"Well, He Keeps His Desk Clean."

Since this is the first post on a new website, I'm really just welcoming myself - but if you've stumbled into my little corner, Welcome!

A few starting thoughts about Productivity in Higher Education...

The archetype of the "Absent Minded Professor" probably has its roots in some realities about those of us who work in Higher Education.  We tend to have ideas that need a great deal of attention and focus.  We can get tunnel vision; and to be perfectly honest, I really enjoy getting lost in an idea to the exclusion of the rest of the world around me.

When I was in graduate school, one of the faculty was promoted from Department Head to Dean of the college.  While most of the faculty were congratulatory in public, he was secretly derided as one who pursued administrative efficiencies over scholarly rigor.  One faculty member quipped, "Well, he keeps his desk clean,"  as if being administratively savvy necessarily meant that the Dean gave less attention to the weightier concerns of scholarship.

Since I was especially disorganized myself, at the time, I was really pleased to associate myself with those who didn't keep desks clean.  I allowed myself to believe that my disorganization was a mark of intellectual and scholastic rigor.  After all, if my head was in the theoretical cloud, surely I couldn't be bothered to engage in the banal or mundane minutia of tidying my desk.

Experience and trauma forced me to disavow these justifications.  As time passed, I became increasingly aware that I was actually losing precious time for creative thought and research while I was hunting around for my source materials, my data, and my manuscripts.  I wasn't giving more time to thought - I was giving less.  More troubling was the frustration that I wasn't a good teacher - I misplaced students' work, missed grading deadlines, and forgot to pay bills.  Keeping my desk clean became increasingly important to me.  When I left academe to enter the real world, I found myself crying out, "My kingdom for a day planner!"

I began what has become a lifetime of looking for ways to think better.  I want to be efficient.  I want my students to be able to depend upon me.  I want my colleagues to know that I can be counted on.  I want the liberty of knowing that everything I need to do will come to me when it needs to be done - and to be free from it until that moment arrives.  And I have discovered, to my great joy, that this kind of freedom comes with the ultimate benefit - I have time to think without worrying whether I've missed something vital.

So here's to the clean desk, the liberated mind, and the freedom to think creatively.  If I am accused of having a clean desk, I'll know that I am the kind of nerd who actually gets to do the nerdy things I want to do.

Posted on December 1, 2014 and filed under General.