The sticky part of the semester
Mid-March and mid-October are the parts of the semester that are often the hardest. Everything seems to be in flux, with no clear deadlines yet, but with pressure building up, and we often feel stretched thin.
Time and time again, I feel frustrated mid-semester by the lack of visible progress: we are working on generating results, making edits to papers and then let them stall, and courses are in full swing, with grading, questions, and teaching taking up a lot of time. If I look forward in my calendar, all my time is booked full with appointments and meetings for the next month or so. There seems to be no air to breathe and no time that I have power over.
To combat this mid-semester mess, I have tried the following strategies:
- Set goals and deadlines on a monthly basis: A semester can be long, and halfway through the semester you may have the feeling that your progress is too slow. For that reason, I plan at different levels: the annual, semestral, monthly, weekly, and daily level. For example, if I want to write 5 journal papers in an academic year, I will aim to submit 3 papers in a semester, so roughly one per month. For that reason, I put a monthly goal/deadline to submit that one paper in this month.
- Block off time for my research and writing: As the semester gets busier, it is easy to get all your time taken up by teaching tasks and meetings. For that reason, I block off chunks of time in my calendar for my research and writing, so that no appointments can be booked in at those times.
- Identify steps in the processes: If you have a large report due at the end of a semester, then identify the various steps you should achieve in in this chunk of time to be able to submit by the deadline. Which analyses do you need to carry out? When do you need to start writing?
- Plan little adventures on the weekend: To break down the monotony of the semester, try to plan little adventures on the weekend. While we are still dealing with a global pandemic, your options may be limited, but perhaps you can visit a deserted beach for a walk, or explore a nearby forest.
- Try not to overdo it: It’s easy to start working more and more in the middle of the semester as pressure builds up. However, I know for myself that I can’t sustain weeks of working 80 hours for a long while – I can put in some extra time to deal with an emergency, but not long-term. If you start to work more and more hours, try to revisit your priorities to see what can go to the backburner.
- Acknowledge the reality: I’ve been a faculty member for almost a decade now, and it’s the same every semester – the reality is that the point in the middle of the semester will always be sticky. Acknowledge it and know that after the end of the semester, you will get more breathing room
How do you deal with the sticky part of the semester? Let me know in the comments below!