Sunday, January 1, 2012

Five Steps to Making a Semester Plan for Academics

Now that we have brought in the New Year, there is no denying it: the Spring Semester is here. This means it is time to make a Spring 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 in an online forum she hosted in 2007. (Dr. Rockquemore also has a great post here on the importance of semester planning.)

I have been planning my semesters since 2007, and now can't imagine life without semester planning. For me, semester planning takes a lot of the anxiety out of all I need to accomplish as it permits me to make a feasible plan and to see that it all will get done, eventually.

Spring Flowers

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 Spring Semester.

Setting goals for the Spring 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 and plans for the Spring Semester. Here is how I do it.

Step One: List all of the research 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.

Here is a list of my Spring 2012 goals:
SPRING 2012 Goals

Finish Deported book
Guate interviews
Guate draft
Brazil interviews
Brazil draft
Rewrite chapters
Citizenship notes
Incorporate discussion of TRAC data

South Carolina
ASA (submit paper)

Submit Human Rights piece to Sociology
Submit jokes article to ERS
Write intro essay for ERS
Project with SD and YI
- Paper #1
- Paper #2
- Paper #3

Finalize SOC 332 syllabus
Finalize SOC 780 syllabus

Step Two: Arrange your tasks by month

Now that you know what you need to do, the next step is to figure out when you are going to do it. Take a look at your list of goals and decide which ones you will complete in January. Put put in the month of January any task that requires your immediate attention. Anything with a February deadline goes in February, and anything with an March deadline goes in March. 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.

Here are my January goals

January Goals
Guate interviews
Guate draft
Submit Human Rights piece to Sociology
Submit jokes article to ERS
Summit speech
Finalize SOC 780 syllabus
Finalize SOC 332 syllabus
AJS review
Paper to ASA

Step Three: Arrange your tasks by weeks

If you have four writing goals for January, 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. For January, for example, I have:

Week 1
- Human Rights piece for Sociology
- Speech
- Finalize SOC 780 Syllabus
- Finalize SOC 332 Syllabus
- AJS review
- Guate interviews
- Submit paper to ASA

Week 2
- Human Rights piece to Sociology
- Outline/Plan OUP Chapter 3
- Guate interviews

Week 3
- Submit jokes article to ERS
- One section of OUP Chapter 3
- Guate interviews

Week 4
- Complete draft of OUP Chapter 3
- Complete Guate draft

Step Four: Figure out what will not get done this semester (The 4 D's)

What do you do when you have more tasks than time? Anyone who has read David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity will know that there are four options for any task: do, defer, delete, or delegate.

For the Spring Semester, this means that you have to look at each of your goals and decide if you will do them this Spring, defer them to a later date, decide they are not important and delete them, or delegate them. These decisions can be hard, but it is much better to make this decision now than to have these tasks weigh on your shoulders for the rest of the semester.

All of your pending tasks should fall into these four categories:

  1. DO:  Prioritize all of the tasks and projects you actually will do this semester, and make sure there is a place for them in your semester plan.
  2. DEFER: If the project is something you really would like to do, but can't do it this spring, make it a priority for the summer (defer it).
  3. DELETE: If it is something you wish you could get out of, find a way to delete it diplomatically. For example, if you have agreed to do something by February 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 by the deadline. I hope you can find someone else to fulfill this role.”
  4. DELEGATE: Delegation is often particularly hard for academics, but there are things that can be delegated, such as organizing your office, transcribing your interviews, cleaning your data, and formatting your endnotes.

Step Five: Implement your plan

A detailed semester plan is not of much use if you don't implement it. Many productivity experts suggest you print out your goals and place them somewhere you can see it on a daily basis. I think it is even better to post your plan where you will see it every day. This will serve as a constant reminder of your goals and where you are headed.

Each week, as you make your weekly plan, refer back to your semester plan to make sure you are on track. Finally, remember to find time to write every day to maximize your chances of achieving your semester goals.

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

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