You know the feeling. It usually hits post-lunch. You’re tired and irritable and your focus evaporates. Or, you feel scattered: you have a lot of ideas and items to tackle, but you cannot prioritize or follow (much less develop!) complex plans.
Welcome to your afternoon slump–what Daniel Pink calls the “trough.”
As I illustrate in more detail in a previous post on how and why to implement a proactive, focus-based scheduling approach, the “trough” is a very bad time to try to do academic writing.
If you’re already on board with the idea of focused-based scheduling, though, you might be wondering how to use this seeming productivity “black hole” in the middle of your day. In this post, I lay out 43 tasks you likely encounter regularly–or restorative and meaningful activities you might consider deliberately scheduling–that are best suited for the “trough” period.
How to Use This List
I intend for you to use this list in two ways: reactively and proactively.
Use it to Reactively Triage Your To-Do List
First, reactively. Your to-do list seems to expand autonomously. When any of the items below appear on your to-do list, slate them for the “trough” if possible.Faculty: when you see one of these 43 items on your to-do list, try to schedule it for your "trough." Click To Tweet
Use it to Proactively Infuse Professionally Meaningful Activities into Your “Trough”
I want this list to expand your understanding of tasks that ideally fit the “trough” characteristics.
You see, when people think of the “trough,” the first things that typically come to mind are:
annoying, routine, busywork, email
meaning, purpose, connection, recharge
I want that to change.
So, use this list to inspire you to deliberately infuse professional activities you find meaningful into your “trough” time. Doing so will help restore and refresh you.Faculty: use your low focus post-lunch slump for activities you find meaningful. 11 of these 43 suggestions show you how. Click To Tweet
Academic jobs can expand to fill all of our time (and then some). The very fact that you are reading this post suggests that you’re interested in trying to work more efficiently, be more productive, finally cross everything off your to-do list.
Don’t get me wrong. This is laudable. You should regularly review whether and how you can complete your projects (especially routine ones) more efficiently.
But let’s take a cue from pro athletes here: an important piece of being able to sustain productivity for any meaningful period is deliberately carving out recovery time.
The “trough” is ideal for this purpose.
If you need time to recover to keep functioning at high levels, why not deliberately allot some of the time when you know your focus will be at its lowest anyway for this purpose? Instead of trying to “fit one more thing in” and eventually burning yourself out, consider deliberately scheduling some of the following “restorative” tasks for your own “trough.”
Note that this list includes activities I personally find restorative and/or meaningful and that I know many others do, too. That said, please add your own personally restorative and meaningful tasks.
- Take a walk or exercise
- Take a nap
- Seek out nature
- Connect or schedule meaningful time with friends, family, colleagues, and students
- Send cards and thank you notes, draft words of encouragement
Routine & Administrative Tasks
Most traditional advice on how to use your “trough” productively advises that you resist tackling routine and administrative tasks during your “peak” and “recovery periods because they do not require intense focus. Below, you will find two types of tasks.
First, activities many faculty find meaningful and that do not require intense focus (in red). You might consider scheduling some of these for your “trough” regularly.
Second, more traditional routine and administrative tasks faculty are likely to encounter on a regular basis. When these appear on your to-do list, try to save them for your “trough.”
- Email triage
- Complete tasks on “Capture’ & “When Next Online” lists
- Update CV &/or institutional annual review/tenure tracking platform (Digital Measures)
- Paperwork of any kind, registrations
- Meet with students to talk about their ideas
- Student mentoring and advising [esp. study abroad]
- Grade/data entry
- CMS Management [uploading documents]
- Low stakes grading
- Assembling materials for upcoming classes
- Scanning through and updating slides (images, dates, etc.)
- Reach out to/catch up with alums
- Connect with prospective majors/minors and promising students
- Research and collate resources for majors/minors
- Liaise with other departments and programs and community partners
- Administrative tasks relating to student internships
- Flyer/promotional material development
- Website/social media updating
- Connect with professional network, writing partners and support groups, etc.
- Consult resources that will help you become a better writer
- Format references
- Identify potentially useful references
- Data entry (reference management software)
- Look up/verify background information and page numbers
- Implement copyedits [not content]
- Conference travel logistics and/or reimbursement
- Grant administration
- Review trends from tracking logs
- Scan CFPs and listserv announcements
- Write/update bio
Home & Family
- Connect with family or plan meaningful activities
- Coordinate family schedules
- Batch cook
- Run errands & coordinate maintenance
- Finances & paying bills
Next Steps: How to Implement These Suggestions Now
✓ Take 5 minutes now to scan your to-do list for the items above and label them “trough”
✓ Take another 5 minutes now to schedule these trough to-do list items for your trough this week
✓ Take a final 5 minutes to identify one meaningful or restorative activity above and put it on your trough schedule one day this week
✓ After you do your meaningful or restorative activity, leave a comment below or email me to let me know using your slump in this way felt
✓ Ongoing: routinely scan your to-do list and schedule trough items for your slump
✓ Ongoing: at least once per week, schedule a restorative or meaningful task for your slump
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