husband, dad, professor…)
The most important thing I do as a professor is make concepts relatable to someone who’s never seen them before (I’m still working on the wording here). If I’m not doing that, then all of the other things that I do wouldn’t have a purpose. I wouldn’t meet with students for help sessions, or grad homework, or attend meetings, or mentor, or create assignments, or give exams, or adjust grades, or process deadline extension requests…
If I don’t teach, the other administrative activities don’t matter.
Yet the hardest thing for me to do is
find time to make concepts relatable to someone who’s never seen them before! All of those other tasks seem to fill my days. Why?
- They are smaller time commitments, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of working on 5-minutes tasks all day. It feels like progress.
- They are easier. I don’t need to dig deep and focus fully to do the administrative work.
- They nag. When your email is blowing up and there’s a line down the hall from your office door, you want to make it go away.
- I’m a people pleaser by nature. I thrive off of feeling like I helped someone. But the admin work gives only shallow help and a shallow reward.
- They represent open loops. Little things that must be done, and leave a feeling of stress until they are.
The result is that it can be hard to find time to prep for class, which is the most important thing I do. No one else can do it for me and it cannot wait. At 10:00 am Monday, Wednesday, Friday I have a lecture to give. Period.
I could fix this by trying to fight harder. I could put signs on my door to leave me alone. I could stop replying to email and let my students wonder what’s up. Or I could win a different game:
Once a week, Thursday, I hide out. I work remotely. I don’t open my email until my deep work is done. By forcing myself to put the other things off until the most important thing is done, I ensure that it gets done!