Chair's Blog

By Reid Oetjen, PhD posted 03-13-2024 08:33

From Overwhelmed to Overdrive: Transforming Work into Joy in Higher Education
Congratulations on making it through the holidays! Hopefully, your New Year's resolutions are still going strong. If you are like me, you are probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the tasks that have piled up this semester!    Perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security by the beginning of the semester and the renewed hope that comes with a new year, making all things seem possible.  However, I now find myself overwhelmed with deadlines: research, service, grading, and countless other commitments. 
As a self-proclaimed procrastinator, I was avoiding the tasks that I needed to get done and I was thinking back to my physics class - classic avoidance technique! In physics, we learned about centripetal force, the force that acts upon an object on a circular path that keeps the object moving on the path.  I sure could use that force to get things done while we travel around the sun once again.  While I was procrastinating and thinking about this, I was hoping for a force to help me stay task-moving and propel me to the end of my endless “to-do” list.  If you are like me, you are well-versed in creating to-do lists, which is one step in the right direction, but, as you know, just making them doesn’t get them done.  
These thoughts led me to a book entitled The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Done Right by Atul Gawande.  In this book, Gawande advocates for the use of checklists to improve performance, reduce errors, and enhance efficiency in complex environments, like healthcare and aviation. The field of health management education is complex and increasingly demanding, as we are constantly facing new challenges from AI to the demographic cliff.  The book can help you leverage checklists to guide and streamline workflow, increase efficiency, facilitate continuous learning, and promote a culture of accountability - all things that we need as academics.  Using a checklist can help optimize the use of our time and prioritize critical tasks.   In addition, checklists can help us to take ownership of our roles and responsibilities in delivering high-quality, student-centered education.  I highly recommend this book to help you power through the overwhelming list of tasks that we all have.
While Gawande’s book provided some helpful tips about using checklists to increase efficiency, I was still pondering the question, “What is the key to productivity?”  This triggered a memory about a recent talk that I attended where the speaker suggested Ali Abdaal’s new book, Feel Good Productivity: How to Do More of What Matters to You.  This book offers a fresh perspective on productivity and draws on the power of our emotional well-being to help us  accomplish more while, at the same time, enjoying the process.  Abdaal identifies three primary sources of positive emotions: fun, empowering yourself, and connecting with others.  Finding positive emotion has been a challenge for many of us since the pandemic but for me, I am energized and inspired by colleagues at my university and at AUPHA, and all they are doing to move the needle on higher education, despite the seemingly endless news and checklists!
As I listened to this speaker and recalled several lessons from the book, my thoughts drifted to one of the pivotal lessons that I learned from my father.  As children, we were taught that four-letter words were bad and that we were never to use them. My dad, who also taught me those same “bad” words, told me that work was also a four-letter word and not a good one!  He told me I should choose a career in which we minimize work to 20% or less of what we do; by doing so, we would have a fulfilling career full of joy and not WORK!  Abdaal’s book is similar to my father’s philosophy as it urges us to harness the power of positive emotions and focus on the activities of our jobs that energize us and help us to be productive.  Abdaal identifies three primary sources of positive emotions: fun, empowering oneself, and connecting with others. These energizing forces play a critical role in improving our emotional well-being and, by extension, our productivity. In addition, this improved emotional well-being reduces our stress.  For me, connecting with my colleagues throughout AUPHA is the centripetal force that keeps me moving along the path of productivity and helps me enjoy my career.
I recently learned about the passing of Joel Lee, one of AUPHA's unsung heroes and a man that I immediately connected with. Joel was a long-time member of AUPHA, and if you had the chance to meet him even once, you probably considered him a friend. His warmth, sincerity, and positive outlook were truly inspiring. I met Joel more than 20 years ago, and he was one of the first AUPHA members that I encountered outside of my university. His passion for healthcare management and his dedication to helping and mentoring others were uplifting. Like many of you, I know that I deeply miss Joel and others like him, and I am grateful for the impact he has had on my life and AUPHA. Joel's lifelong commitment to the field of healthcare management continues to inspire me and provide me with the necessary centripetal force to stay the course, check off my academic to-dos, and be productive.  
AUPHA is full of “unsung heroes” like Joel Lee and it's important to acknowledge the positive influence they've had, and will continue to have, on our lives and careers.  I am confident that I am not the only member of the AUPHA family who finds our association and its people inspiring. The friendship and mentorship of many AUPHA members and staff have significantly impacted my life, and their legacies continue to inspire and motivate us in our endeavors.
While it has been fun writing this column and talking to you about all the items on our to-do lists, I must sign off and get back to work.  Thank you for reading this and, most importantly, for being the centripetal forces that keep me moving along the path of productivity and helping me to transform work into joy!