Too Much on Your Plate? How About a Spring-Cleaning Challenge?
It is officially spring, or rather the first full month of spring - April. And it’s traditionally the time to do our spring cleaning and plant seeds for future growth. Today, we’re going to put into action something we’ve discussed on several previous blogs – getting rid of those things that we do, not because they make an impact on our students or institutions but because we’ve done them forever. So, if you’ve got more things on your to-do list than you can possibly do, keep reading.
In Higher Ed, we like to add on things. We love new initiatives. We’re always thinking of new ways to support students and create a better experience. We’re great at that. What we’re terrible at is weeding out the things that we no longer have room to do. There are a few reasons we don’t get rid of things. First, you might like doing them. If something was your idea or you were just in charge of it forever, you feel like it’s part of you. You might love doing an event or interacting with students in a certain way. Or maybe it’s just a great fit for your talents. Those are all valid reasons to do something, but in a world where we’re overwhelmed with things to do, you need to ask the hard question - Is this the BEST use of my energy and talents?
A second reason we hold onto things is just out of habit. A certain time of the year means we do x, y, and z. It’s on our list of things to do in April, so we do it. Or like with all habits, there’s a seasonal cue from the environment that automatically kicks us into gear. Oh, a student came in asking about classes next semester. It’s time to roll out all the registration things I usually do. We don’t even think about it, but it’s suddenly on our list and we’re stuck doing it.
A third reason we don’t let things go, is we’re too exhausted to stop and think whether we should do them. Why are we exhausted? In large part, because we have too much to do! Ironically, slowing down and assessing our assignments would mean we have less to do, but because we’re stuck in fight or flight even when we try to think, “hmm, does this need doing?” Our brains freak out and immediately say, “Aghhh! Yes, just do it!” As a reminder, when we’re in fight or flight we hyperfocus on the things we think are important. If you’re stressed about work, it’s easy to think EVERYTHING at work is important. But that’s absolutely not true. Or at least somethings MUST be more important than others. You need to set aside that impulse and really dig into the idea that maybe, just maybe, doing X isn’t as important as we think.
So, in the spirit of spring cleaning, your challenge this week has two parts. Part one is for you personally. First, I want you to make a file folder somewhere on your computer that’s labeled “Revisit in 2023.” If you want to get extra organized, inside that folder add folders for each month of the year…January, February, etc.
Now I’ve moved many times in my life – as I’m sure many of you have. During each move, there was always a box or two that didn’t contain things that I needed right away, so they just got put somewhere. Then months or even years later, I would run across them and realize I’ve never even opened them. I mean I obviously thought those things were important enough to move, but I’d literally never thought of them again. My life wasn’t any worse off without whatever was in those boxes, even though at one point, I must have thought they were important. That’s what this folder will hopefully be for you. Filled with things you thought you needed to do, but turns out – you didn’t.
Okay, now that you’ve got your files set up, I want you to identify ONE thing you can stop doing. How? Well to be honest, I don’t care as long as it gets done. But if you need help getting started, here’s a few suggestions. First, start by clarifying your main goals and objectives for yourself and the department. Then ask yourself, “How does doing X contribute to this goal?” If your answer is anything but “it has a huge impact and is directly related” that’s something that might belong in your “Revisit in 2023” folder.
Another way to get started is to think about the things you hate or avoid doing. Yes, there are some things we don’t like doing that need to be done, but not all of them. You’ll be extra motivated with this approach because imagine not having to do something you hate ever again. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Even if it’s not a huge task, it would still be a huge win for you.
Since you will most likely still be in fight or flight during this challenge, I’d also recommend getting a trusted, neutral party involved. Pick someone who is far enough removed from your department and what you do, that they’re not going to be triggered by the things you would be. We tend to be so focused on what we’re doing that we view it all as super important, when other people might be thinking, “Yeah, I don’t get it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to do X instead?” or “That’s not having the impact you think it is.” You can just do this or combine it with the first two suggestions.
Once you’ve chosen your task/event/program, all your files on it go in the “Revisit in 2023” file. If it’s already on your to-do list, you’re going to just cross it off without doing it. TRIGGER WARNING - Those of you with Executing Talent Themes might be freaked out by the prospect of doing this, but it’s okay. If it helps, just add “move” before that item and “to Revisit in 2023 folder.” There, see. Now you did cross it off because you did it!
If there are any physical reminders – like event decorations or giant post it notes with “improvements for next year,” those need to go into a closet or somewhere you can’t see them. You want to close the loop in your brain about this task or project, or your brain will keep reminding you about it and questioning your decision. And just to be clear, that’s not your gut telling you that you made a mistake in not doing that thing. It’s your subconscious trying to get you to do what’s familiar.
Okay, part two of the challenge is to help your team do the same thing. You’re going to want to get their feedback vs unilaterally deciding for them. This is for several reasons, but primarily you want them to feel empowered to start making these decisions themselves, with your approval, of course. If t
here are things you all work on together, you can select one big thing. Maybe it’s two or three group things that only a few of your team work on. Or if you/they would rather, everyone can a
ssess and select something that they’re responsible for alone.
The point is just that everyone on the team gets rid of one task/event/program that no longer serves your department or students like it used to. Maybe there is something new that does a better job. Maybe there’s a new piece of software or other system that replicates the task. Maybe it’s still something that does add value, but just not as much as other things. Either way, it goes in the file and the closet for now.
Okay, so why the folder? Why not just delete them? Honestly, I’m totally cool with that. Delete it. Throw it way. That’s 100% fine. But I have a feeling that many of you would have a heart or anxiety attack doing that, so let’s start slow. Just put those things where you won’t look for them on autopilot – or easily run into – and wait and see if not doing them even matters. Then in a year, go to your “Revisit in 2023” folder, look in April and really think about whether it was missed. And I’m not talking about a random student saying, “Oh I liked it when you did X.” Students like lots of things, but that doesn’t mean it helped us achieve our goals. My guess is that 95% of what you put in those folders won’t make it back in 2023. And if any do, hopefully you’ll have
more resources to juggle them.
Now ideally, after you select your “thing” you’re not going to do, you’ll use it for some much-needed self-care like going home on time, taking a stroll around the quad, or straight up doing nothing. The point is not to cram more work in there. This is about spring cleaning, not spring cramming.
Okay, that’s your challenge for the week. Set aside an hour on your calendar now, and make it happen.
And as spring is also about planting s
eeds for future growth, I’m excited to announce registration for our summer Supervisor Strengths Institute is open now. Here's the link to the Institute website - https://www.strengthsuniversity.org/supervisorstrengthsinstitute.
We also decided that folks may want a deeper dive into the Institute. So, we’re doing a free webinar on Monday, April 18th at 1PM (CST) on “Discovering the Supervisor Strengths Institute.” If you’re not quite sure this right for you, or if you’re worried about not having time, we’d love for you to join us. We’ll talk about our philosophy, why the topics we cover are so important to your success, and give you an opportunity to talk to some past participants to get their thoughts on their experience. On and we’ll also choose one lucky live participant to win a free registration to our summer Institute. You can register for the webinar HERE.
So do your spring cleaning and get rid of one thing on your plate for yourself and one for your team. And be sure to check out either the Supervisor Strengths Institute website or register for our webinar.