Monday, September 16, 2013

The Art of Asking

Every once in a while, you experience another person's perspective in such a clear way that it guides you in reflecting upon your life, your character, and your biases. Amanda Palmer's TED Talk is such an experience. Her life and her philosophy and her presence contrast so sharply with mine, and yet, I feel as if she is speaking directly to me during her talk, and connecting directly to things that I've been working to develop in my own personality. Amanda Palmer is my guide for asking; whenever I get nervous about the idea of asking for something that I need, I think about what she says, and how she values asking as an art form and social connector.

I've spent a lot of time working on things that I didn't have a real passion for, mostly because I felt that I had to. It was part of my job. Even the things that you know are good, necessary, or profitable don't always come easy or enjoyably. The problem with these necessary things that we don't like to do is that they can sometimes overwhelm the enjoyable experiences so that all you end up doing is the annoying stuff that you hate. All of a sudden, work has become a string of things you hate to do and no time for the stuff you love, the stuff you got into teaching for in the first place, the stuff that makes you feel motivated and energized and invincible.
So here's the hack of the day. First, find the things that take up time, that you don't like. Then, ask yourself: do I need to be the one to do this? Could someone else do this for me? If so, who and what would they get out of it? Students are a great source of help for very little effort. Sometimes the thing they want most is to spend some time with you. I've had students volunteer to clean my room, put up bulletin boards, sort papers, organize my bookshelves, and even make posters. All of those things need to be done, but I don't have the time, patience, or motivation to get them all done in a timely fashion. If you can't find volunteers who want to hang out, you might offer food or other "gifts." I've gotten a surprising response from offering their pick of books from my shelf--I've got some great books. You might also offer incentives like a day in the computer lab or trip to the library, an extra bathroom pass, getting out of class three minutes early (a winner for the class before lunch or the last period of the day), having an extra day to turn in a project, or getting to skip a quiz or homework assignment of their choice.

Take a minute--outside in the sunshine, or sipping coffee in the morning--to think about the things that you don't like about your job, or things that take up more time than you have to do them. Is there someone else who can do those things for you? Who, and what incentives would they be happy accepting? If you can eliminate some tasks from your day that bog you down, you'll feel better and more productive. If you can ask for help, you can create a bond with your helper. Win-win. Just ask.

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