This spring, I was lucky enough to get the double blast of meeting scholar Ann Cvetkovich and academic productivity guru Kerry Ann Rockquemore at University of Iowa's Affect and Inquiry Symposium. Among the many insights Ann shared was the practice of making little shrines for her different book chapters, gatherings of objects that reflected the content of each chapter. Kerry Ann shared something a little more horrific--a pie graph showing the number of hours new faculty spend on different tasks (teaching, research, service, etc.) and another pie graph showing the weight each of those areas carried in terms of tenure and promotion. Most new faculty have a BIG mismatch between the two graphs.
In my home office, I've created a little metaphor to help me think about these two insights. I tend to be a relatively secular yogi, but I've felt called to create a priorities shrine above my desk. I have gathered the following: a little note card with a picture of a typewriter that says "write on" beneath it (my scholarship); an image of two silly rabbits with orange noses gazing lovingly at each other (my marriage); and a list of yoga's 8 limbs. When I walk into my office, when I sit down at my desk, I am reminded about what I most care about.
Having this here makes it easier to say "no" to other things when I open my email. And when I sit down to work, it also helps me remember what should go first each day.
You'll notice that I only have three items on my shrine. One negative tendency certain among us may feel is that everything is a priority. But the truth of the matter is, when everything becomes a priority, that actually means that nothing really is. Now, I love teaching and find it meaningful--but is it my top priority? The answer is no. That doesn't mean that I don't care about it, but it doesn't go on the shrine. To get really weird with the metaphor--it's not the thing for which I am willing to sacrifice the other parts of my life.
You'll see that I have a little candle and a little crystal beneath my shrine. These are all just ways of drawing my attention to my priorities. As an added benefit, I found that having my little shrine inspires me to keep a cleaner desk!
I've sound that the visual metaphor of my priorities is a daily inspiration, rather than a daily nag. It makes daily work feel a little more creative and meaningful, rather than a grind of to dos--part of transfering "have tos" into "want tos" and making daily practice part of a life's meaningful work.
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote