In my post “Debora Spar on the Dilemma of Modern Women,” I wrote
If you think “setting priorities” is a pleasant platitude, you don’t understand what it really is. “Setting priorities” is the brutal process of deciding which things won’t get done.
This is actually something I could use some help with. Recently, I read the Harvard Business Review article “Find the Coaching in Criticism” by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. Like many Harvard Business Review articles, it is of high quality (and unfortunately, that high quality doesn’t come for free–it is supported in part by the revenue generated through the Harvard Business Review's paywall.) They write:
Feedback is less likely to set off your emotional triggers if you request it and direct it. … Find opportunities to get bite-size pieces of coaching from a variety of people throughout the year. Don’t invite criticism with a big, unfocused question like “Do you have any feedback for me?” Make the process more manageable by asking a colleague, a boss, or a direct report, “What’s one thing you see me doing (or failing to do) that holds me back?” That person may name the first behavior that comes to mind or the most important one on his or her list. Either way, you’ll get concrete information and can tease out more specifics at your own pace.
I feel that I already get plenty of advice on things I should be doing more of–both for my academic career and for my career as an economic journalist (which is how I categorize my efforts on this blog). What I could use more of is advice on what I should be doing less of–things that I am putting time and effort into that don’t have an adequate payoff. To clarify, I need to say that I have three goals:
- to carve out a reasonable amount of leisure time, especially time with my family,
- to maintain my income track, and
- to make the world a better place, both in the short-run and in the long-run.
Both my academic career and my career as an economic journalist contribute to both goals, but in different degrees. My academic career is still at least an order of magnitude more important in providing income than my career as an economic journalist. (Any change in that fundamental fact would be a change that would look dramatic to outside observers as well as me.) But I feel my career as an economic blogger/journalist is at least as important as my academic career in making the world a better place. So I definitely want to keep up with both my academic career and my career as an economic journalist. But what I do within each of those categories, and the exact balance between them, is something I could use advice on.
Notice that in both academia and in blogging/journalism, a certain amount of self-promotion and institutional promotion is optimal. If I manage to write something worth reading, it is worth putting forth a certain amount of effort to get 5000 people to read it instead of 500. And some aspects of promotion of a blog are cumulative over time. I see the goal of having at least one post a day in that category. Even during a stretch where no one post is a big hit, it means something to readers to know there will be something every day.
All of that is just meant to direct you away from some possibly tempting, but I think, misguided pieces of advice like “Quit watching TV” (What? Reduce my leisure time further and lose my chance to enjoy the premier art form of our time?) or “Quit doing your blog” or “Abandon your academic career and become an economic journalist full-time.” By contrast, three pieces of feedback I have received, which may or may not be the right advice, but are definitely the kind of thing I am looking for, are “Twitter beyond basic announcements of posts and maybe one more tweet a day isn’t worth the time it takes if the goal is blog promotion,” “You don’t need to copy over the whole text of a post to Facebook, the link alone is plenty,” or “Reading and commenting on 200 blog posts from your students in the course of a semester is above and beyond the call of duty.”
In addition to getting your advice for myself, I wanted to recommend that those of you who feel you are overextended and overly busy also consider asking those around you
What should I be putting less time and effort into? What do think I am doing that isn’t worth the time and effort I put in?
To get useful responses, you might need to spell out your objectives clearly as I tried to do above for myself.