We’re nearing the end of the semester, so you’re probably beating yourself up for what you didn’t get done. Could have, should have, would have. We often exercise a merciless hindsight, where we are incredibly hard on ourselves while conveniently forgetting the reasons why we didn’t finish writing that article or grade 15 papers in one sitting.
I find that my clients both wildly underestimate how much time they need to complete tasks, but also wildly underestimate how much they really get done. Both lead to self-blame. We set unrealistic expectations while simultaneously downplaying what we do achieve.
Thus, when the end of the semester rolls around we find ourselves in a situation like this: you make yourself sick because you work like a maniac the last few weeks of the semester. You try to finish all the things. Your stress levels go through the roof, and even though you’re working to the point of exhaustion, you don’t feel like you’re getting anything done.
There are tasks that need completion, but we often beat ourselves up about the wrong ones. What if we changed our perspective for the end of the semester and tried to finish in a way that leaves us feeling happy with our accomplishments and relaxed, rather than frantic?
Finish the Semester Strong
The first step to ending the semester on a high note is acknowledging that it’s OK to rest. I love Jo Van Every’s reminder that taking a break when you’re ill is not laziness. Second, give yourself some tough love so that you can be gentle with yourself: it may not be possible to finish everything you thought you could get done. This might be initially disappointing, but ultimately, it will prevent the frantic feelings that would arise if you work yourself to the bone trying to finish something that, realistically, just can’t be completed. Along the same lines, take an opportunity to triage what you have left to do that absolutely must be done.
Finally, assess what you could have done differently and what was not completely under your control. Did you agree to submit a conference paper the same week you had grades due? Did you give students an extension on a paper that changed your grading schedule? Perhaps a co-author returned a draft to you behind schedule, and you had to hustle to meet the submission deadline. Taking account of these schedule conflicts not only helps you to avoid repeating them, but it also serves as a reminder that sometimes things happen through no fault of your own. That’s why it’s so important to cut yourself some slack.
Tell me in the comments, what will you take OFF your December to-do list to create more space on your calendar to finish your essential tasks? It doesn’t have to be a work-related task (maybe you don’t need to make 4 homemade pies for a holiday potluck?). Think of the time you gain as the gift you give yourself.