Pacing, not Sprinting: My Semester Plan Spring 2019

It’s the start of a new semester, so time for a new semester plan! In the Fall, I shared my Fall semester plan and one thing I like to do at the end of the semester is review how that went (as it is never exactly to plan!).  So, here is the plan at the beginning of the semester:


And here is the plan at the end of the semester:


As you can see, a variety of things got added in, and not everything that I planned got accomplished.  However, I tend to view this not a failure of the plan, but as a flexible adjustment.  When I make my Spring plan, I can focus on whether the projects I didn’t complete need to be carried over (because they take longer than I allotted or got replaced with something new) or just deleted (painful, but sometimes necessary).  

So, here is my Spring 2019 plan:

This semester, my main goal is to make it to the end of the semester without being exhausted (hence REST as my focus word).  Last semester was a particularly challenging one due to a variety of anticipated and unanticipated things that took more mental and emotional energy than I expected (on top of the physical exhaustion of having young children that don’t sleep through the night).  While the pattern of pushing to exhaustion and then resting on the semester breaks seems to be the dominant one in academia, and there are people who really thrive on this type of sprinting, deadline-based approach, I have decided that it is not for me, and I’m working on figuring out a more paced approach.  One reason this doesn’t work for me is that my “breaks” tend to be filled with catching up on life admin activities I neglect during the semester or hanging out with my kids and family.  The first can be mentally exhausting and the second physically exhausting, if a nice mental release.  

So, the question is, how to make a semester plan that has a pacing strategy?  I have to admit, this is unclear as the beginning of the  semester is already jam-packed, is unclear, but I hope to report back with things that worked and didn’t work in May.  As I mentioned in my Fall post, I make my semester plan by putting in the relevant dates and deadlines that are already scheduled, and then adding habits, goals, projects, and tasks.  This semester, as part of my pacing goal, I brainstormed everything I wanted to do separately, and then tried to select only a few to actually make it onto the plan.  You’ll also see I have nothing planned in May—this is the buffer time for things that take longer than anticipated or that I don’t know about yet.  I’m also trying a new variation on my weekly planning, where I organize my days by energy consumed and generated rather than category, that I’ll report back on in a later post.  

Do you pace your semesters? Or are you more of the sprinting type? Let me know if you have ideas for pacing!

Making a semester plan


This semester, in addition to posts about teaching and research, I’m planning to write some on planning.  For me, this is key to having the mental space to spend a lot of time thinking about learning and the time to actually act on those thoughts.  First up is my semester plan!

Why a semester plan? A semester plan essentially lets me see everything I have going on that semester all at once.  While this can be overwhelming, taking it in all at once lets me plan ahead for deadlines, not let things accidentally fall through the cracks, make time for my goals (like curriculum development!), and only do the things I really care about (at least in theory). 

Making a semester plan.  I use my own planning sheet, as you can see in the picture (some personal items are blocked out).  My steps are:

1) Dates: These are all the relevant dates in my life, including work, dance, and family events and deadlines, and they are all color-coded.  Laying it all out at once allows me to get a sense of when there is space in my schedule and when there’s not, which gives me more realistic expectations for what I can do during the semester.  

2) Focus: I also choose a specific thing I want to focus on for the semester, usually one very general word.  This Fall, it is space—I would like my physical, digital, mental, and time environments to have more space in them—wish me luck!

3) Habits, tasks, goals, and projects: These are the things that I always try to do too many of, and laying them out with my calendar helps me be more realistic about what will actually happen (still a work in progress).  I basically define them as follows:

Habits: Ongoing things I want to do to improve my life that don’t really have an end date.  For example, attending Crossfit three days a week and following a good family evening routine are my current habit projects.  

Tasks: Things that can be completed in one block of time that aren’t linked to a larger project or goal.  For example, my continuing professional development paperwork for being a dance judge, or an article review.  

Goals: These are things that I want to do to improve my life that can be completed, such as submitting a journal article or developing a curriculum unit.  However, they can’t be completed in a single time block.  So while they may have a specific deadline, I have to plan pretty far out ahead to make sure I spend enough time on them to accomplish them by that deadline.  

Projects:  For me, the difference between a project and a goal is whether it’s a stretch to do it.  For example, teaching my classes is a project, but developing new research-based curricular units for them are a goal.  

To choose what goes in these categories, each semester, I balance between what I’ve already committed to (such as conferences or paper deadlines) and what I’d like to add (so many things!).  Once I generate this list, I try to decide what will be realistic, and select only those things to go on my actual plan, making sure to also leave space for things that will come up.  Then, I try to balance them across the different months of the semester, rather than trying to work on everything at once.  Each month, I evaluate what’s happened, and adjust my plan from there.  

Do you make a semester plan? If so, how? Let me know—as you might imagine, I also love reading about other people’s plans . . .