Because of the start of the new year, I recently had to go over all my regular commitments and departmental meetings. As it turns out, I have six weekly meetings, five biweekly meetings, three triweekly meetings, seven monthly meetings, one bimonthly meeting and four quarterly meetings, along with a large number of ad hoc meetings in between. And that didn’t even include the guest lectures, interviews, doctorate committees, consortium meetings, conferences, teaching times with my students, tutoring, thesis supervision, Master’s research coordination, departmental drinks events and teaching skills course days. It started to make my head spin.
A calendar helps to create an overview for the coming period, but when there’s so much on it, it’s tough to keep a good overview of all the activities. That full work calendar also means there’s little room for spontaneous activities, which are also important. This could include lunch with a friendly colleague or an impromptu brainstorming session on an interesting research idea. I’m not the only one struggling with a busy work calendar. Nearly seven out of ten employees at Dutch universities report high to very high workloads. Many colleagues have multiple research and teaching duties on their plate, have to attend numerous meetings and do not have enough time to read scientific articles or write papers. This excessive workload leaves little room for creativity, and that is not a good development. Creativity is an essential element in academia.
The struggle with similarly busy calendars came up one Saturday evening during a dinner with two friends of mine. “The calendar runs my life. I’ve really had enough of it! I’m taking a three-month sabbatical and then I’m throwing that blasted calendar in the bin. I’m not going to do anything, just watch Netflix and bake rghayef (traditional Moroccon pancakes)”, said one of the ladies. I laughed, nodded and said: ‘You absolutely deserve it’ and then took a bite of my delicious kebab with rice.
So a good resolution for 2023 is: a less busy calendar! I’ve already started having shorter and less frequent meetings and including more breaks in my schedule. I’m open to other tips for freeing up time so that I have more time to read articles, write papers, drink coffee with friendly colleagues and still have time left to bake rghayef.
Hanan El Marroun is professor of Biological psychology.