Sunday, August 13, 2017

Have a Little Fun with Semester Planning

Are you ready for the semester yet?

Sorry if that question provoked a panic attack, but I am sure I am not the first one to ask you. I know I have been asked at least a dozen times this month.

Preparing for the semester is rarely fun, and academics seldom feel ready when the semester begins. To change the mood a bit, in this post I will explain a few ways planning for the semester (or quarter) can actually be enjoyable.

For me, one fun aspect of semester planning is looking at my (relatively empty) calendar and scheduling things I enjoy as well as things that are good for me – before my calendar gets out of hand.


Trying to find time for something fun in mid-October can be nearly impossible for many of us who work on a semester or quarter system. But, right now, my October calendar is looking relatively open. So, why not schedule in some fun stuff now before all my time is taken?

You may say to yourself each year that you are going to spend more time with your family or go to the gym more often. Putting it into your calendar now, however, makes that much more likely to happen.

Here are some ideas for things you can put in your calendar now that you not only will enjoy putting into your weekly template or semester plan, but also will enjoy when they happen.

When are you going to exercise this semester? How about a jog or a walk every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning or afternoon? Why don’t you check out your gym’s Fall schedule and see when that awesome yoga or Zumba class is? Perhaps there are two days a week when you can bike to campus? Whatever it is, try putting a repeating event in your calendar now. Plan something feasible – something you know you will actually stick to.

Short Getaways with Friends or Family
My close friend and I try to plan at least one getaway to the beach every semester. We find a day that works and book one night at a hotel. We go somewhere fabulous for dinner, spend the night at the beach, go for a walk along the beach in the morning, and then head home. These trips are extremely rejuvenating. They can be super hard to plan due to our work travel and other commitments. But, now is the best time to plan them. If you can’t afford a night away at a hotel, perhaps you have a friend who lives near the beach or in a cabin in the mountains? Either way, looking at your calendar, when can you plan a quick getaway?

Date night or Friends night
When are you going to go out with your partner or your close friends for dinner or drinks? How about setting aside the time now? What would be ideal for you? Once a week? Once a month? Twice a semester? Whatever it is, make plans now so that you can ensure it happens.

A mini-retreat is a day where you do not check email or social media, and instead, spend the day writing and doing things you enjoy. I explain those in more detail here. You can do these alone or with friends. The key is to plan the mini-retreat now, while you still have some open days in your calendar.

Doctors, Hair, and other Appointments
Okay, this might not be super fun. But, have you had your dentist, eye doctor, and doctor visit yet this year? When is the last time you had a haircut? You might be able to get some of these things done before classes start. At the very least, you can make the appointments now so that you can get those appointments at a convenient time. Personally, I hate going to the dentist, but if I make my appointments well in advance I can get a late-afternoon appointment so that at least I don’t have to go back to work after my visit to the dentist.

So, think about it: what are some fun things you can work into your calendar – while there is still some empty space in it?

Finally, if you are thinking way ahead and want to sign up for our writing retreat in Peru, there are still a few spots left! Now, that would be something to look forward to!

I wish you all the best with your semester planning and I hope you are able to put some things in your calendar other than classes, meetings, and work trips. Let me know in the comments what you have planned.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mini-Retreats: Writing Blissfully During Busy Times

I began my summer with a fabulous writing retreat with 21 other women in Bali. During that week of bliss, we woke up each morning, had a healthy and delicious breakfast, meditated, and then wrote until lunch. In the afternoons, we shared work with the brilliant participants, and then went on a little adventure.

My goal with that retreat, which I organized with my amazing colleague, Ayu Saraswati, is to show people how it really is possible to be amazingly productive and enjoy life at the same time. This all seemed quite possible while we were in Bali. I am usually able to maintain a similar schedule in the summer when I have few responsibilities. But, how can this practice translate into the semester?

Writing in Bali with an amazing view!
Is it possible to maintain this level of peacefulness, focus, and productivity when the demands of the semester ramp up? The answer to this depends in part on your schedule during the academic year, and in part on your perspective.

Being calm, focused, and productive is very important to me. So, this semester, in addition to all of the practices that I usually incorporate, I plan to have a one-day mini-retreat of my own at least twice a month. I'd like to say that I will do it every week, but I know that is not feasible. So, I will aim for twice a month.

I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays, and usually have meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so Fridays seem like a logical day to carve out for my mini-retreats. I put "mini-retreat" in my calendar for every Friday, and then went through and deleted the ones I know will not happen due to travel and other commitments.

So, what will I do on my mini-retreat days?

First of all, I will not check email or social media on the morning of my mini-retreat days. This is hard for me, but experience tells me it is the best way to be productive and peaceful.

My house is fairly busy in the mornings with my husband and three kids getting ready for their day. So, I will exercise in the morning while they are still in the house. This may include a jog or a yoga class, depending on the weather and the gym schedule. I will then enjoy breakfast with my husband and remind him that today is a mini-retreat day.

I will begin my writing day at 9am with ten minutes of meditation. I will then use the pomodoro technique and get in at least 5 25-minute writing sessions. Then, I will pause to make and enjoy a delicious healthy lunch. I will then spend the afternoon doing something I enjoy either alone or with someone I enjoy spending time with. There are several beautiful hiking spots within an hour's driving distance from me, so I may go to one of those. I also could go for a swim, to a yoga class, or get a pedicure. The point is to do something I enjoy doing in the afternoon.

I will have to plan some of my afternoon activities in advance so I need to make sure to make plans ahead of time. I may even plan some of these mini-retreat days out of town with some of my lovely friends who live in beautiful places.

What about you: do you think you can work a mini-retreat into your semester schedule? I am sure you can pull off at least one well-timed mini-retreat - especially if you put it into your calendar now. Most of you can likely make once a month happen. And, if you are on sabbatical, this could be your everyday routine!

Finally, if you are interested in the weeklong retreats that Ayu and I host, the next one will be in Peru! My husband is Peruvian and I did my dissertation research in Peru. It is one of my favorite countries, and we are going to one of my favorite spots in Peru - the Sacred Valley of the Incas. You can find out more about our academic writers retreat for women on this website. And you can sign up for the June 2018 trip here.

Attending the writing retreat each year is a great way to renew my commitment to these practices, to nurture my creativity, and to remind myself of the joys of the life of the mind. I hope to see you there!