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by Annie Soisson , EdD, director of CELT
“This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
I remember clearly standing at the sidelines of a soccer game when my kids were young, listening to parents lament how busy they were, complaining about driving kids from activity to activity, trying to fit it all in. When my neighbor responded “well who signed up for all of those activities? You created the schedule, what did you think would happen?” I thought it felt a little harsh, as I was feeling some of the same feelings. But I knew she was right, and I had fallen into the same self-pity trap for something I set myself up for!
Fast forward to this spring, as I feel overwhelmed and hear myself complaining about how busy I am. I developed some habits during COVID that no longer serve me well. What is under my control, I ask myself? And what choices am I making that are in line with both my personal and professional priorities?  I looked at my meeting schedule, email, and commitments. Below I share some of my personal policies / choices upon reflection that I hope to stick to. Feel free to call me on it as I am sure to break some of my own policies on occasion. This was a really helpful process for me to go through, and I encourage you to do the same!.

  1. Complaint: “I have been in back to back meetings all day, and haven’t had time to have a drink or go to the bathroom!” 
  • Self examination: What is the timing and length of meetings that I organize and does it need to be that way? Meetings that are always on the hour or half hour create the possibility of back to back meetings, and keep me from feeling energized and present heading into one meeting on the heels of another. 
  • Choices / personal policies for creating breaks:
    • Make meetings I create to either be 50 minutes or 75 minutes to allow myself and my colleagues time to get a drink and move around before the next meeting.
    • Avoid as much as possible setting up meetings over the noon hour so that I consider my nutritional needs and those of my colleagues, if they so choose. And if not, schedule in my lunch break.
    • If I have back to back meetings, tell people who are running the meeting at the beginning or in my RSVP that I will leave 10 minutes before the hour or half hour so that I can take a little space.
    • If at all possible, I won’t agree to meetings outside of normal work hours. Having breakfast and cooking dinner are important parts of maintaining my work-life balance!

2. Complaint: “Email is killing me. I’m on it all day, and can’t keep up!”

  • Self-examination: How can I set some boundaries on myself for managing my compulsive email checking? Frequent interruptions are somewhat under my control, and multitasking is not productive.
  • Choices / personal policies for email
    • I shut off my notifications long ago, but how often do I really need to check my email? I will check it twice a day, first thing in the morning between 8 and 9, and sometime between 4 and 5 – and set up an auto-reply letting people know that if it is urgent they should call me.
    • The large number of emails can be overwhelming, and take up time I need to do concentrated work or prepare for meetings. I will forward things that someone else can respond to rather than feeling responsibility for all of it, first respond to the most important emails, including those from my staff, and block off time on Friday to respond to those I did not get to during the week.
    • If I write emails over the weekend, I will try to use the delayed sending feature to indicate that I respect that the weekend is supposed to be personal time and I do not expect a reply until Monday.

3. Complaint: “I have so much to do, and I can’t seem to ever catch up or read!”

  • Self-examination: What projects do I really do need to engage in, and which I can defer, decline, or delegate? And how do I schedule time in the work week, not on the weekend, to get things done? My “it’s easier to do it myself” response does not always ring true, and is in fact a bit self-centered.
  • Choices / personal policies
    • I will try to make my “to do” list on either Friday or Monday morning, label it in terms of importance and urgency, and schedule time to complete the work on my calendar. 
    • I will assess rather than react to requests, and decide whether I am the right or only person for the task.
    • I will confess when I have over-committed and ask for support or perhaps forgiveness.

So, my habits are what I choose them to be. Let’s see how this goes!