I've just spent the last hour and a half working on my semester plan, and I'm not done yet. I've filled in as many appointments on my calendar as I know about, looked over my class schedule and meeting schedule, and done my best to figure out when I'll be working on my research. According to my semester plan, I have at least three days a week when I can do something -- anything! -- to advance my current project. I have no idea if that's enough, but it’ll be a start.
The semester plan is a relatively new idea for me. I got it, as I get so many of my ideas these days, from a junior colleague. She had participated in a junior faculty workshop (with fellow IHE blogger Kerry Ann Rockquemore) and developed her first semester plan soon thereafter. As I am her faculty mentor, she was encouraged to share the plan with me--and I was encouraged to share mine with her. So here at mid-career I decided to try to develop one.
It wasn't easy! Because I have an administrative position that displaces some of my teaching, I tend to come in to the office daily and field questions. If there are no questions to field, then I see what I can manage to do while I'm in here. Once the teaching year is well underway, simply keeping up with my teaching and my various service obligations usually keeps me pretty busy. Rather than have a plan, I was simply reacting. Oh, the syllabus is a plan, of course, and there are external deadlines, which I always met, but I didn’t have an overarching plan that took all these things and the internal deadlines into account.
Last year I began to try to plan. I can't say that I managed to do everything I thought I would, but it did help to write things down and try to attach some dates to them. The biggest change from my reactive to my planning self is trying to get realistic about ongoing projects that don’t have built-in deadlines. For example, I should finish this chapter by, say, October...but if I don't, there's no real penalty, just slower progress on the book. So I'm trying to externalize those deadlines, too--write down specific dates by which I should have the chapter finished, then work backwards from the date to assign deadlines for sections of the chapter along the way.
The key word in that previous paragraph is "trying." I am still working out how long each part of a project takes, trying to figure out how to carve out both research and writing time, trying to balance all this with the normal demands of teaching, of home and family, of exercise and relaxation time. Writing it down is just a first step -- but at least I've taken that.