Agony aunt

July 21, 2000


Most students have gone home and on my desk is a backlog of work. The trouble is, I don't feel motivated with summer here. What can I do?


Plan to give yourself a break - but not until you have done something about the backlog. Next, do some sorting. Get a stapler, or a supply of plastic wallets, and separate each job into self-contained sets of papers. This saves wasting any more time sorting out which piece of paper belongs to which job. Similarly, use folders for email-related elements of your backlog. When you have got the backlog sorted, start to categorise the jobs as follows: A: urgent and important; B: important but not urgent; C: urgent but not particularly important; D: not important and not urgent.

Then do one "important but not urgent" job. Next, one small "urgent and important" one. Next, another category B job, then another category A one.

Only then do a category C one, but do not spend long on it, after all it is not important. From time to time bin a category D task, or send it on to some other willing soul who may be interested in it. Not important, non-urgent tasks are rarely worth spending one's summer on (or any other season).

It is useful to not simply to start on the urgent and important jobs. They can take all your time and energy. Getting through some of the important but not urgent tasks gives you the feeling that you are winning your battle. These jobs will never become urgent because you will have done them before that happens.

Between jobs, for a break and a change, spend a strictly timed ten minutes throwing out debris from your filing cabinet. It is important not to spend any longer than ten minutes at a time discarding debris, or we start reading it all again, as a debris-discarding-avoidance strategy.

Phil Race

Trainer and author.

I am tempted to reply, "Write a piece for The THES". That is what I am doing and I feel better already. Perhaps there is a good principle here on the lines of, don't look back, go forward. With any luck, much of the accumulated matter in your in-tray will turn out to be beyond the deadline dates for reply. If no one has chased you for it, it is probably not so important after all. Alternatively, perhaps you have only been sent it as a pretence at participative democracy or consultation and the originators would really far rather not hear from you so as not to complicate their tasks still further.

Now is the time to step back from the paper chase. Your marking is over, the exam boards are satiated, you may be working hard, but does anyone really know you are there? So try something new. Surprise yourself and complete that outline grant application and send it off, write the introduction to that article you have been meaning to submit, actually read one of those books or journals you have been recommending to your students. Better still, ask yourself if you can do better next year in terms of the way you teach and the learning opportunities you offer to your students - do not wait until they get back and it is too late. If none of these suggestions fires your imagination, you could always find new inspiration for the future by filling in that application for Institute for Learning and Teaching membership that you will find somewhere at the bottom of the pile.

Andrew Aannan

Reader in education

University of Plymouth.

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