Today I start my 26th year as a college professor. The students are invading the campus again after their summer break. The streets and buildings are humming with activity after a few months in which faculty and graduate students were the sole occupants of offices and labs.
Because I have lived on the academic calendar my whole life, there are certain things I take for granted that get lost when you leave school. There is a sense of rebirth in every academic institution as classes start again in the Fall that is energizing. As I got ready to teach my first class of the semester, I began thinking about why I enjoy this time of year so much. No matter where you work, I think there are some valuable lessons to draw from the academic calendar.
Renew Your Values
One great thing about the start of the academic year is that it provides a natural break in the calendar to reflect on your life. It is too easy to get sucked into your email queue and the endless list of tasks you need to perform daily. As a result, the work days can whiz by, one blending into the next.
When you get drawn into that kind of work schedule, it is tough to know whether the days of hard work have added up to the contribution you really want to make at work. This is a great time of year to spend a little time thinking about what you are accomplishing. Are you happy with the progress you are making toward the big-picture goals you had for your job, your career, and your personal life?kind of
If you feel like you are progressing toward the accomplishments you want to make, then you have the opportunity to recommit to the future you are trying to build. If not, though, then you are going to have to make some changes in what you do on a daily basis. Running fast in the wrong direction won't get you where you want to go.
Reset Your Agenda
The first day of school is wonderful. The textbooks are new. The grade book is clean. The past matters less than the present.
Somehow, we lose that sense of the present in the grind of work. Once a year, it is time to clean out your daily agenda. What tasks have you taken on that are a legacy of the past and are not serving your present goals? Find ways to clear away those aspects of your daily, weekly, and monthly routine that are not productive.
In place of what you remove, make sure that you add specific actions to your calendar that will help you progress toward the goals you really want to achieve. Unless you take concrete steps toward the big picture contributions you want to make, they will remain out of reach.
Resolve to Learn
While you are cleaning out your agenda, leave a little space that is not accounted for. The hectic schedule at work has another side-effect. Chances are you are so focused on what needs to be done today that you don't have much time to prepare for tomorrow. Your performance at work today is based on the skills you have acquired in the past. Unless you make a concerted effort to learn new things, your knowledge and skills tomorrow will be the same as they are today.
It is difficult to make a commitment to learn something new. There is always something pressing that seems critical to take care of now. When you were in school, you had no choice but to learn something new. That was the whole purpose of being in school. Now, the choice to pick up a new skill and to improve your knowledge is yours.
What do you wish you knew how to do? Is there a skill that you see in others that you haven't acquired yet? Is there an area of knowledge that remains a mystery, but would open up new avenues for you at work? Is there something you always wanted to know and have resisted learning because it is not obvious how it would help you at work?
Now is the time to add some learning time into your schedule. Grab a book. Watch a lecture on-line. Attend a seminar at a local university. Think about going back to school to get another degree. There is a growing number of masters programs aimed at working professionals.
And finally, remember that there is a new first day of school every year. So, you get to check back in with your values, your agenda, and your commitment to learning again next year to see how you're doing.