#SASpeaks: Breaking Up With Busyness

During the NASPA 2016 Annual Conference, I had the wonderful opportunity to give a talk on “Breaking Up With Busyness,” inspired by a post originally published here, as well as my ongoing personal journey and the great work of many writers and researchers. 

  
Busyness, which can be described as the constant need in our lives to be occupied by tasks and responsibilities, is not unique to Student Affairs, but, I would argue, it’s an insidious part of the culture of our field. It’s fueled by perfectionism, workaholism, and environments of shame. 
Before I came to these realizations about “busyness,” I would embark on each semester with an increasing sense of anxiety and urgency, with the belief that to she who works the most hours go the spoils. For years I kept this up, and I did it more or less successfully. It’s unsurprising that I found success by making myself continually busy in environments that tend to glorify the overworked, overtired, and overscheduled. I was the smartest, most accomplished, and damnit, the busiest. If I didn’t work the most hours, sit on the most committees, and volunteer the most, I wouldn’t get ahead. I wouldn’t be successful—or so I thought. 
I wasn’t the only person around me who felt that way or was behaving that way; most peers and colleagues were. I saw role models and supervisors glorifying exhaustion, so I, too, laid myself down for sacrifice at the altar of Student Affairs. It was a vicious cycle of loose boundaries, overwork, and complaining. And then, after a gradual wearing down over the course of years, I decided that it was time to show Busyness the door. One weekend, I came back to campus (I was a live-on professional at the time) after being away, and the very thought of being there caused me to burst into tears, sitting in my car in the parking lot– I knew then that I was burned out, only a few years out of grad school, and that if I wanted to enjoy my life and my passion for education, I was going to have to find the courage to change how I was working and living. 
I started seeing a therapist (which I recommend for anyone), and I intentionally started to name some behaviors that weren’t working for me. I started saying “no,” and quitting things that I no longer cared about. I’ve read a handful of books that have been really helpful in supporting my desired life changes, some of which I’ll reference today. The most important thing is that I truly started to believe that exhaustion is not a status symbol or a measure of success, and I started to measure my success by metrics other than the amount of hours that were filled on my schedule. And I’m here to say that when I did this, my life and career did not come crashing down. Contrary to my fears, I strongly believe that I am now more successful, more productive, a better colleague and supervisor, and…happier.

  

Although much of this journey has been personal and individual, I also see immense organizational value when we break up with busyness, especially those who are supervisors and leaders. So I would ask you to consider 5 tips for breaking up with busyness, both for yourself and for your organizations: 

  
The first is to stop always working. The idea that many of us have that our value is greatest when we spend the most time working is a total fallacy. Brene Brown has researched, among many things, boundaries, and says that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” 

  

I was awful at this; Not only would I stay late, volunteer for extra responsibilities,and religiously attend any and all “fundtatory” work activities, I would wake up in the middle of the night and check my email at 2am, which was very unhealthy. I felt like because I had my email in my hand all the time, I should be available to everyone all the time. So I stopped checking email at night and on weekends–I actually turn off the email on my phone unless I’m scheduled to be working. I started putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” when I was sleeping. I scheduled my days for 8 hours and hardly ever stayed late. I didn’t eat lunch at my desk. I flexed time when I spent extra hours at night or on the weekends. I hold these boundaries and others respect them.
It’s important for us to stop believing that the world is going to come to a screeching halt if we don’t send emails at 11pm. And we absolutely need to stop expecting that people who aren’t on duty or on call are going to respond to work related matters outside of work hours. 

Research shows that workers experience negative physiological and psychological impacts as a result of working overtime. (slide) A 2004 CDC meta-analysis found that “Overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, increased mortality…unhealthy weight gain…increased alcohol use…increased smoking…and poorer neuropsychological test performance.” Another meta-analysis of long work hours suggested a possible weak relationship with preterm birth. When we expect constant response from employees, we are being totally negligent with the health and well-being of staff; I don’t care how life-changing your job is: you can’t do it all the time, that is how you get burned out, and then you’ll be awful at the job that you used to love. 

  
My second tip is that free time creates innovation. One of my favorite books is Dan Pink’s Drive, which is about unleashing intrinsic motivation. In it, he discusses the concept of a “FedEx” Day, which many of you may have heard of. This is a concept that many technology companies use, in which they give employees an occasional day to work on whatever they want, whatever is interesting to them. It can’t be something that they are currently working on, and they have to have a deliverable at the end of the the day; hence the name “FedEx”, because they are delivering an idea. 

