I had the great opportunity to present with my friend and colleague Michael Miller of Fun Enterprises at the NACA Northeast Regional Conference about a topic that was near and dear to both of our hearts. It emerged from a conversation one day about how it took major life events to give us both perspective on the idea of balance. For him, it was a goal of losing 100 pounds and for me it was becoming a parent. For both of us, we talked about how we hoped that our colleagues and the newer professionals we both mentored wouldn’t ever get to the point where only a major life event would be what would get life’s priorities in check.
We prepared a session on the dreaded “Work/Life Balance” topic. We decided that the NACA public probably didn’t only want to hear our stories and that we had had just about enough of the hundreds of “here’s how I did it” panel sessions about work/life balance. We also decided that we wanted to have some “tough love” conversations about some conditions facing campus activities professionals. We were curious about whether the state of the union was because of “the field” or whether it was something we were creating ourselves.
The answer… survey time!
We created a survey that yielded information from 59 respondents who were campus activities professionals at varying levels of experience as well as senior student affairs officers. We asked them to answer a survey that listed conditions that campus activities professionals believe challenge the idea of work/life balance. Each statement asked a respondent to assign a “source of responsibility” for that challenge. For example, for a statement of “I miss family commitments due to work obligations,” a respondent had to choose whether the cause of this condition was from the individual, the supervisor, the institution, the campus activities profession, or the student affairs profession as a whole.
The survey taught us a few things about work/life balance, but it also showed us a few things about “managing up.” Talking to supervisors about work/life balance challenges is something that truly takes a knowledge of communication as well as a knowledge of your supervisor’s ideas about you and your workload. Over the course of my next few blog posts, I’m excited to share the survey results with you and talk more about what we discussed in our session.
To start, let’s talk about managing our calendars.
For those of you who find your calendars nearly overflowing with one-on-one meetings with student leaders, we asked for assignment of responsibility for the condition of “I need to have weekly one-on-one meetings with the student leaders that I advise.”
56% of the overall respondent group said that the individual is responsible for that condition. This means that many in our survey group believe that you are the one who decides that this is necessary. When the senior student affairs officers were looked at separately, 65% of them assigned responsibility to the individual, with the rest responding for the campus activities profession or the student affairs profession as a whole. Some campus activities professionals believed their supervisors were the ones responsible for determining the need for the 1 on 1 meetings, but none of the SSAO’s believed the supervisors or the institution had this expectation of campus activities staff.
When participants were asked what work/life balance issues were within campus activities professionals’ ability to change, one of our top four themes across response groups was “intentional use of time.” From the outside looking in, many believe that we could do a better job with choices we make about how we spend our time.
What can we do with this information?
If you’re at your wits’ end with your calendar, talking to your boss about your large number of required 1 on 1 meetings may not be the best start as they may not agree with you that it is a required part of your work week. Instead, it’s time to take control.
Summer is a great time to think about planning your calendar for the fall. If you’re feeling like there’s no time to get any work done because of meetings, start examining your standing meetings. Are these standing meetings needed weekly? Are you the right person to be involved in these meetings? This should inspire some critical thought about whether you really have to have that student group meeting at 9 pm on Sunday nights. Sometimes you really do, but only after long and detailed discussion of every other possibility I hope.
So, do you feel you can take control of your calendar? Or, do you let your calendar manage you?