Sunday, August 21, 2011

Five Steps to Making a Semester Plan for Academics

There is no denying it: the Fall Semester is here. This means it is time to make a Fall semester plan.

The beginning of the semester is always a hectic time for academics. We often are anxious about all we have to do now – finalize syllabi, set up appointments, prepare for classes, and re-arrange our schedules – as well as all we have to do over the next few months - teach, grade, publish, etc. For this reason, I would like to share with you a strategy I learned from Kerry Ann Rockquemore that has brought order to my semester.

Preparado... listo... / Ready... set... "Just Do it"

Although you probably are in a frenzy to get ready for the upcoming semester, I am going to suggest that you add one more task to your immediate to-do list: Make a plan for the Fall Semester.

Academic life revolves around semesters which start and end several times over the year. The beginning of a new semester, then, is something that academics experience over and over again. However, even for those of us who have been teaching for many years, new semesters continue to be times of high anxiety and insecurity. We may have taught our classes several times before, but we never know how this batch of students will be. We may have been in our department for years, but it is often unclear what issues or challenges our department will face this year. For new professors and graduate students, the horizons are even less clear. The unknown, logically, leads to anxiety.

Setting goals for the fall semester will allow you to see a bit more lucidly what lies ahead and will relieve some of your anxiety by permitting you to come to terms with what you can and cannot accomplish.

Thus, even though it is one more task in addition to all you have to do, I highly recommend you take an hour out of your busy schedule and sit down and write out your goals for the Fall Semester. Here is how you do it.

Step One: List all of the tasks that you would like to accomplish this semester

Look over your calendar and through your emails to make sure that you do not forget any important tasks. Things you might put on the list include: submit book proposal, send off article, complete a revise and resubmit, or prepare paper assignment for undergraduate class.

Step Two: Separate tasks into categories

The categories I use are: Research, Teaching, Service, and Personal. Writing goes under the "Research" category, and "Write two paper assignments" goes under "Teaching." Dividing these tasks into categories will help you to prioritize your tasks according to your professional trajectory. For example, if you are at a Research I institution, and your Teaching and Service lists are much longer than your Research list, you may need to figure out how to move things around.

Step Three: Arrange your tasks by month.

It’s almost the end of August, but go ahead and put in August anything that needs your immediate attention. Anything with a September deadline goes in September, and anything with an October deadline goes in October. Once you have dealt with the tasks that have deadlines, you can decide where to put the remaining tasks that do not have firm deadlines.

Step Four: Arrange your tasks by weeks.

If you have four writing goals for September, then you can place one in each week of the month. If you have two, then give yourself two weeks for each. The point is to decide NOW when you will turn your attention to each task. This will help you to keep on track and to feel less guilty about not dealing with everything at once.

Step Five: Figure out what will not get done this semester.

If you have tasks that do not fit into your semester plan, now is the best time to decide that you will either put them off for another semester, remove these tasks from your list of goals, or delegate them to someone else. Believe me, it is much better to make this decision now than to have these tasks weigh on your shoulders for the rest of the semester. If the project is something you really would like to do, make it a priority for the Spring semester. If it is something you wish you could get out of, find a way to do that diplomatically. For example, if you have agreed to do something by November and now realize you will not be able to, you can tell the person with whom you made the agreement: “I just made a detailed plan for my semester, and have come to realize that I simply do not have the time to complete this work this semester.”

I wish you the best as you plan for the Fall Semester.

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