“Don’t Complicate Your Life”: Takeaways from #satechBOS

Spanish is a language that, in stark contrast to the English language, has fairly consistent and distinct vowel sounds. When you see an “w” in a word, you know that it’s not going to be silent. Consecutive vowel sounds nearly always sound the same, and repeating consonants don’t vary in their pronunciation.

However, my high school Spanish teacher had quite a time convincing a class of native English speakers of this fact. As we worked to strengthen our tenuous grasp on a foreign language, stumbling over words and adding flourishes that were neither necessary nor correct, he would always say in his distinctive Catalan cadence, Don’t complicate your life.” We were making the task at hand harder than it needed to be. Remember the rules, relax, and don’t make it too difficult. Once you know the rules of the language, trust yourself to do the right thing.

Years later, I found Sr. Cimorra’s words echoing in my head during my time at #SAtechBOS, the two-day unconference I was excited and blessed to have attended last week. #SAtechBOS was an opportunity for professionals at colleges across the Northeast to gather, learn, brainstorm, and meet one another while discussing the impact that technology and social media have had on our work.

My first unsession of the day was “Increasing Efficiency Through Technology Use.” It was a great opportunity to gather with a smaller group of delegates to share battle stories of the challenges we’ve seen on our campuses, and how we’ve used technology to solve them. My second session, which was a hybrid gathering discussing “hacks” to solving problems at low cost and creating online training, was similarly enlightening in learning from peers how to address our respective office challenges.

But as talks wore on and more and more apps, platforms, and approaches were mentioned, I started to wonder, “If this is supposed to make life easier, why does it sometimes feel like it makes life harder?” 

At some point during the second session, my thoughts started to clear and I came up with this thought, which I tweeted during a flurry of #satechBOS tweets (Sorry about that, if you were following me and just trying to live your life that day):

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When I really think about what I’m trying to do, when I think about the goals that I set for the coming year, and how I want to simplify my life and the lives of those around me, it makes me want to stop the chatter for a moment, stop the incoming flow of information surrounding new programs, platforms, and advances, and zero in on the important pieces.

What do I want to do? What do I know already works? How can I put these techniques together?

The final session of the day, and the early part of the second day of the (un)conference, we worked together to devise and implement solutions to some of the challenges we’ve faced as a field. Some amazing ideas came from these sessions. From a clearinghouse of apps and programs with input on student affairs applications for these programs, to a student version of the unconference model, to my own group’s project- a central location for training materials on popular topics, free of paywalls or a need for professional association membership, these ideas came together quickly. My take on why they came together with relative speed? It could stay simple. I find that in the absence of bureaucratic red tape and having to explain motivation to others, projects can come together with ease 🙂

Here’s the trouble, though. We don’t work in environments that resemble the vacuum of the #satechBOS unconference. We have to deal, in real life, with the limitations of our institutional rules and cultures, needs of other departments that have buy-in on our work, and the skill and comprehension level of our coworkers and collaborators. Particularly where technology is concerned, that last part can get us stuck sometimes.

But here’s where Sr. Cimorra’s advice can be so very helpful. In our rush to stay current and desire to not lose the attention of students, we try to move quickly through obstacles, sometimes not explaining ourselves fully or letting others be part of the process. That rush can lead us to not fully think through the motivations for what we’re about to do, or what the end goal is.

Stop. Breathe. Think.

What do I want to do? How and why is this method you’re proposing better than the alternative currently in place? Or, if it’s a new initiative, why is it needed? And who needs it, the professional or the student?

What do I know already works? How is this task being achieved now? Or, if it isn’t, what needs to be done to make sure it does get achieved?

How can I put these techniques together? What is the simplest way to get this done? How will I make sure my colleagues understand it well enough that they can, in good faith, sign off on it? How will I explain this change, and its motivation, to students? If they don’t understand it well enough to buy in, it will fall flat on arrival.

I’m in a period where I have the time to implement several changes for my office, and create some positive forward motion for my position. But if those around me don’t understand it, and those who will supposedly be benefitting from my work don’t understand it, I should call it a day. So in your rush to make changes in your world, “don’t complicate your life”: keep it simple. Keep it focused. Those two efforts will help you keep it fresh. Oh, and bueno suerte 🙂

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