It’s almost August. I’m sure you know that, but at the same time me saying it probably made you freak out just a bit. For most Higher Ed folks, August means even more work, longer hours, and trying to survive until September. But what if August WASN’T so overwhelming? What if there was a way to navigate the beginning of the academic year with a different mindset; one that allowed you to achieve your goals, but it a much less stressful way? Well to find out how, keep reading.
This past week during the Institute group call, we were talking about change. And we have folks share what they’ve done for self-care each week. We do that because if you value something, you need to focus on it regularly. We value self-care and want folks taking the Institute to increase how they’re caring for themselves, so focusing on that each week keeps it top of mind. Well toward the end of the call, Alicia shared what she had done for self-care and used it as a beautiful metaphor, that I want to share with you. It’s a brief passage, during which she breaks it down herself, but after we listen to her, I want to expand on that a bit. Here’s what Alicia said…
But going full circle back to the beginning of our conversation. about what did we do for self-care. I also did some work in my garden this weekend. I had used marigold as ground cover last year, and they just went insane, and we're choking out everything else in my garden, and I've known for weeks that I needed to go in and to pull those out. But I had built it up so much in my mind that, “Oh, my gosh! This is going to be a process it's going to take forever. I'm going to be out here working. I have 2 tiny human boys who are not going to be interested in participating or letting me have the time or space to do this.” You know all these things and reasons why I kept putting it off. Finally, I needed some time away again from said tiny human boys, and my partner was home, and I was able to go out and do it, and it actually took much less time than I anticipated.
One, I wanted to share that, because this metaphor has just been running around in my head all week that I had built it up so much that, “Oh, my gosh! Going in and making time to clean a bunch of this stuff out to make space for the things that I care about – again in this garden. That's gonna be so hard. It's gonna take so much. And you know, it's also gonna feel like, what do I do with all this stuff that I've pulled out,” right? One piece of this story is, it actually took much less time than I anticipated.
Two, when I took the time to do it. And I actually gave the things that we're important space to breathe and to grow, and to actually produce and to do well. So again, as we're thinking about when we are so choked up with all of these things that keep getting added to our plates. Sometimes the things that are really important and the things that we need to be focused on, they're getting choked out, and they're not happening, and nothing is as good as it could be.
And then the third piece of the story to wrap it up is also, when I was able to pull that actually had a co-worker who was looking for some other ground cover and some easy plants that they could put in, and so all the things that I was able to pull out, I was able to bring and give as a gift to her. And she is incredibly excited right to have these full-grown marigolds that she can just plant, and they're going to be super easy. And so again, that as we're thinking about our work. not that I'm going to come in and I want to dump all my work on other people. But maybe there's something that we have been asked to do or charged with doing that's choking out the other things we need to do that would actually be really powerful and beneficial, and a gift for someone else to be able to do something that they care about, and they want. And maybe again, that's thinking really, creatively about our grad students or our student workers, right? Maybe there are some things that we can give out as a gift, that instead was something that was choking us and bringing us down.
So, there we go. That's my metaphor.
As I mentioned before, our topic for the week was managing change, and what Alicia is talking about here is internal change. It’s about recognizing how the stories you tell yourself can make things feel overwhelming, even the things that if you do them might very well give you room to grow and be more productive. It’s about clearing out the things that feel heavy and may not even benefit you, yet you continue to feel like you MUST do them. So, I think her metaphor fits perfectly as a guide to help you refocus your stories and your energy for August.
Let’s start with her first point, that we often believe that things will be harder and take longer to do than they really will be. This feeling can drive procrastination. I know when I was on campus, I’d think about all the things I’d need to have finished for RA training or move in. That all seemed overwhelming, I shut down and did easy things that really weren’t helping me focus on what really needed to be done. When your energy is focused on thinking how to do it or how long or awful it will be, that’s energy that’s not focused on getting it done. My Strategic is often victim to this impulse. If I’m not paying attention, my Strategic will go through dozens of scenarios to find the “easiest way” instead of spending that time just getting it done.
You may have heard the quote, “Good is the enemy of great.” If you’re looking at the totality of your life and your legacy, sure, let’s think about that. But what needs to be great about move-in? Doesn’t it just need to be good enough? For most of what we do, it’s better to look at the 80-20 rule or the Pareto Principle. That states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. Our talents fuel our stories about how ____ needs to happen for this to be right, but remember that your talents – your strengths – aren’t showing you a complete picture.
Alicia has Arranger, so I can picture her thinking through the best way to go about removing all those marigolds in her head over and over. But that “best way” impulse kept her from acting for weeks. Imagine how quickly she could have gotten it done if she’d just gotten in there and started pulling? Instead, she had weeks worth of extra marigolds sprouting and growing. And I will add that I was the recipient of some of those marigolds and they are monsters. Sometimes, you just need to stop thinking, jump in, and start doing.
