If you’re in higher education, the “New Year” probably feels more like August than January. Nevertheless, we should be preparing for a new year. The year 2016 has concluded. To many it was a hard year (look at some Tweets on 2016). For others, the start of a new year is the opportunity to begin afresh. Let me offer some thoughts on how to start the new year best.
Please note that I am not recommending that you make a resolution. I am recommending that you be thoughtful about how you initiate the year.
Preparing Your Finances for a New Year
Hopefully, you get paid for your work at a rate that is commensurate to your experience, position, and locale. If not, this applies even more to you.
In a recent (and startling) conversation with an HR officer at an institution of higher ed, only about 40% of their employees were using any kind of automated withdrawal into a retirement fund. While this doesn’t mean that the other 60% weren’t planning for retirement through other venues, it does mean that they weren’t taking advantage of the institution’s matching percentage of contributions to that retirement fund. Why would anyone turn down free money?
You may be the young, witty professor now but one day retirement will be just around the corner. Are you planning for that day? If not, pay a visit to your HR center soon.
Build a budget and stick with it. I know that this is easier said than done when you cruise into that last month before finals. You’re sleepy, feeling overworked, and the restaurants are a perfect fix for every meal in your week. Unfortunately, you cannot preach responsibility and maturation (which is what we do in higher ed), not model those behaviors, and then expect students to see you as an authority figure in life.
Beyond this, I am learning that some of my colleagues are living check to check. This is no good and they (you) can do better. Here’s a really great article that offers better advice than I can in this post.
Your budget doesn’t have to account for every dollar. However, knowing where your rent money went is probably a good idea. If you’re living check to check and are being studious with your expenses, I’d say it’s time to reconsider your working arrangements.
Take the time and automate your expenses. Pay those bills on time and stop paying late penalties because you automated them. Your stress over these items will drop, too. Just make sure that you revisit those automations annually.
Preparing Your Home For a New Year
Once the semester starts, it really starts. Weekends become focused on sleep, laundry, and relaxation. If you have kids, the weekend is also when tons of activities happen. Oh yeah, don’t forget things on your professional “to-do” list.
Take the time before your term gets too hectic to clean like some dignitary is coming to your home. Change air filters, clean floors, scrub baseboards, and dust those ceiling fans. Not only will your home feel/smell better, you’ll probably stay healthier, too. Music, podcasts, or an audiobook makes this a much more pleasant experience.
Rearranging furniture can add a sense of invigoration that may be lost with the old and familiar. Additionally, this costs way less than buying new stuff for your home.
If there’s some looming DIY project to fix things in your home, why not do it now? Gaps around doors, different lighting, and even thermostat changes can significantly change the comfort of your home and lower your utility bills.
Preparing Yourself For a New Year
For many of us, our jobs aren’t physically taxing (there are no excessive physical demands) and that’s why you see elderly profs who are still executing their duties at a wonderful level. But few of us grade while walking on a treadmill and not too many of us exercise very regularly. Our sedentary work patterns ultimately work against us.
Find time to exercise. Not only is it great for stress relief but studies show that exercise improves some thought processes. Exercise can definitely help you to stay healthier. Remember this: you only get one heart.
Hopefully, at this point, I need not elaborate on the importance of good hygiene.
Eating is a hot topic in higher ed. Many of us eat like we did in graduate school and some of us are among the most discerning of all eaters. My vote is to eat healthier than you were eating. Make small, smart changes. Pack fruit in your lunch (see what I did there?) and cook vegetables with your dinner. Berries and/or celery make great snacks. Drink lots of water; replace that soda with hot tea or even coffee (be good with the sweetener).
Get sleep. My experiences have shown me that more sleep results in higher productivity throughout the day. Research bears this out. Appropriate amounts of sleep also impact our physical health and may be a factor in weight loss. Besides, if you’ve been up since 6am and are still working late into the night, your time is probably not that productive. I’d bet that those 1am emails are almost unintelligible to everyone else. (This is the voice of experience talking.)
I’m not advocating that you make resolutions in 2017. Those don’t work and you feel guilty when you give them up. Choose to do a few things that really improve your long-term quality of life right now (house cleaning, finances management); be just a little healthier. I’d bet that any of these things makes a huge difference in your life.
Best wishes in 2017!
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