I can help you take the stress out of the academic track.
Why? I’ve been there, beat my head against many of its walls, and located resources to smooth the path.
I joke with my colleagues in the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) that I’m a “recovering academic.” That’s not entirely true, as I maintain an active research and publishing agenda.
Let me tell you my story.
Growing up, I had the misfortune of being smart enough to power through most academic challenges on raw brainpower and the occasional all-nighter. Working hard had always been enough, even during the first few years of graduate school.
That’s why I didn’t have nearly enough fun in college (“I can’t; I have to study”). And that’s why I was completely unprepared to cope with the dissertation.
Desperation Leads to toolkit overhaul
In desperation, I attended every relevant workshop on my campus (there weren’t many back then). I began reading the literature on study skills and academic productivity, on time management and stuff organization. Unfortunately, I encountered plenty of rotten advice: I found myself doing unnecessary busywork, getting out of balance, or being frustrated because key details were missing. But the small percentage of useful tidbits–and the support of a dissertation coach–transformed my work habits. And I shared the best of what I’d found with my fellow students.
With my new toolkit, and as much work-process support as I could find, I completed my Ph.D. in classical archaeology. If I had entered grad school with that toolkit, I probably could have shaved a year off my time to completion.
Then I landed a tenure-track job. It was exciting and daunting at the same time. I had to teach my own courses (3 per semester), do all my own grading, navigate an entirely different level of academic bureaucracy, and deal with departmental politics, all while attempting to publish more research than I’d ever envisioned.
Another toolkit update
The challenge was compelling. To cope with the workload, I kept searching for more effective work strategies. Again, I wanted to share what I found. I recommended titles like Robert Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members to colleagues, and itched to help them set up their offices more effectively.
Time to share the upgrades!
All around me, I saw students and faculty struggling with the same ineffective work habits, poor time management skills, and general disorganization that I had been slowly overcoming.
I did what I could. I tested the best ideas with my students. I assigned my favorite book (Cal Newport’s How to Become a Straight A Student) as an additional text in all my art history classes. I offered study skills workshops to all students, not just the ones in my classes. The Student Success Center at my university even hired me to give a 12-hour seminar to their staff on study skills and time management for their staff! But I felt constrained by my role as an art history professor to keep my advice on studying and time management to the margins.
For me, the relief valve was the knowledge that I’ve always wanted to explore the world beyond the academy. In the end, I didn’t apply for tenure, because I had found my mission. To step back from asking for the golden handcuffs to the semester treadmill was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
The mission? To help other academics, whether struggling or not, to thrive.
Since then, I’ve taken a deep dive into the community of professional organizers and have complete coach training through MentorCoach and certification through the ICF as an ACC. I continue to look for ways to hone my skills and keep my knowledge base in coaching and organizing up to date. Now my primary job is helping other academics get their act together.
Are you ready for an upgrade?