Okay, so Alicia’s second point was when you start weeding out the things that aren’t aligned with what’s important to you, or your goals if you will, you’re going to have more room for the growth and productivity you want. Alicia’s marigolds, which absolutely have their place in a garden, had just taken over. The marigolds were just supposed to attract pollinators and keep away certain pests. What she really wanted though, was tomatoes. But the marigolds were stealing nutrients and water from those tomato plants. By getting rid of some of those marigolds, she was refocusing on her ultimate goals and her purpose.
What tasks or duties have taken your focus and energy away from your ultimate goals and purpose? As you’re prepping for the fall, what are the things that may feel big and overwhelming, but are really just distractions? I know I literally just told you to stop overthinking and just start doing, BUT before you do just make sure that all the doing is aligned with your main goals and your purpose. There is so much on your plate, er, I mean in your garden, that you need to start weeding out the things that are stealing your energy and preventing you from being productive in the ways you want. Your and your team’s energy should be focused on the things that will give you that 80% return on your work.
You may be thinking, “But Anne, what about all the things that make a great experience for students or my job enjoyable? We can’t JUST always focus on the nuts and bolts of our job.” I hear you! I’m going to take Alicia’s garden metaphor just a bit further to help here. When I first started gardening, I too wanted those delicious tomatoes and a few other select veggies. It’s really all I cared about, so I didn’t bother to put in any flowers. In my mind, flowers were for flower gardens. But the problem is, flowers are important for vegetable gardens. Just like I mentioned before, they can attract pollinators and protect your veggies from certain pests and diseases. The first year, I had lack-luster production, because I didn’t know I needed flowers. The next year, I added in all sorts of companion plants and flowers and got a much better harvest. So, when I’m talking about aligning your to-do list with your goals, there’s going to be some things that you or other folks may interpret as extra but are actually necessary.
The way you do that is by getting together with your team to decide. The reason you do this is everyone has different talents, so everyone is going to have different thoughts about what’s vital. And while that may seem like you’re adding things in with this system, you’re using it to help everyone refocus their energy. Left unchecked, I can easily come up with more and more ideas because of my Ideation. That’s absolutely happened to me before. But when I learned to lean into my staff’s strengths, they could help me decide, “There’s no reason to do anything new here. The same thing we did last year will be just fine.” Or “Yes, it’s worth some extra effort to implement this new idea and get a better outcome.” I like ideas, particularly my own, so left to my own devices I’ll always default to “do the new thing.” But that’s not always the best use of my energy. Talking through this together gives everyone an opportunity to share their perspective on what’s important vs what would be nice, but not necessary – especially given your limits on time and resources.
And leaning into your team member’s talents/strengths is a lovely segue to Alicia’s last point, the things that you hate doing and bring you down, may very well be things that would be a gift and bring joy to others. When you know your team, you can better delegate and partner with people so that everyone is doing the job that’s best and easiest for them. I’ve mentioned this before but I’m not analytic and I HATE anything that requires a spreadsheet. When those tasks are on my to-do list, I feel drained just thinking about them. But when I was on campus, I knew I had folks on my team who LOVED that stuff. They were grateful to do those activities because it’s what gave them energy. Plus, they could do it so much faster. Likewise, I am great at coming up with creative ideas. It made way more sense for my co-workers and my team to come get me to brainstorm ideas than for them to sit there frustrated for hours.
I know late-July and August feel so overwhelming, it’s easy to think, “Gosh, everyone else is so busy. I better just do all this myself.” But that’s faulty thinking. If everyone feels overwhelmed, then part of the problem is that they have tasks that aren’t aligned with the things they do best. That group meeting I suggested earlier would be a great place to have folks swap any duties that aren’t really aligned with their talents. That doesn’t mean folks will never have to do things that aren’t in their Strengths Zone, but the more tasks, including thinking or planning tasks, that can be placed with the right person the more effective your team will be.
When you do all these things, your August can be less chaotic and stressful. Yes, Alicia could have just let the marigolds grow. That would have saved her all that “pulling” energy, but she also wouldn’t have gotten the results she wanted. She also would have been stressed out trying to do anything else in the garden, because every time she went out, she’d be taunted by those giant beasts. By taking the time to act now, she’s less stressed and is going to get a better harvest. Now is the time for you and your team to start weeding and realigning what really needs to happen, so you get the results you want in August and the fall semester, including having a higher sense of wellbeing. Doing that now will be the best gift you can give to your team, your students, and yourself.
Hopefully, this article has got you thinking about how you might start doing things differently to be more effective and even more importantly, less stressed. The beginning of the new academic year is a great time to invest in you and your team. If you and your team are still exhausted from last year, you’re not going to be at your best for your students. Or if you have new folks who haven’t acclimated to your institution, you need to get them on board ASAP. Either way, let us help.
We still have availability now through September for group workshops. We can cover Strengths basics to help you and your team better understand their own talents and how to work together more effectively. Or we can help you and your team with their supervisor skills and stress management. Alicia and I both have Adaptability, so we’re here to help you meet your team’s needs no matter how many folks you supervise. Our workshops are interactive and can get your team motivated and engaged for the fall.
Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you hooked up ASAP.
And until next time, stay strong.