The concept here is that if we are constantly working on the same routine things, there’s no space for new ideas or creative improvements to our work. If all you’re ever doing is crossing off the to-do list and chasing deadlines, you’re not going to be unleashing the creative part of your mind. 

I don’t know how possible it would be for me to regularly take a day off from my normal responsibilities, but the way that I have created space for innovation is by setting aside a few hours a week in my calendar for ambiguous tasks that I’m working alone on. I also add big-picture items to my actual to-do list, like “Think about Supervisory Philosophy” or “How to better engage learning community faculty?” I think that we have to communicate that this type of work is not only legitimate, but necessary to the progress of our organizations. If you imagine a supervisor or colleague asking you “Hey, what are you working on?” would you be comfortable saying “I’m thinking about my supervisory philosophy today!” ? How about if you are the supervisor in this situation? We have to be okay with giving our smart, talented, creative employees (and ourselves) the time and space to be smart, talented, and creative! 

  
The third tip is that wellness is a strategic priority.

As I mentioned, there are a many studies that show the connection between overwork and serious health concerns. Ultimately, if staff are physically and mentally struggling, that is going to negatively impact productivity, success, and the workplace environment. Sick days exist for a reason: sometimes our bodies and/or minds are not operating at the level we need to be able to be productive at work, and we should give ourselves the time and space to heal and recuperate. That includes being able to care for a sick parent, spouse, or child; I know that when someone I love is unwell, I’m not going to be a great employee that day.
I used to feel guilty about spending time taking care of myself, because in the culture of Busyness, we quantify every minute of our lives to achieve maximum productivity, and I thought that taking a walk, going to bed early, or taking a sick day was wasting time. All of these things, though, are essential steps for my care and upkeep as a human. The way to be most productive and successful is not just to put the most hours toward your tasks, but to make yourself best equipped as a whole person to address the challenges and opportunities of life. For me, that means leaving the office at a reasonable time in the evening to go to the gym regularly, getting up and walking around every hour, spending time cooking nutritious meals for the week, getting between 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and making time for my favorite activities like hiking. When you and your staff are physically well, mentally calm, alert, and happy, every minute that you spend on your work is going to yield more success. 

  
Tip number four: If Everything is a Priority, Nothing is a Priority.

I have been influenced quite a bit lately by the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. McKeown espouses the practice of Essentialism, which is the idea that to lead a very successful life, we need to identify the things that are absolutely most important for us to spend our time on (the essential), and get rid of the rest.  

 We need to intentionally and strategically say no to opportunities to remain focused on what is most important, and we need to deliberately and continuously re-assess what our highest point of contribution is. The highest point of contribution is the intersection of “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” , “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” You focus on that and get rid of the rest.
This is difficult to do, because someone is always looking for a volunteer, and often, we know that we are skilled and would be a valuable asset to a task or new idea. But we have to ask ourselves, at what cost? Just because you have the opportunity to do something or are asked to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. I think of leading an essential life as a way of avoiding “mission creep” in my work life. There are things that I’m here to do for my department and university; I could do many other things as well, but if I don’t identify and protect my most important priorities, then I’ll never achieve success in my area of responsibility. 

This can seem harsh and anti-collaborative, but it’s important for us to learn how to say “no” so we can say “yes” to the right things. If you don’t decide what your priorities are, someone else will. 

  
The last tip is that we can’t help others unless we help ourselves first

Burnout is very real when you work in a helping profession like student affairs. Burnout includes three aspects: 

  • Increased feelings of emotional exhaustion, 
  • development of negative, cynical attitudes about those you are helping, and
  • unhappiness with yourself and dissatisfaction with your work accomplishments. (Maslach & Jackson, 1981) 

Because burnout is caused by organizational, interpersonal, and intrapersonal factors, (Huebner, 1993) there are opportunities to prevent and treat burnout as a supervisor, colleague, and for yourself. We should expect that the type of stressors that we deal with related to difficult human emotions and experiences may lead to burnout, especially when combined with overwork, conflicting workplace demands, or insufficient organizational or supervisory support. Avoiding burnout is like when you are on an airplane and they tell you to always put your own oxygen on first We cannot bear every burden and solve every problem, and if we don’t develop and sustain healthy coping mechanisms to address work stressors, we won’t be able to bear any burdens or solve any problems. So make sure you have your oxygen on.
We, as the field of student affairs, need to look Busyness in the face and name it for what it is: a toxic personal and organizational attitude that devalues our holistic selves and replaces good management and efficiency with anxiety and wasted time.
It’s time to break up with Busyness for good.
References: 

