Avoiding crisis management and burnout

The intention of my previous post was not to raise your blood pressure.

I know that by mid-November you are overwhelmed. You’re right in the thick of teaching. You have mid-term assignments coming in to be marked and returned. You’re still doing all the regular preparation. Students are coming to see you about difficulties they are having.

It is no surprise that research related activities take a back seat. Maybe you are keeping up your 30-minutes a day at least a few days a week. But even if you are, progress on writing and other research activities is probably slow. Possibly discouragingly so.

It’s okay. You are busy. Furthermore if you live in the northern hemisphere, it is pretty dark and gloomy out there. You probably crave more sleep just as you feel that you don’t really have time to relax in the evenings and go to bed early.

Don’t take on extra things

If you only just noticed that grant deadline and were thinking you’d apply, don’t. If you haven’t even started, it’s already too late. You have plenty on your plate. It will come up again next year. Not only can it not be done without damage to your mental and physical health. It cannot be done well in the time remaining. Start planning for next year’s deadline.

If you have already started work on that SSHRC IDG application (or other application due in January or February), I fully support you. This is your research work for this season and you should prioritize it.

  • make a detailed to-do list: “write grant application” is NOT a to do list item
    • update publications in online form
    • write detailed description
    • write summary
    • prepare budget
    • etc (each of those can probably be broken down further)
  • figure out what items can be delegated and delegate them (to an RA, to an administrator who takes on extra hourly-paid work, to your sister if need be)
    • putting your (updated) CV information into the online form
    • filling in the tick-box parts of the application
    • translating your proposal into accountant so you can write a budget
  • make appointments with yourself in your calendar for every item that remains on your to-do list; some of these can be as short as 15 minutes.

Proceed methodically through your tasks. If anyone asks if you are available for a meeting, treat your appointments with yourself as seriously as you would scheduled teaching. You don’t need to explain why you are not available.

How will you pay the RA or whoever? I don’t care. If you have internal research funds, use those. If you have professional development funds, use those. If you need to pay them out of your own pocket, consider the value of your own time, health and sanity. I suspect it is a small price to pay.

Burn out is not productive

I also recommend blocking off holiday time in your calendar between terms. You need to recharge your batteries. You cannot be a good teacher/researcher/colleague if you are burnt out. Furthermore, if you are tired and burnt out it takes you longer to do the tasks you have. Rest and relaxation is not a waste of time.

Pressure and panic is also not conducive to doing your best work. Deadlines generate a certain type of activity and ensure that we get things finished (or finished enough to submit). However, deadlines that are too close for the amount of work required induce panic, which prevents you from thinking clearly and leads to lower quality work as well as anxiety, disrupted sleep, and the associated health issues.

You don’t have to work like this.



  1. says

    As always, great advice! This past week, I left all the papers that needed grading in my office and just took the Thanksgiving break to relax and not worry about my teaching and grading. I knew that meant I’d be working late this week, but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make for my own good. Burn out the first semester at a new job is not a good thing and that is where I was headed. Thanks for all of your wonderful work!


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