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Academic life

Midsummer anxieties

Anyone like horror movies? I haven’t seen this new one called Midsommar, but I assume it’s about a bunch of academics panicking over the fact that the countdown to the academic year is now measured in weeks rather than months.

If you’re starting to feel anxious, worried, or sad about the end of summer, you’re not alone. Maybe there’s even a little panicky feeling in the centre of your chest. Are you worried that you didn’t get as much done over the summer as you wanted to? Or that as soon as teaching starts, you’ll have to abandon all your writing and research projects for another eight months?

First, take mild comfort in the fact that literally nobody got as much done as they thought they would. It’s not a failure. It’s just life. You did enough. You are enough.

Second, there are a few things you can do right now to start setting yourself up for a balanced and productive fall, one where you do get to stay connected to your writing and research. In the interests of looking forward, I thought I’d share some of the tactics I use to fend off the summer-is-ending panic and get my ducks in a row (not to shoot at, just to admire) for fall.

Advance planning for fall

Here are three quick things you can do right now to get yourself into a calmer state of mind about your busy fall.

1. Put your writing/research time into your calendar now.

In a post from last summer, I wrote about reclaiming your time by making sure writing and research have a designated place on your schedule. Don’t wait to shoehorn them in around all of the other things that have official times, like classes, office hours, and meetings. They’re just as important, so make them official!

One creative tactic for this is to find a couple of willing conspirators colleagues and book yourselves a meeting room on campus every week or two weeks. A friend of mine did this with her departmental colleagues: they called it the Research Advancement Committee and booked a space to work under this name. Having a space and an official meeting time made it harder for others to book them into other meetings, and easier for themselves to keep their commitment to their work.

2. Plan your research collaborator meetings now.

If you’re working with others on a piece of writing or research, everyone’s busy schedules can make it all too easy to drop the ball for months at a time. In my experience, simply emailing drafts back and forth is a bad idea. It’s a recipe for a serious slowdown or loss of engagement and connection. It’s almost always more productive to meet (in person, over the phone, or online) to hash out ideas, solve problems, and plan your next steps. But as soon as the semester starts, it seems impossible to make time.

My collaborators and I (ones that I’ve worked with continuously – and successfully! – for over seven years) plan all our video conference meetings about four months in advance in a rolling pattern. It’s true that we sometimes have to reschedule if something comes up for one of us, but it’s easier to reschedule than to create a plan from scratch every time. So if you can schedule your fall collaborator meetings now, you’ll have a much better chance of continuing to make progress together all semester long.

3. Draft your fall goals now.

Part of what causes anxiety is the unknown. Right now, fall semester seems like a black hole where all your creative work will get sucked away. Making things more concrete will help to minimize some of that anxiety. So instead of looking at the fall as this swirling, uncontrollable mass of obligations, take back some of that control by setting your own priorities and plans.

It’s early days, so you don’t need to get too specific. It might be enough to designate one, two, or three high priority projects and note where you’d like them to be by the end of December. If you’re on a roll, break some of that down into monthly milestones. If you combine this with the specific planning work in tips one and two, you’ll be creating both time and goals for your own work all semester long.

2 thoughts on “Midsummer anxieties”

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