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The Pause That Refreshes

Quick, before you go into vacation mode, take a moment to pause and finish fully from your fall term. Competing these tasks before you go off to wrap presents, eat gargantuous amounts of high saturated fats, or go skiing will give you fabulous closure, help you relax over the break, and make the rest of your life as a professor go so much better.

  1. File your notes from your courses in folders labeled so that you can find them the next time you are getting ready to teach those courses again. Before you shove those notes into a folder, pause just a moment to debrief from your courses. Annotate the syllabi with the briefest of notes:

    • What went well in the flow of the semester?

    • What were the trouble spots and how might you fix them?

    • What were your favorite classes? What did you do to make that a good learning experience for your students and satisfying for yourself?

  2. File you class evaluations with your notes. Probably you have read them but you might consider a quick sorting of them into these piles so you annotate Cliff Notes versions of the nuggets from each of the sub-stacks.

    • Outliers – these are those 1-3% strange evaluations that make no sense. The student who didn’t like your wearing army boots to class when you know you always wore your blue suede shoes, the person who complains about having to read any text material, or the one who says, “I don’t know how this course went because I didn’t attend very much.” These feedback forms keep you up at night worrying that you are not a good teacher but you are ignoring the fact that their responses have nothing to do with you. The boot guy was on drugs, the lazy reader has undiagnosed dyslexia, and the MIA student was driving her mother to chemotherapy all semester. They all need help, but not from you.

    • Find the really outstanding evaluations and make a Cliff Note about what they like. Plan to do more of those things next semester. You won’t remember all the nuggets so paper clip the whole stack of fan letters together, write your Cliff Note on a sticky note and stick it on the front of the stack.

    • See if any other piles sort themselves and make notes for course improvements based on their comments. Paper clip and Cliff Note those sub-stacks.

  3. Take a quick look at your other accomplishments in scholarly work or service and make a list of your fall term accomplishments. This task is easy if you have been using a Dream Book to track your goals because the accomplished goals will be stuck to the back of the pages in each of your vision statement sections. Reading the Dream Book backwards will show you at a glance what you have accomplished.

  4. Make a list of the most important priorities you want to accomplish when you return to work after the winter holiday break. Set the list in the clear space on your desk where the class notes and evaluations sat before you filed them.

All of these tasks take between one and three hours depending on whether you teach small classes or very large classes. They will save you about one hundred hours – well maybe not that much but lots of time trying to remember what you liked and didn’t lie about your fall classes and where you were with your projects before you left for winter break.

Don’t try to clean off your whole desk. You have done the most important tasks to give yourself great closure for the fall term. Your future self will thank you for leaving cracker crumbs on the trail of becoming even more of Peak Performing Professor than you already are. This short pause will allow you to refresh yourself guilt-free for the next few days. You will return to work energized because you won’t have to search your memory for where you were in each of your current projects. It is as if the boss has left a to-do list on your desk for the winter/spring term. Oh, that’s right, you are your own boss on this work.

Now turn off the lights, and enjoy some well deserved personal time. The work will be there when you return.


Pause and refresh. I will.

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