The start of the new academic year is a special time. Most lecturers, academics and academic staff take a well-deserved annual leave in the summer to recharge and reflect, and many of them return with exciting new aspirations. Before you jump into the hassle and bustle of the new semester, it makes sense to create a plan and set the scene for your work. I have collected five steps to help you start the year feeling focused and organised. Going with the flow is rarely an effective strategy. Instead, a more strategic approach can be worth its weight in gold.
1. Brainstorm challenges and solutions
Taking the time to identify possible challenges can be powerful because it allows you to create a strategy for handling them in advance. When you are refreshed and grounded, you will find it easier to come up with creative and out-of-the box solutions. It can be helpful to try some ‘what if’ questions. What if you were faced with too many of the proverbial plates to spin? How could say ‘no’ or free up some time in your schedule?
2. Spring clean and declutter
Many academics would agree that managing e-mails is a never-ending battle. If you let thousands of e-mails sit in your inbox, you naturally feel overwhelmed. You could courageously move all those e-mails into a ‘dealt with’ folder and start afresh with a clean inbox. Rest assured, you will be able to use the search function to quickly find any correspondence from the past.
Those of us working in higher education are aware that organised record keeping can help us save dozens of hours (and frustration too). Cleaning up your computer folders and organising your electronic files is like tidying up your office desk. As you declutter and reorganise, you will enjoy a renewed sense of clarity and control.
Remember that clutter can lead to feeling mentally and physically fatigued. A disorganised working environment can create stress. Work which you left unfinished can be draining.
3. Set inspiring goals
Most people are not aware that thinking about goals rarely brings tangible results. Goals, to really work their magic, need to be specific, written down (ideally by hand) and frequently revisited. Goal setting is powerful. Set yourself three goals which you want to accomplish by the end of the academic year. Make them exciting, inspiring and courageous, if you like. Then, think about the first steps you could take by the end of the first semester towards realising them. Think in terms of small mile stones. If you set yourself some widely ambitious goals, remember to break them down into manageable chunks. It is a bit like walking up a steep staircase. At the bottom, you will probably feel slightly uneasy and question if you ever make it to the top. As you walk with confidence and persistence, you will be able to reach the top.
4. Find out about support
When you feel overwhelmed with work, it is often easier to keep on fighting your battles as opposed to making contact for help. Before the start of the semester, take a few minutes to find out about what support is available to you. Most universities offer individual coaching and a host of workshops from mindfulness and time management to managing stress and productivity. Your coach could help you achieve your goals, be a sounding board, an adviser or a cheerleader.
Harry S. Truman wisely reminded us that “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Reading can help with expanding your knowledge of the world and challenge your thinking. A book can be your ally offering advice, comfort and motivation. Have you ever created your own reading list? What books would you love to read in the coming months?
5. Building connections
You may have heard lots about building connections, however, never really considered it a priority. Making connections can help you both in the present and the future. Conferences, talks, educational events, panel discussions and coffee meetings with colleagues can all count. Get into the habit of joining the conversation. You will be better informed about what is happening in the higher education landscape. You could also hear about upcoming job opportunities, new trends, online learning platforms to use or share experiences with others. Make sure that you pencil in these events into your diary well in advance and whole-heartedly commit to them. Looking back in a few years from now, you will be glad that you have nurtured your network.
Preparation can help you start the academic year with a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm. Planning in advance can make all the difference to achieving your goals and making a positive difference in the lives of others. Bon voyage!