Books:

  • Essentialism, Greg McKeown
  • Rising Strong and Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
  • Drive, Daniel Pink

Articles:

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/26/working-more-than-50-hours-makes-you-less-productive.html

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-143/pdfs/2004-143.pdf

How to deliver innovation overnight

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/8180974/Reap-the-rewards-of-letting-your-employees-run-free.html
https://hbr.org/2012/08/the-disciplined-pursuit-of-less

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/09/how-to-set-boundaries-brene-brown_n_4372968.html 

Journal Articles: 

The Measurement of Experienced Burnout Author(s): Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson Source: Journal of Occupational Behaviour, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr., 1981), pp. 99-113

Huebner, E. Scott, PROFESSIONALS UNDER STRESS: A REVIEW OF BURNOUT AMONG THE HELPING PROFESSIONS WITH IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS Psychology in the Schools Volume 30, January 1993, pp. 40-49

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Our Common Purpose is Inclusion. Change the Location of NASPA 2016.

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The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but in times of challenge and controversy. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 2016 NASPA conference has been planned to be held in Indianapolis, IN in March of next year.

Today, the Governor of Indiana signed a bill into law known as the  that would allow businesses to challenge local laws that forbid discriminating against customers based on sexual orientation in court. It codifies the ability of businesses to defend discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

And we are going to go there. For our conference. Where we will be going to businesses. Businesses that feel that they now have a justifiable legal basis on which to openly discriminate against someone based on religious objections to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In a state that has openly institutionalized discrimination and oppression.

We are an association that professes our commitment to inclusion. We have a GLBT Knowledge Community. We have gender neutral bathrooms at our conferences. And now we have a huge national conference in a state which has just become much more hostile toward people who carry marginalized sexual orientation and gender identities.

Moving the conference with just less than a year to go would require a lot of time, energy, frustration, and financial loss. It would be a phenomenal pain. It would be very problematic. Not nearly as problematic as the discrimination and institutionalized oppression that we will implicitly support by bringing our business to Indiana. Not nearly as painful as the impact of oppression in the everyday lives of people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.

And now, we as the members of the association, must call on NASPA Leadership to change the location of the 2016 conference. We call on them to be true to our guiding principle of Inclusion and choose the often inconvenient path of Integrity.

Fellow members, please join me in encouraging our association to take action on this matter and to stand in solidarity with all those who have been and will be negatively affected by this oppressive and unethical legislation. We have an obligation to demand this of those who lead us. NASPA, as an educational association, has an obligation to demand better from the governing systems of our country.

You can make your voice heard in this petition to NASPA President Kevin Kruger, NASPA Board Chair-Elect Frank Lamas, and NASPA 2016 Conference Chair Frank E. Ross. 

On NASPA, Yik Yak, and Perhaps What Really Matters

imageI’m in the airport on my way home from the annual NASPA Conference. And I’m thinking about the great NASPA Yik Yak fiasco of 2015. If you haven’t caught up yet, there’s a lot of brouhaha about a variety of yaks that have been made by conference attendees over the past couple of days. It made it into The Chronicle, in fact. I find this whole situation to be fascinating. The presence of the offending yaks. The responses. It’s all very interesting.

Let’s start with the very beginning: the types of things people are saying on Yik Yak. There are yaks about the other SA pros that people find hot. There are yaks about getting drunk. There are yaks about being hung over. There are yaks about hooking up and getting laid. There are yaks complaining a bit about sessions or the conference in general.

It’s sort of like Yik Yak on every other day. It’s an anonymous, written manifestation of the reality of social interactions, behavior, conversations, and personal thought in the microcosm of the immediate geographic community.

Don’t get me wrong; do I think it’s the epitome of professionalism to be focusing on getting laid, getting wasted, and dropping snarky or hurtful remarks about others while at a conference? Nope. But I invite you to consider with me the ways in which some of our natural or first responses to this behavior are tinged with hypocrisy, naïveté, and some unrealistic expectations for ourselves as profession.

