I want to talk about how the school year and the structure of the academic year can help teach us and inform our own sense of productivity and making things happen. The reason people really come to me is they’ve got really unrealistic expectations of the sorts of things that they can produce and do in a certain amount of time given the context of their life.
As you may know, most of my work experience is in higher education. I teach and I do research, and I’ve worked in higher ed for quite some time. One of my favorite things about it is that there’s a really predictable ebb and flow. It’s repeatable, we know when it’s going to be busy, we know when it’s going to be slow, there’s lots of time off, there’s lots of time for hustle.
That’s really helped me think about how I can most be productive and get things done. I want to share some of that with you today, and hopefully whether you’re in higher ed or not you can use some of these pieces in your own productivity practice to help you achieve your goals and get more stuff done that matters to you.
And if you’re struggling with managing time and making progress, make sure you download the Get Sh*t Done Worksheet below.
The school year sets us up with a clear structure.
There are so many elements of school that are predictable and repeatable.
This provides a framework or structure that help us hold us accountable to get our work done.
You know when you have class and when you’ll have breaks. There’s a set schedule, teachers take attendance and there’s even a syllabus!
You know exactly what’s expected of you for you to experience success.
In real life, once you leave school, there aren’t any syllabi, so how to succeed can be way more ambiguous and challenging.
Maybe you need to create your own, maybe you need to start documenting your own goals and the outcomes that you want and working backwards to figure out what your plan needs be, and maybe you need set days to have a routine where you get things done that matter to you.
If you’re a job seeker, you don’t necessary need to be searching for jobs Monday through Friday, but maybe you do have set days dedicate to doing the tasks that you need to get done or maybe they’re your writing days if you’re writing a dissertation or you want to be more creative.
Think about how you can set yourself up for patterns and clear expectations.
You have an entire semester to get your work done.
The cool thing about syllabi is all that work isn’t due in the first month or the first day, right?
It’s spread out over time, so that you get a chance to prepare and learn as you go.
Make sure you really do that for yourself too.
There’s also really clear outlets for accountability and support.
If you don’t turn work in in my class, you don’t get a grade, you don’t get credit for that work. You know there’s a teacher who’s going to be evaluating your work, you know you have an advisor, you know you have fellow students, so there’s a whole structure there set up to provide accountability and support.
Again, once you leave school, it’s really hard to find that.
That’s why people hire coaches, they join masterminds, they join other interest groups because those kinds of things just don’t necessarily exist around you anymore,, you have to go out and make them happen on your own.
Find the people and the groups that you need.
Some good examples? Group exercise classes, a personal trainer, mental health professionals, volunteer or civic groups, career coaches, bands, reading or writing groups, mentors, etc.
You need to bring the right people into your life and you might need to go find them.
You know when to hustle.
The other thing that’s really great about the school year is that you know when you need to hustle!
You’ve got mid-terms and you’ve got finals, papers and exams. You know when things are going to be hard.
On the contrary, we also know when things are going to be easy. There’s tons of planned vacation and there’s tons of days off.
Think about how that can inform your productivity practice.
When are the times that you really need to work hard and you really need to get things done and what are those tasks? Remember, most of your grade can come from those mid-terms or finals, so think about what the parallel action might be for you.
Don’t spend all your time on small actions that feel inconsequential. Just as it’s not necessarily super beneficial to your grade to simply show up to class, you have to engage in a lot of the work and you have to do well on the parts that matter most.
Think about what the parallel actions might be for you in the context of the goals that you’re trying to achieve.
The greatest lesson that the school year can teach us? Summer vacation.
It’s a hallmark of the school year. Teachers love to get the summers off. Students love it.
And it’s not just that people get some time off. They get a few months of it!
And they come back to school excited and prepared.
You need regular breaks along the way.
You need your three-day weekends, you need your spring break and you also need a summer vacation.
It doesn’t have to be three months break from work (but more power to you if it does!)
Think about what it would feel like and look to occasionally take an extended break.