Since the age of 5, I have operated on some variation of a school schedule. September would signify the start of classes, holiday breaks would follow, and the New Year meant I was that much closer to summer break! Oddly enough, not much has changed in my professional life. As student affairs professionals, we experience ebbs and flows throughout the calendar year. Depending on the position we hold and the setup of our institution’s academic year, these changes vary.
In academic advising, the first few weeks of the semester – along with the advanced registration period – can be the craziest. During these times, students seem to think we stayed glue to our desks and our e-mail inbox. The same would apply to admissions professionals during recruiting and application review, or orientation coordinators in the summer. Thankfully, the breaks afforded to us by virtue of the academic calendar give us time to regroup, reflect, and catch up. Despite what most students think, we professionals have to work when classes aren’t in session. Still, the quiet and lack of distraction can be invaluable. My inaugural blog post is inspired by my most recent transitioning from winter break to the start of the semester, with the goal of providing tips as to how we can use these breaks to make ourselves more effective student affairs professionals.
Here are 5 ways to get the most of your breaks:
1. If you have vacation time, take it! – One of the many things that makes students affairs professionals unique is our passion and commitment to helping students. Whether it’s in the classroom, the residence hall, or at a social event, we want the populations we serve to feel welcome and we want to make sure they get the most of their college experience. In doing so, it’s easy to constantly be preparing or working on something. However, as cliché as it sounds, we all need time for ourselves and our own lives too. Your work is always going to be there so make a point to identify your slow periods and request vacation time. While away from the office, try and do something completely unrelated to your line of work. You’ll come back feeling renewed and ready to face the inevitable challenges of your job.
2. Breaks are a time for networking and professional development. – As an academic and student group advisor, there is a constant barrage of students in my office with questions or requests. It’s often a challenge to keep up with the tasks I need to complete, not to mention professional development. That’s why the summer/winter break should be an opportunity to connect with professionals on campus while also finding ways to grow on your own. You could look into conferences in your area, or maybe there’s a professional you look up to on your campus who you’ve always wanted to connect with. Why not pop in your earbuds and listen to the latest episode of “The Student Affairs Spectacular” podcast? No matter what you do, remember to think about how your current job fits into your long term goals. These little things may help you make that next step.
3. Plan ahead. – Event and activity planning is always easier when you’re clear headed, so take some time during your breaks to think about your programs for the upcoming semester. Is there anything you can do in advance? Perhaps you could put together an initial to-do list and timeframe so you’re prepared when the time comes. The breaks are a great time to be innovative, make changes, and reflect on the feedback you have received.
4. Declutter! – Throughout the semester, you’ll invariably collect a wide range of documents, some of which may contain confidential information. Therefore, why not use your student-free time to shred, toss and clean out your office? I can be a neat freak but it’s hard for me to throw away things at the same time. Without being distracted, I can take the time to look closely at hard copy and electronic files, and organize or dispose as necessary. The less stuff you have and the more organized you are, the more productive you’ll be when students return.
5. Reconnect. – Educational institutions are a revolving door of students, but that doesn’t mean we professionals don’t form strong bonds with the populations we serve. Invariably, you’ll see the ones you’re closest to right before they plan to walk across the stage and you’ll conclude with the popular sentiment: “Keep in touch.” Our intentions to do so are always good but life, and eventually a new semester, is sure to get in the way. The breaks are a great time to reconnect with those who hold a special place in your heart. Why not consider sending those individuals a quick e-mail, a Facebook message, or just try looking them up on LinkedIn? This simple gesture not only promotes alumni relations but also lets the students know that you valued them as much as they (hopefully) valued you.
Student affairs professionals often spend their workdays, nights, and weekends on the front lines dealing and interacting directly with students. Burnout is almost inevitable. That’s why it’s crucial to enjoy and utilize your breaks. I hope these quick and easy tips help you all achieve the work-life balance we all crave!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance