Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars, Kasey Kasem used to say at the end of his weekly Top 40 countdowns. This piece of charming, if slightly oxymoronic, advice brings me to a current dilemma: How do you keep your eyes on the horizon, the coming trends affecting your institution, when your nose is stuck to the grindstone?
And I’ve been through a lot of grinding the past couple of weeks. Having a boss out of our already short-staffed office meant even more responsibilities, and the resulting print (yes, print) newsletter deadline and general publicity tasks meant I had to write 10 stories last week on top of everything else. Hard to see the stars hunched over the keyboard.
Anyway (rant over), this kind of dilemma greets many of us in higher education, especially in public higher ed where squeezed budgets will mean doing more and more with less and less. Meanwhile, the world keeps turning, and seemingly faster, with new technologies, platforms and social-media outlets bearing down on us at alarming rates. How is an honest and forward-thinking middle manager to cope?
Some people are fortunate enough to see the big picture and forge new ventures on their own, such as online friends Brad Ward, jumping from Butler College to form BlueFuego.com, or Dartmouth’s Karlyn Morrisette, who just launched side project DoJo Web Strategy. More power to them. But what of the rest of us happy working (albeit overworking) for an institution and wanting to do our best?
Here, then, are three thoughts on trying to negotiate the rushing rapids:
– Know what to keep, what to cast overboard. Easier said than done, but worth pondering. My decision to move our clips online saved the office a bit of time, mainly for our secretary, and secretaries in other offices. What else can be moved from print to online (I have my opinions) to save time and money? What legacy tasks are we doing that no longer get the payoff for time invested? How can we best streamline and simplify to our most important tasks?
– You can only row one direction at once. Again, I’m bad at this. Having 10 stories to write makes me want to go 10 ways at once. Pick priorities and focus on them. The time and stress spent worrying is always wasted time. As for other distractions, well, taking a couple hours away from following the Twitter stream won’t kill you.
– Know when to pick up the oars and look downstream. Push yourself back from the keyboard once in a while and get out of the office. Tom Peters has a great phrase, management by walking around, on coming out from behind the desk and talking to others around the organization, and how this can create solutions. Small conversations at the lunchtable or in the hallway have sparked so many ideas in my head, so many otherwise unexpected collaborations benefiting the institution (and our students).
This is by no means a complete list — more of a Monday self-pep talk. I welcome your suggestions and additions!