Response 1: Yik Yak is the enemy. How dare you use Yik Yak (thereby compromising the good fight)? Yik Yak is definitely not the enemy. Yik Yak is just a platform. It’s a forum. The real enemies are hate, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, bullying, harassment, and the inhumanity and harm that come from fear, anger, and misunderstanding. If Yik Yak is a “problem” on your campus, I promise you that the problem is not the app. The problem is the culture and our society at large. Don’t fight the symptom, fight the cause. Mocking and shaming SA Pros for being on Yik Yak is not productive. In fact, it’s sort of ageist, because younger professionals are much more likely to be using emerging social media technologies. I understand that some responses that fall under this category are attempting to call out specific types of behavior on Yik Yak, but generalizing and shaming use of the app overall is not helpful.

Response 2: Shame on you. You should know better. Implicit in the act of shaming someone for behavior that is regarded as unprofessional, unethical, or otherwise inappropriate is an unwillingness to understand, engage with, and call in our colleagues. When our students act in a way that we find unacceptable, we have educational and meaningful conversations with them to discuss the impact of their behavior, understand where they are coming from, and make plans to help them act in ways that are more appropriate in the future. But when our colleagues foul up? So much for compassion. The student affairs sword of judgment is swift and sharp. We need to be willing to challenge and support each other. Development does not end after graduation. Making mistakes does not end after graduation. Young professionals are still developing and learning ways of being in the world and acting professionally. If you bear witness to a colleague behaving in a way that is detrimental to their career, to our profession, or to the well-being of students, please summon the courage to hold that person accountable in a caring and compassionate way. Maybe they don’t really know better. Be a role model. Let them know (but try to do it without condescension).

Response 3: Student Affairs is better than this. I really don’t even know where to begin with this one. This response feels most defensive and most likely to be hypocritical. Last time I checked, Student Affairs professionals are humans. Humans who get drunk and get it on. I’ve only been in the profession for a handful of years, but I’ve always found it to be an incredibly…progressive…space. A space in which people regularly get very drunk at conferences. A space in which professionals are definitely sexually and romantically involved with each other. I’ve been watching professionals get drunk at conferences since I was an undergrad. These things are not secrets! Also not a secret is the fact that individuals and the field are still on a path to more socially just practice, and that not everyone is “there” (wherever exactly “there” is) yet. So yeah, people are going to make comments that are not cool, that are micro aggressions, and that are harmful, and we need to call them in and invite dialogue to move everyone forward.

We absolutely cannot act like our whole field is constantly attaining some level of ethical and professional perfection. We are educators, not saints. The reason that we have standards and competencies is because we need to work to meet them, not because becoming a student affairs professional comes with automatic immunity from making mistakes or acting human. It’s unfair and unreasonable to set up shaming systems that promote double standards of behavior. We talk constantly about living authentically. Authentic living includes mistakes. It also includes examining where judgmental reactions come from. Are we afraid that if people get turnt at conferences, we won’t be taken seriously as a field? Are we worried that such baseness will mar our prestige? Are we worried that this is making us look bad with our academic colleagues who are reading about us in The Chronicle? Because I promise you, they are turning up, too.

Of course, we need to promote and foster boundaries regarding ethical and professional behavior in all aspects of our supervision, mentoring, and role modeling. The behavior of student affairs professionals at conferences and in Yik Yak and other forums indicates something about the culture of our field, of our institutions, and of our association.

I’m willing to bet that the sources of these offending yaks were new professionals. And I feel fairly confident in saying that this is a symptom indicating that there are gaps that exist in either how we are socializing new professionals into the field or in how we enact vs. espouse our values. I think that it’s a little bit of both, to be honest. Responses to issues like this go beyond public shaming. Certainly, given the anonymity involved here, it is impossible to target specific individuals with caring and compassionate professional interventions. But perhaps that is for the best, because that challenges us to consider the way we hold ourselves at all times, with all colleagues, around social expectations, role modeling, and fostering reasonable and authentic standards of ethical behavior.

