Summer in higher ed: best time, too fast
Summer is a wonderful time of the year, right?
When students and faculty leave campus, everything seems to slow down. Fewer people, fewer urgent demands and fewer deadlines usually mean more time to work on your own projects.
- It’s the perfect time to tackle the big initiative you never got a chance to start during the academic year.
- It’s the perfect time to go through the mile-long list of small tasks you could never complete because of all the emergencies others dropped on your laps.
- It’s also the perfect time to over commit, to make your to-do list even longer, because you’ll have so much time…
Unfortunately, summer often goes too fast. Between shorter weeks with holidays or 4-day week on many campuses, conference trips, your vacation and your colleagues’ time off, your summer grand plan to do all that needs to be done can disappear in a heartbeat.
When you work in digital, when your work involves a screen, small or big, it gets even tougher to find the quiet time needed to power through your tasks. The real-life chatter and the campus meetings desert your weekly schedule, but they are often replaced by time spent reading blogs, searching for information, clicking links, tweeting, snapchatting, instagramming, facebooking or slacking. Technology has made it so easy to keep us (too) busy without achieving anything.
As web and social media professionals, we have to deal with constant digital distractions: they come embedded in the tools of our trade. We have to engage our audiences to capture their attention, but also to fight the big bad algorithms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest. Engagement for the sake of engagement is a real thing. Its goal? To have the next critical message shared on social media make it to the newsfeed of the people who wanted to see them in the first place.
Got to feed the algorithmic beast. Click, click, share, share.
And, gone are your summer projects and goals.
A short list to save your summer projects from the beast
So, this summer, instead of adding to your to-do list, why not create a different list? Let’s make it short this time.
You only want to list there a handful of projects, 2 or 3 at the most.
They can be big or small projects, but they have to either:
- make a difference for your school or your unit
- improve your daily work – something you’ve always put off because you just don’t have the time
- impact your career on the long term
By aiming low – we’re only talking about 3 summer projects – you’ll find it easier to focus and get started.
Focusing on fewer projects will also help you keep things moving faster. You’ll get early wins and it will build momentum.
If you can manage to complete even 1 out of 3, you’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment than if you make progress on 4 out of 12. I know, same progress ratio, different feeling – it’s weird 🙂
So, try to fight our natural tendency to go for more. We crave a world of plenty. We loathe a world of limitations. We aspire to have more, better in every aspect of our life or our work, because scarcity is to be feared. However, as digital professionals, we are drowning in options, mesmerized by the new platforms popping up from everywhere, hypnotized by all the data, metrics or dashboards at our disposal. Yet, if we want to achieve or analyze anything we need to filter things out first.
Technology can often help with this – and it’s the promise on which the future of artificial intelligence and other algorithmic systems are developed. As we wait for this brave new world though, we can choose to filter things out – by ourselves – the best we can. It won’t be perfect, but “done” always beats “perfect.” Every. Single. Time.
Iterative incremental work for the win!
But, let’s not stop there with the new.
Instead of completing one project from start to finish before moving to the next, try to schedule 30 minutes a day for each project.
You can spend more or less time every day depending on your projects, but incremental work will help you make the most of your time.
It will keep procrastination at bay, because you’ve set a fixed amount of time for it.
This artificially creates a sense of daily urgency for a long-term project. Important initiatives often get pushed back and never accomplished, because we have to deal with emergencies.
We are designed to focus on emergencies. Blame it on evolution and our brains: if you weren’t focusing on immediate dangers or issues in the early days of humanity, you didn’t get to live another day and lost your chance to pass on your genes to the next generation. As a result, our brains can’t stay away from emergencies.
So, the only solution to fight this inclination is to embrace it by transforming the important into the urgent.
By doing this, you’ll get a chance to make progress on what really matters for your work — and your career.
So, give it a try this summer: 3 projects, 30 minutes (more or less depending on what works for you) every day (or other day if it’s more manageable in your situation).
Repetition and incremental work are key to this approach. You can apply it to any big or small work project.
You can use it for professional development projects like reading reports, writing articles or working on the presentation you’ll have to give at a conference in a few months.
You can also use it to learn or to master a new skill – either on your own or via a course (self-paced or instructor-led).
I know this approach works particularly well for skill development, since this is the design principle on which I’ve designed our courses at Higher Ed Experts. With more than 1,000 of higher ed marketers and communicators as alums of our professional certificate programs, I’ve seen this approach succeed many, many times.
So, please give it a try this summer and let me know if it works for you.
3 projects, 30 minutes a day.Tags: Higher Ed Experts Faculty, Higher Ed Marketers Career Advice, Higher Ed News, Karine Joly