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My “unproductive” half hour

Of course, I have plenty of “unproductive” hours in my day and I staunchly defend them. But my title refers to a very particular half hour: the time right after I finish teaching.

I’ve written before about tailoring your schedule, when you have the flexibility, to your energy levels. If you know that you’re a morning person, then by all means reserve the first half hour (or more) of the day for writing, before you open your email. Keeping a list of useful but not challenging tasks that you can do when you’re feeling distracted or tired is another way to match your actions with your energy levels.

But in order to synchronize your schedule with your energy, you have to first recognize just what your energy capacity at a given time really will be. Cultural programming about early birds getting worms, social pressure to conform to what others in your household or department do, and long-standing caffeine habits can often obscure your own natural biorhythms. When we have to, we can all push past our natural inclinations and stay up late, get up early, or power through an afternoon meeting. But when we don’t have to, it’s best to avoid such force.

It’s taken me a few years to fully reconcile myself to the fact that for about 30 minutes directly following a class, I am so wired up that I am really unable to do much of anything. I can’t effectively write, grade, or even respond to email.

So what do I do? I chat with a colleague, brew a cup of tea, eat a snack, sit at my computer and scroll through the tweetstream or some blogs. But even there, I don’t click on anything too serious or intellectual, as I know I won’t really take it in. I basically just sit and decompress. As an introvert, I need to relax and recharge after interacting with a large group of people.  After about 30 minutes, my brain comes back online and I can get to work. But If I don’t take this time to recharge, I’m not able to focus very well on what I’m doing and my productivity will suffer for several hours.

Fully recognizing my need for this downtime means that I make sure I have all my prep done ahead for my next class so that I won’t need to prepare in the time between them. It means that I pack some extra fruit or nuts for a snack on teaching days. And most importantly, it means that if I spend 30 minutes reading about upcoming movies instead of reading about Victorian poetry, I’m fine with that. I know it’s just part of my process.

What do you do when you finish teaching class? Let us know in the comments!

[CC licensed image from flickr user subflux]

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