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Getting out of the office

October 22, 2011, 7:36 pm

When I was a faculty member at previous R1 institutions, I went to campus 2-3 days a week. I spent the rest of my time working at home. When I was on campus, I often visited with colleagues and friends across campus between meetings, office hours, and classes. I relished the flexibility of faculty life. My first administrative/faculty job was a part-time admin gig, though I often was on campus 4-5 days a week to meet with students, faculty, and staff as needed. But I started my days late, and I left when I wanted to leave. It was nothing close to a 9-5 gig.

One of the side effects of this new 12 month, 9-whatever, administrative position is that I have to remind myself to take breaks. I go from task to task, meeting to meeting, and time just passes by in a blur. Open times are usually interrupted by “could I have a minute” conversations with faculty, staff, and students who poke their heads in my office. I have found that I even need to be intentional about taking time to go to the bathroom. When I am in back-to-back meetings or working on a project on the computer, hours can go by without remembering to attend to my personal needs. Nothing is worse than sitting in a meeting, trying to be attentive, while keeping an eye on the clock and counting the minutes until I can get to the restroom.

Now, I am not chained to my desk. I have been very intentional about getting out of my office to wander down the hallways and check in with faculty and staff. I know how important it is to check in regularly with folks, sharing stories and asking about their work and their families. So my “free time” gets eaten up with my departmental wanderings or the impromptu office meetings mentioned above.

Leaving my building, though, is a challenge for me. Other than going to classes or meetings, I usually stay in my building during the day. I find that I even feel a little guilty about going out for lunch or going home for a quick sandwich. “There is so much to do!” I think, as I contemplate who will deliver to campus. I wind up eating lunch at my desk or not eating at all. I know it isn’t smart or healthy not to take a break for lunch, but time often slips up on me.

The other day, though, as I walked across campus from the classroom where I teach to the library, I looked around and thought how lovely the campus is. The warmth of the sun, the cool breeze, the chatter of students buzzing between classes, the birds and squirrels… it was amazing. I started to think about how nice it might be to take my Ipad and work on a bench outside. I haven’t done it yet, but I have flirted with the idea.

Another day, I found myself in a different campus building, having arrived early for a meeting. With nothing to do, I stopped in to visit a department chair I had met in my first days on campus. We had a lovely visit, talking about challenges of leadership, maintaining our own scholarship in our new roles, general thoughts about the administration, and some tidbits about our personal lives. Our visit ended with him inviting me to stop by again sometime. I thought as I left that I really might go see him again, and perhaps I would make appointments to visit with other new colleagues across campus. There was something calming and refreshing about getting out of the office and talking to different people outside my department.

One of the casualties of the new schedule is having time for reflection. I think I need to build in some quiet times, protected in my schedule, to give me a chance to think about the big questions: Where is our department going? What are the big challenges we are facing? Which of the many projects we have identified as interesting should we pursue? What should I be doing to move my own research and writing forward? And perhaps most important: what should I have for lunch? After I go to the bathroom, that is.

For those of you who also are administrators, how do you handle the loss of time for reflection and restoration? What do you do to make sure you get out of the office from time to time? What helps you keep your sense of self and balance? I am open to suggestions.

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