Post Academic


A Ban on Busywork

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 11, 2011
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionLately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about how exhausted they are. I know how it is. I’m still catching up on all the sleep I lost from recent cross-country trips. I’m still not even sure which state I’m in. But I started thinking about why people get exhausted. Sometimes, you can’t avoid it, but most of the time, you can avoid it by eliminating the biggest scourge in the workplace–busywork, aka, the type of labor others dump on you when you look like you’re not working hard enough. There are ways to work a little smarter. These tips aren’t a cure-all, but they might give you an extra hour of rest each night:

Know what is your job and what isn’t. You shouldn’t be doing people’s work for them, whether they be your colleagues or your students. Remember what Patron Saint Tim Gunn says–some people just want to fail.

Beware excessive time-management timesucks. I love, love, love time management solutions. The best ones stay out of your way, which means that once you set up a system, you can keep using it without revising it.

Remember your primary goals. Your primary goal, as a grad student or professor, is to get published. That’s it. You may need to do work beyond that in order to keep getting paid, but anything that cuts into your writing time is a problem.

Attempt to suppress your guilt. While you want to be a good team player, remember that everyone else needs to step up. Slackers are a problem in both the ivory tower and academia, but you are not their parent, and you shouldn’t cover for them. You’re only hurting yourself. If you don’t meet your primary goal and don’t get a job or a promotion, is the slacker going to let you sleep on her couch? I think not. Even if the slacker is cool with your crashing at her pad, do you really want to? That couch will be filthy.

Look at things from a Hamster perspective. I could write about this, but I’ll save time by pointing to the smarties at Lifehacker. They have a list of tips for how to avoid “fake work” in the Hamster World.

Image of a bee collecting honey from a lavender flower from off2riorob from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

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2 Responses to 'A Ban on Busywork'

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  1. rbeck said,

    “Remember your primary goals. Your primary goal, as a grad student or professor, is to get published. That’s it. You may need to do work beyond that in order to keep getting paid, but anything that cuts into your writing time is a problem.”

    This is key to all the guilt and exhaustion. Say we are very aware that anything cutting into our writing time is a problem, but we need to create lesson plans and grade papers in order to get paid. Say we were once called in to the WPC’s office for a talking-to because a class-full of students during a summer semester plotted together to kill us via course evaluations, and therefore we feel in order to survive we must do a good job (not just decent) of teaching. How do we usefully get the busy-work of teaching (as a grad student, it’s busywork until I’ve defended) out of our way in this case?
    This is the source of all problems, at least for this dissertator.


    • Yikes. That is a core problem at universities. Many people have said this better than me, but I’ll say it again: Universities say they want good teachers, but they reward only good publishers. I don’t know what you’re teaching, but I have a few ideas. The work of grading can be minimized. You could grade on a rubric so that you can circle what’s wrong on the paper instead of writing out the same comments over and over. Again, don’t know the nature of your course or what students said on course evaluations, but I wasted a lot of time practically line-editing papers, when I really should have circled “needs work” on the rubric and sent the student to a tutor or the campus writing center. Maybe you’ve already tried this, but, if a student complains that you grade on a rubric, then that’s not really a complaint. If your rubric is detailed enough, it should be pretty clear why they got a bad grade if you keep a copy, and their grounds aren’t valid. Good luck with everything!


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