We have reached the point in the year that marks Spring Break, a welcome respite from the “go, go, go!” pace of the semester. Granted, for some this means conference time, and thus the pace is changed in a whole other way. But for others, this means quiet time in the office.
However, I am hesitant to call this “distraction-free” or “interruption-free” time. Yes, it is quieter and it allows for a better chance of what Csikszentmihalyi has referred to as “flow”, or that moment when you lose time while working on a task. But, per usual, I get hung up on semantics.
As I spent a morning in the office working on tasks that are better completed when I have time to achieve “flow”, a coworker came in and delighted in her ability to work without distraction or interruption. Her words recalled a Don Peppers article on customers as “assets or obstacles” I read earlier in the week. And it made me think: do I treat students as assets, or obstacles?
Peppers says it best and most simply here: “Without a customer, you don’t have a business – all you have is a hobby.” And while we are loathe at times to liken the work of student affairs and higher education to that of a business (I have far more to say on that, but that’s for another day), that statement says a mouthful about how we approach our work. Yes, there are tasks that can be more easily completed when we are unfettered by appointments, meetings, and questions from students who pop in. But students aren’t distractions, and they aren’t interruptions. They are the reason that we do what we do. They are assets. They keep us from having “hobbies” of editing manuals, completing paperwork, and developing training and educational opportunities. And I don’t know about all of you, but when I list my hobbies, I have not once ever listed these things.
Further, in a somewhat crass but absolutely correct way, “a customer [or student] is really just a little bundle of future cash flow [or another form of capital] with a memory. And this future cash flow [or other form of capital] will increase or decrease based on how the customer remembers being treated, today.” That is to say, a student’s experience is affected positively or negatively based on how we treat him or her. How do you greet a student who comes in without an appointment? Do you try to multitask? Do you turn off your monitor to focus your attention? Do you turn him or her away, asking instead for a formally scheduled meeting? I know that this goes into issues of “how available do we want to be?” or “how can we set boundaries and encourage the following of procedure?”. That’s not what I’m talking about here; what I’m referring to is an overall spirit of reception and treatment of students as the reason we work, not an impediment to it.
So maybe such an issue is simply a matter of semantics (or, as my favorite TV spy Sterling Archer would say, “Phrasing!”). But the semantics can quickly turn into a mindset if we’re not careful. So I’ll do something I don’t typically do- follow the life advice of Sterling Archer. I’m going to take the lead of the wording I use and not behave as though a student in need is an interruption or distraction, but instead an opportunity to create capital for us both. Will you join me in doing the same?