“Honey! I’m Home!”: Making the Most Post-Conference

I am fresh off of the NASPA Region 1 annual conference right now. (For the record, I had a GREAT time. I love  NASPA. I consider Region 1 Conference to be one of my favorite holidays of the year). It’s only been 5 hours  since we finished “Honoring Our Mission” in Mystic, CT and I’m probably safe in speaking on behalf of all 500+ conference attendees in saying that I’m pretty darn tired. I already took a power nap, in fact. But I’m still thinking hard about how to make the most of my conference experience because it doesn’t end when you go back to campus.

That’s right. The conference is not over. The point of these conferences, of course, is that we bring something back with us (by “bring back”, I mean more than a sweatshirt, t-shirt, coffee mug, PEZ dispenser, and 2 strips of photo booth pictures). I just spent 3 days meeting new people, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, thinking about the field, my career, the future, and the past. The amount of reflection, inquiry, discussion, and relationship building I did at this conference is rarely present in my day-to-day life, and I have no intention of just letting all of that effort fade away.

I’m going to hold myself to some expectations for making the most out of my Post-Conference experience, starting right now, and I challenge all of you to do the same. Here are some of my tips for doing so:

  1. The road to hell is paved with ignored business cards.  Does anyone ever give you a business card at a conference and say “Hey, here’s my card, I hope that you throw it in the bottom of your bag and accidentally find it next August during RA Training and think about how you never emailed me”? No? Well then, don’t do that. If you had a good conversation with someone, follow up. Do it now before you forget what the heck you talked to that person about. Shoot them an email just to say “Hey, it was great to meet you/ see you again/ talk about (_______)”. Look them up on Twitter or LinkedIn. Short conversations at conferences can be the beginning of great relationships that expand your network, help to make friends, and benefit you throughout your career.
  2. Read your notes and your program. I take lots of notes during sessions. I jot down questions, answers, important points, and valuable information. Now is the time to go through those notes, match them up to the name of the session and presenters from the program, and consider if you have any further questions or want more information or resources. Don’t wait until you have a vague memory of hearing a great idea somewhere but have no clue who said it or in what context. Make the connections now.
  3. Fill out the Evaluations. Seriously. Do this. I’m looking at you, Mystic attendees who said “I’ll do the online session evaluation on my phone/laptop/tablet” and never actually got around to it. I know you’re out there! The feedback on sessions is extremely valuable to this year’s presenters and will help to improve the quality of sessions provided in our region each year. Also, make sure to fill out the conference evaluation when you get it in your email.
  4. Volunteer for something that interested you. This is especially important as a new professional. Join one of NASPA’s 26 Knowledge Communities. Contact the Regional KC Chair and say you want to get involved (they are probably going to say “Yes”). Actually go to the Volunteer Central website and fill out your profile. Do this now before you forget about the cool stuff you found out about at the conference, because if you don’t, you’ll regret it when you are reminded at next year’s conference.
  5. Share your learning. Not everyone in your department went to the conference, which means that you now have some awesome knowledge to share with your colleagues at home. Suggest a new approach or program and back it up with the information you learned at the conference. Approach your own institution with a fresh perspective. Make sure that the learning and reflection you experienced at the conference doesn’t just go to waste.

What tips do you have for making the most of your post-conference experience?

About Me

I am a graduate student Higher Education and Assistant Community Coordinator for Residence Life at the University of Maine. I am interested in orientation and new student programs, residential education, first year student development, and diversity and social justice on college campuses, specifically related to social justice ally development, access to higher education, and transition and retention of traditionally underrepresented students.

I am also an active member of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), as a Graduate Associate, Region I Conference intern, and member of the Maine Association for Student Affairs Professionals.  I enjoy sharing my love of the profession with aspiring undergraduates, increasing awareness of professional opportunities, and sharing knowledge with my peers.

I am a native Rhode Islander and adopted Mainer with a love for cooking, college hockey, and the outdoors. I am a proud Gamma Sigma Sigma alumna and a Black Bear at heart. My philosophy in life is to ask myself every day if I have helped someone.

This blog is the next step in my goal to use the online world to the best of my abilities in my work. I have gained incredibly from the online Student Affairs Communities on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I am excited to take the next step with an official website of my own.

So, should you choose to follow my adventures here, what will you find? I can promise lots of insights about change and transition, loosely detailed chronicles of my job searching, musings on social justice, privilege, and oppression, the trials and tribulations of residence life and working with first year students, and anything else higher ed that crosses my path. A bit of a grab bag, isn’t it? You can’t blame me, though, because I’m the new kid. I’m still figuring this all out!