My experiences with woodworking function as an analogy for my experiences in higher education. Sometimes there’s careful planning, other times, I’m just going to make some sawdust. One thing I’ve learned is that I need to be organized

Organized Mess

Here’s how woodworking is described in books, magazines, on television, and on websites: the woodworker starts will meticulous plans, sources high-quality building materials, and plans out every cut, every fastener. Here’s how woodworking happens for me: I devote a Saturday to being in my shop and making something. Saturday arrives, and I go in my shop, find the mess that’s been building as I bounce from one home repair project to another. I spend the day cleaning and organizing, and resolve to get back out to the freshly cleaned shop next Saturday. Well, life happens, home repairs pop up, and I start contributing to the mess again. And then when I need to use the shop for woodworking, I can’t find the tape measure.

Oddly enough, this is how many of us spend our time at work. We scramble around, putting out fires, or furiously crossing off to-do list items. We spend time filling our days with meetings (some of which we have control over scheduling or not scheduling), make ourselves feel busy, but leave at the end of the day feeling like we didn’t get anything done. Sounds like my Saturday in the workshop, doesn’t it? 

Systems to Stay Organized

Picture of woodworking shop that is not organized
Organized woodworking shop?

I think what matters in woodworking or working in higher ed is developing a system to stay on top of things. I’ve been getting better about developing systems for organizing my work. Unless there is a clear need, I don’t request or agree to any meetings, unless it’s something mandated by policy. I take a very structured approach to my day. I block my calendar into chunks for writing, class prep and grading, standing meetings, and office hours. During those chunked time blocks, I devote my attention to tasks connected to that category. It took me a while to develop the self-discipline to actually follow that plan. I would bounce from task to task with little focus, and at the end of the day, I felt like I hadn’t gotten anything done. Sound familiar? Well, it resonates with my woodworking experience, too. I was just making sawdust, but not really accomplishing anything.


Organized Leads to Space for Curiosity

But rather than get frustrated when things are piled up in my workshop or my work life, I shift my thinking. Rather than focus on being bogged down by sawdust and clutter, I think about the possibilities of being organized. I get curious about what I can do; what skill I can develop and master. The same is true for my approach to organizing my work. Being organized and using systems I create gives me time and space to explore my curiosity. I’m still working on a system that works for me when it comes to tracking, organizing, and visualizing the various projects I’m working on at any given time.