Do You Plan an Ideal Week?

How’s it going? My second week back was somewhat uneventful, but a few colleagues have had covid positive students pop up. The uni has said to proceed with class as scheduled while the department of health does “contact tracing.” What could go wrong with that plan?

I am celebrating some personal good news today…my chapter on co-leading a faculty learning community for multimodal assignments has been published in the edited collection Multimodal Composition: Faculty Development Programs and Institutional Change. Are you celebrating any wins this week? I’d love to know.

In the lead up to the fall semester I saw some familiar advice going around about creating an ideal week template in order to think critically about how to spend your time. While this is popular in productivity circles in general,, academics are particularly fond of a weekly template (1, 2, 3, 4). That’s because, unlike some, we need to rethink our weekly schedule every semester. Also because we *generally* have a good amount of leeway in how we spend our time. Classes and meetings are fixed, but for most of us, even those of us with heavy teaching loads (4:4:2 here!), that still leaves a bunch of time we need to figure out how to spend.

I have done an ideal week exercise in the past, but not every semester. Mostly because I wasn’t entirely sure what the point was. I would make the schedule, then promptly forget about it, and finally ride the tidal wave of obligations to the next semester. And I don’t think I ever truly experienced an ideal week. Ever. Things always derailed even the least-scheduled weeks. Unanticipated administrative tasks ballooned to fill all available space (I spent the first week of this semester, for example, putting together a needlessly complicated portfolio for a multi year contract). Personal tragedy came knocking. And sometimes I was just too mentally fatigued to take advantage of open spots in my schedule. I also secretly resisted the idea of creating a schedule to help me do more uncompensated labor even though I really like research and writing (for context, I am not in a tenure track role).

But over the past couple years, I’ve come to think about it differently. Now I think, “Here are the things I really want to do each week. How do I make room for them?” That means setting healthy boundaries around my obligations, choosing rocks over sand, and finding ways to make this job more awesome than not. And it means to think proactively about how to spend my time.

Using a blank Passion Planner Weekly spread to map out my ideal week

If you think it might be useful for you as well, here’s how I go about it:

1. Start with a list of the things you ideally want to make time for *each week.* (e.g. volunteer at the food pantry, #acwri time, zoom time with grandparents, teaching prep & feedback, etc.)

2. Get a blank weekly calendar with a vertical layout and hour or half hour slots (you don’t *need* these slots but they do help the process).

3. Plot out your fixed weekly obligations like teaching times, recurring meeting times, commutes, bed time, etc.

4. Look at the remaining time and your list of things from step 1. Try to find time for them in the week. Keep in mind not just time but energy. You may be setting yourself up for failure if you try to schedule a massive writing session on the same day as teaching even if you do, technically, have the time because they are both high energy tasks.

5. Let go of things you don’t have time for and be kind to yourself about it. If you are teaching 4+ classes per term it may not be realistic to find 5 hours of writing time each week during a semester. Instead you might find one hour and save the big writing chunks for winter and summer break. Or maybe you’d love to volunteer weekly but it just isn’t possible during a regular semester, so find something you can do monthly instead.

Remember that you are just one person trying to live your best life in some rather terrifying circumstances (pandemic, late stage capitalism, etc.). It’s called an “ideal” week for a reason – it’s just an idea. Let it try to guide your choices, but don’t stress to much if it is never fully realized. Give yourself an A for effort and move on.

Do you plan an ideal week or an ideal day? Let me know in the comments.

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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