This semester has been rather hectic for me, hence my lack of blogging. Why? Mostly because of a combination of field season and flipping Intro Bio. Intro Bio here at Michigan is huge (over 600 students), and is a bit of a beast to teach, especially in the fall when many students are just getting used to college. And we’re overhauling the course this semester, which has greatly increased the workload. So, while I still am not working 80 hours a week, I have routinely been working ~55. I sneak in work at every available moment, and, when I’m not working, I feel guilty that I’m not. We’ve had a babysitter come for a couple of hours on the weekends so I can get a bit more work done. I have not seen or called friends nearly as much as I’d like, because I feel like I need to spend that time trying to get work done, because the deadlines for getting samples counted, quizzes written, lectures prepped, etc. are relentless. I’ve been working right up until going to bed*, and waking up early thinking about work. That lack of sleep means I’ve been making more mistakes, and that I’ve been more frazzled this semester. It’s not good.
I was recently re-reading this blog post by Chris Buddle, where he implores “Please stop telling me how busy you are”. I agree with the general idea that we shouldn’t wear busy-ness as a badge of honor. But, at the same time, there are times where there truly is too much to do. Should I have said “no” to more things? Apparently, but the things that have me overwhelmed are pretty important parts of my job. I knew that this fall would be busy (yes, I’m using that word), and so I started prepping my lectures in July. I didn’t give my first lecture until late October. At the time, it seemed a little extreme to be starting that early, but I am so glad I did. If I hadn’t, I really don’t know how I’d have gotten through this semester. And, even with that, I’ve been scrambling as hard as I can to keep up, and feel like I’ve just barely done so. The metaphor that keeps springing to mind is that this fall feels like I am trying to sprint a marathon. There have been weeks where things that needed to get done didn’t; I hate prioritizing essential tasks in terms of which would be the least bad to let slip, but that’s how it’s been this fall.
But, now that field season is over and I’ve gotten some of the workload of Intro Bio completed, I’ve found that I’ve defaulted to a routine where I feel like I have to be working all the time, and where doing other things (like writing this blog post!) feel like a luxury. But that’s not good. Chris is right that it’s important to take moments to enjoy the small things, and that evaluating one’s priorities is essential. Even during the busiest times of the semester, I continued to run regularly, because I know that that is essential for my mental well-being, so it’s a very high priority. But I’ve cut back on other things that are also important to me, and I need to start prioritizing those more. And I need to stop feeling anxious if I’m not working all the time. I am more than just my work.
I’ll say that again: I am more than just my work. I think I need to make that my new mantra. I don’t need to be a slave to my email.** And while it’s very tempting to add that cool new example to my lecture, I need to ask myself: Is including that new example in my next lecture more important than baking cookies with my daughter? No, it’s not. So, on that note, I’m going to hit “post”, then turn off my computer now and go outside to hang up Christmas lights with my daughter. This is likely one of the last warmish days we’ll have for a while — I want to enjoy it!
*I’ve decided that I need something like Microsoft’s Clippy, except I need him to pop up when I’m trying to work at night, saying “It looks like you’re trying to work late at night. Stop!”
** I was recently thinking about how nice it would have been to teach in the pre-email days. While I’m sure there were many challenges, right now, the idea that I wouldn’t be expected to be available every day seems really, really nice.