It doesn’t matter if this is your first year in the job or your 20th. The beginning of term is chaos.
This is temporary. It will only last a week or two. Then you will settle into the normal rhythm of term time.
Adjust your priorities
During beginning of term chaos you can temporarily suspend some of your normal practices. You have extra work to do that only happens in these 2 weeks and it makes sense that some of your other work will need to move out of the way to make space.
Your priorities for the first week of term, and perhaps the week before and week after, are:
- Teaching organization: syllabus, spreadsheets, room bookings, TA recruitment and training, etc.
- Meetings: department, curriculum, etc.
- Student advising/personal tutoring: meeting new advisees/tutees, sorting out timetabling and course selection issues, addressing beginning of term distress, etc.
- Eating, sleeping, and exercise: making sure you have the personal resources to do all the other stuff.
I bet this little guy just turned up to tell you that if you stop writing for a week, you’ll never go back to it?
Hello gremlin! I know you are trying to help but no one does good writing when they are exhausted and distracted. I’m going to help your person set themselves up so this doesn’t happen. Can you let her try?
Setting yourself up for “normal” term rhythms
The easiest way to appease the gremlin is to put writing/research in your schedule now. There is no typical week. But, if it helps, think of Week 2 as ramping up to “normal”.
What is the amount of time you know you can devote to writing every day? Are you sure? If not, make it smaller. Don’t worry about whether this is a useful amount of time or not. The important thing is that you can definitely find that time every day, preferably at the same time. (Why?)
Schedule that much (and only that much) in your timetable, starting in week 2, even if it is 15 minutes. Make it repeat daily, Monday to Friday, until the end of term. (Is 15 minutes enough?)
Are there days when you could add another, longer, session every week? Are you sure? Even if this is just one 1-hour session a week, that’s fine as long as you are sure you can make it every week. Schedule that in your timetable, starting in week 3. Make it repeat weekly until the end of term.
Now writing/research has the same level of priority in your timetable as teaching and meetings. It actually appears. It is not a void. You might want to go and schedule time for teaching preparation and anything else you know you need to do weekly but haven’t put in your calendar.
Then think of the periodic things that take a big chunk of time. Grading, for example. Look at the deadlines you set for assignments, and schedule time to mark those assignments. You might need to move your weekly writing session(s) but you will be conscious that you are not “free” in that time slot. You are more likely to suggest other times for meetings, or to reschedule your writing time rather than just let it get squeezed out.
Making reasonable and feasible plans
What I’ve just described is the basic structure of the Planning Classes that are available as part of the Academic Writing Studio.
It’s never too late to plan. If it is already the chaotic beginning of term, then plan to plan next week. Sometimes putting the time in your day planner and listening to someone else guide you through the process makes all the difference.
Previous versions of this post were published Aug 26, 2013 and Aug 25, 2014. It has been revised. Most recent edits April 11, 2016. Related post added August 29, 2017.