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Overcommitment: Finals Week, Spring 2016

I promised myself that I’d write an essay each day. But I also have a lot of work to do. What’s the solution? An essay about being overcommitted, which perhaps serves as an opportunity to think through how I could be less overcommitted.

It’s finals week. I have way too much to do. My days are booked more or less from 8am to 5pm each day. I’ll also need evenings to do grading and paper work (and to attend lots of my kids’ activities). Why? Let’s see …

I promised my CSC 151 students that I would have tentative grades by Monday night so that they can decide whether or not to take the final. That means that I have 38 exams to grade asap. (The exams were due last Tuesday night, but Tuesday night and Wednesday night I was grading their projects.) I also have to gather all of their other grades for the semester (some from graders, some counting emails, some in spreadsheets). There’s also the matter of an earlier exam which I never found the time to grade, but that’s another issue.

This weekend was my middle son’s graduation party, so I could not grade as I was generally busy with graduation prep or doing things with family. (I tried a little bit of grading, and I also caught up on paperwork.)

I have to do exit interviews with all of my graduating CS advisees. There are twenty of them. (I also had to schedule those exit interviews, and remind many of my advisees to choose a time.)

I have to interview the seventeen new applicants for peer educator positions in our department.

I’ve been asked to attend at least four hours of presentations on our new student success software.

I’m giving a final exam in CSC 151 on Thursday morning. I still have to write that final exam. (Two positives: I’m working with a colleague on making a pair of exams, and we have a repository of old problems.)

I promised myself I’d write a daily essay.

I’m spending Friday morning reviewing admitted students to help determine who we should invite to the Grinnell Science Project for the fall. (I’ll be through the rest of this by then, so perhaps that’s not so bad.)

I think there are three or four other meetings scheduled this week. (Let’s see … faculty meeting, budget presentation, a celebration of CS seniors, and probably some I’ve forgotten.)

I also have grading for my other classes, but I will probably push that until next week.

How could I have avoided this situation? Let’s see ….

Grading: I could have graders do the grading. But our graders are as busy as I am this time of the semester. And I think our students deserve to have exams graded by a faculty member. Perhaps I should write shorter exams, or design exams that are easier to grade. Could I be more caught up on the other things? Yes. But I’ve been perpetually behind this semester.

Graduation party: Family comes first. So I should have scheduled around this party. Of course, I’m not sure how. But I knew it was coming.

Exit interviews: I could have taken fewer advisees, but I’m not sure how that would be possible given the number of faculty we have. Our assessment program does require that someone in the department do the exit interviews. My colleagues are as busy as I am. It’s also better to interview your advisees. I did cut these down from 45-60 minutes to 30 minutes each.

Peer educator interviews: I think we have a record number of applicants for our peer educator positions. We’ve always interviewed all of the new applicants. (Well, we don’t interview the grader applicants.) Since I’m the designated peer educator coordinator, I get to do the interviews. (I hope that at some point, we’ll have a staff person for this responsibility.) It might have been possible to fit this in a little earlier in the semester, but the past two weeks have been very busy.

Student success software: I should probably dump this responsibility. But I don’t think I have a right to complain about software after we buy it unless I provide input when I am asked to do so. (I’ll probably complain anyway, but at least I can say I suggested these would be issues.) And, with the number of advisees I have (over 45 at last count, dropping to about 25 after the seniors graduate), I’ll end up using it a lot.

Other meetings: I can’t miss the celebration of CS seniors. I should go to faculty meeting (although it’s better for my temper if I don’t go). I should hear about the College budget. The ones I can’t remember I can avoid.

GSP: It’s one of our most important meetings.

Exam prep: I could have written the exam earlier in the semester.

Writing: I guess this could go. But I feel like this is an important commitment to myself that I should keep. And, if I do it right, it doesn’t always take a lot of time. (Well, that was the intent for this essay.)

Where does that leave me? Mostly in the same place.

So, how do I avoid getting into this situation again? Part of it involves planning ahead. I should figure out how long tasks really take and schedule that amount of time for them. It’s also clear that I should include some slack in my schedule for the unexpected (and there’s been way too much unexpected these past few weeks).

I should also look for better ways to give responsibilities to others. Certainly, I have worked hard to add a peer educator and another faculty member to the department, and both of those positions will eventually cut my work load. Unfortunately, hiring for those positions will increase my work load.

I guess the moral is that I have to focus on careful planning and finding ways to grade less. Neither part seems very comforting. I’ll need to find time this summer to take a bigger picture approach.

Version 1.0 of 2016-05-5.