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Less is More
The New Year and the start of the second semester collude to prompt professors to set goals ­ way too many goals. Professors say that one of the prime barriers to good work-life balance is feeling overwhelmed. Here you are near the end of winter, facing spring break feeling overwhelmed with too many resolutions and too many career goals. Maybe this is the year to decrease that overwhelmed feeling by implementing the principle of “less is more.”

How Much is Too Much?

People differ in their energy levels and in their capacity to multitask. Only you can decide on how many goals are too many. Here are some guidelines to consider.

Hooked on Stress

Some faculty seem destined to set too many grandiose goals, continually overwhelming themselves. A few thoughts on what stands in their way of living a more balanced, productive life.

Less Is More - Assignments

Now some tough questions: Are you happy with the number and type of assignments on your course syllabi? Are you accomplishing your pedagogical goals through each one? Could you accomplish the same goals with fewer assignments or with different kinds of assignments?

When I was a full-time faculty member, I taught among other courses, Experimental Psychology. One of the goals of the course is to teach the students to write up experiments in APA style. The standard practice at the time was to assign one paper a week across the whole semester. One year, my dean gifted me with an amazing opportunity ­ released time to participate in a year long Writing Across the Curriculum program with Dr. Barbara Walvoord, a leader in that niche. Based on what I learned that year, I cut the number of assignments in half for the next semester. The goal was to have more time to coach the writing process and to help the students master the principles of good, scientific writing instead of having them just churn out pages while I churned out feedback that made no difference. After revising the syllabus, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the writing improved. Now my feedback was actually helpful to the students and I wasn’t the only reader giving feedback. Periodically, the students presented drafts of assignments to a peer group and learned how to coach each other in the rewriting process.

Both the products and the process have improved. In addition to the course goals being better accomplished with fewer assignments, there are work-life benefits as well ­ less grading and less reading means more time for research or discretionary time. Currently, my students submit their second drafts electronically with the rewritten parts highlighted in color so that I can zero in on the quality of the new material. I have the pleasure of seeing my feedback making a difference instead of pouring my soul into those papers only to have those comments buried in the students’ course files. Take a look at your own syllabi to see if you could cut or consolidate the assignments to accomplish the same or better teaching with less work for you and the students.

According to psychologist and meditation teacher, Dr. Tara Brach, the Chinese word for busy is “heart-killing.” Half way through the semester is a great time to revisit your goals and decide whether you are busy and killing your heart or active and productive. Experience is a good teacher about what can realistically be accomplished during a semester. You can learn how to pace your goals in future semesters. Instead of each semester being an exhausting sprint, imagine your whole career as a long marathon where pacing yourself will keep you healthy and in the running. You might discover that less is more.

Conclusion

Breathe.

References

Richardson, Doug. Making Time; Making Change.

Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance.


© Copyright 2007 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.

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