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8 summer tasks can help start the new year fresh

summer.jpgWhile most people think college professors and student media advisers(and k-12 teachers) spend the summer lolly-gagging around doing nothing, that’s not usually the case. After a school year spent in the trenches of teaching, grading, advising, attending committee meetings, presenting workshops, attending conferences, and doing all sorts of other things, summer is a time to catch up on some of the niggling affairs of professional life that get put off during the school year.

So here’s a list of some things that you can do over the summer to prepare for the new year. Some of these are directly related to “work,” but others are meant to provide a little extra inspiration for the new year. This is really more my own list of resolutions, but it might be useful for others as well, so take it for what it’s worth to you.

  1. Clean out your e-mail inbox: A couple of weeks ago, I had over 7,000 unread messages in my in-box. Most of those were from e-mail lists that I had subscribed to, but never read (lots of washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com e-mail editions, for instance). But there were a few of those “I’ll respond to that in a few days”-type e-mails that slipped off the first screen of my browser before I responded. This week, I’ve whittled down over 2,000 unread e-mails, and I’ll be slowly working through the backlog all summer.
    Some people have declared “e-mail bankruptcy” by just starting over, saying “if you’ve sent me an important e-mail, please send it again.” Obviously, we can’t all do that. But cleaning out the unread items can lead to a fresh start. I’m also making a habit to either read or delete everything that comes into my inbox as soon as I see it. I wish I could get into that habit with my snail mail.
  2. Unsubscribe to junk e-mails: Related to the first suggestion, this is a big one. I don’t know about you, but I’ve conducted quite a bit of business via the Internet (booking airline tickets via Orbitz, for example), and somehow, every time I do this, I get signed up for a company’s e-mail list (even if I check the “no, I don’t want to receive special offers” button.
    So this week, I’ve been using the “Unsubscribe” option on all of these junk e-mails that I never read. As I’ve done so, I’ve searched my inbox and deleted all the previous e-mails. Not only does it remove clutter, but it insures the clutter will not return. Likewise, in the past, I’ve subscribed to various tech-related e-newsletters that never get read. I’m cutting some of these off as well. ZDNet is a notorious offender, sending way too many tech updates every day.
  3. Catch up on your RSS reading: This semester, I found a lot of interesting articles via people I follow on Twitter. But Twitter is a real-time social network, and I’m not on Twitter all the time. So a great deal of good material slipped through the cracks of my attention span. This summer, I’m devoting some time to clearing out my news feeds with the goal of getting down to a fresh start by the beginning of fall semester.
    If you don’t have an RSS reader with some good news feeds, now might be the time to get one. I’m also pruning out blogs that haven’t been updated since the last time I checked my reader, and trying to find some new voices to add to the stream.
  4. Read a few books that have nothing to do with your field: This summer, I finally started reading Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, about the early Puritans who settled Massachusetts, for instance. This doesn’t have to be fiction. It could be non-fiction, as well. A few years ago, I read The Art Spirit by Robert Henri (1865-1929), and the paperback has numerous dog-eared pages that have inspired some of my thinking about what it means to innovate. The point being: don’t just confine your imagination to your field.
  5. Clean off your desk: If you could see my desk, you’d understand this one. Over the semester, a variety of books, papers, committee reports, assignments, etc. winds up stacked high on various corners of my desk. It has ever been thus, unfortunately. At the end of the semester, I file the books away and sort through the papers, chucking a great deal of stuff into the recycle bin. This is obviously not the most organized way to do this. But come fall, I will have a fresh desk to work with. Maybe next year …
  6. Rethink your courses/Rethink your advising system: This summer I am totally rethinking a couple of courses that I’ll be teaching in the fall, based in part on experiences in past semesters, and also based upon changing technology and cultural implications. I realize this is work, but it’s the kind of work that hopefully will bring a fresh excitement for the next school year. I actually do this every year, even with a course that I’ve taught multiple times. Such is the changing nature of the media business.
  7. Spend some time outdoors: I tend to be an indoors-type person, especially during the school year. Now that the days are longer, I’ve started walking a little more in the evenings, and spending time outside. They say a certain amount of sunlight is good for you, as is the fresh air. It can’t hurt.
  8. Learn something new: I’ve known several web workers (Greg Linch comes to mind) who have made it a point to try to learn a new skill or topic over their summer break. This summer, there are a number of topics I’ll be refreshing my mind on (like Final Cut Express), and some that I’ll be learning for the first time (like HTML 5). I may not get through everything on the list, but at least I’ll get started. Don’t feel like you have to learn everything at once. Start with one thing, even if it’s a small thing like Twitter (yes, there are still people who aren’t on Twitter).

So there you have it. Eight things you can do this summer that will likely make your return at the beginning of the new school year a new adventure.

I sometimes tell my students that the beauty of the academic world is that you go to class for 15 weeks, struggle through the material, and then it’s over. You get a fresh slate next semester. The “real” world doesn’t work that way.

Any other suggestions for summer projects? Leave a comment.

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