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Academic life

Helpful habits in a crisis

It’s been a while since I’ve added a new post to the blog. I’m quite sure most of you were way too busy with your fall terms to notice! So what’s been happening over at Leslie Kern Coaching?

My fall

In addition to all of the usual fall shenanigans, my book, Feminist City: A Field Guide, came out at the end of October. At the same time, my father passed away unexpectedly. And of course, all of this was happening in the middle of a busy teaching semester.

It’s too soon to say how I’ve coped (or if I’ve coped)! One thing that’s for sure is the ability to prioritize comes in very handy at moments of crisis. It should be no surprise that this blog fell pretty far down on the priority list. 😉

What I can share is a short list of the habits I’ve developed over time that I think have been useful. Whether you’re dealing with something positive that throws your schedule out of whack (like a book tour), or something less great like a death or illness – or, in my case, both at the same time – you’ll be grateful if you already have some helpful habits. These are, admittedly, a lot easier to cultivate if you have steady employment. However, experimenting with one or two of them, even on occasion, is possible for anyone.

Helpful habits

  1. Keeping work email closed for most of the day. It’s hard to overstate how transformative this little change can be. I check my email usually in the morning and at midday, and often again before 5pm, but in between, I sign out. While signed out, I sometimes forget about email entirely. This frees up a lot of mental space to get other work done.
  2. Slowing response times. Getting caught in a rapid back and forth about an issue, especially over email, is stressful and distracting. I’ve been working on letting things sit, whether for a few hours or overnight, before replying. This allows me to respond more productively. It’s also possible that whatever “issue” arose will resolve itself in the intervening time.
  3. Triaging meeting requests. When crisis or a work over load hits, I think it’s fair to judiciously assess which meetings really require your presence. Sometimes it’s possible to send comments to the chair via email ahead of time. Other times, you might be able to defer the meeting or complete the most pressing conversations over email or in a quick call.
  4. Letting people help. For those of us who feel like asking others to do things is an imposition, this one is tough. A lot of us prefer to do things ourselves, anyways. But not giving people a chance to help is sometimes a problem, too. For example, you might inadvertently be denying someone a chance to learn something, or siphoning work away from administrative staff. In a crisis, people around you often feel helpless and are grateful to be told how they might contribute – whether that’s going to a meeting in your stead, returning your students’ papers, or taking the lead on a group project for a time.
  5. Meditating. Although I’ve done yoga for many years, the meditation aspect of it has never been part of the draw. But over the past several months, I’ve been doing short guided meditations after I work out, or sometimes just for 6 or 7 minutes in the middle of the day. For me, its most valuable contribution is the reminder that every feeling is impermanent. This realizations helps me get less caught up in the moment when feelings are running high about something. Taking a step back, mentally, is often the best thing for a situation.
  6. Being okay with good enough. This is obviously a mental habit that takes time to cultivate. However, once you look around you’ll see “good enough” thriving everywhere! From the “mediocre white men” who run our countries and institutions to the well-adjusted B- students checking Facebook during class, it’s obvious that sometimes good enough is great. I’m being a little cheeky here, of course, but what I mean is that it’s okay to stop white-knuckling every task. Perfection is neither attainable nor necessary to do our jobs well. And if you’ve done the best that you could with the resources (physical, mental, emotional, material) available to you at the time, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your efforts. To be honest, most of them are paying less attention to you than you imagine, anyways.

Final thoughts

Life happens. Shit happens. But some of us are living or working as if we’re in crisis mode all the time. I know the reasons for this are largely structural and can’t be solved with personal habits like email hygiene. However, we have to start with the things we can control in our day-to-day lives. The list I’ve shared here is largely about slowing down in a bunch of very little ways. What I’ve found is that the body and mind recognizes this. When I practice these habits, I don’t feel as overwhelmed or like I’m at a ten on the stress scale. Then, when the shit really hits the fan, I have more capacity (and the habits already in place) to navigate my way more easily.

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