President's Blog

Decluttering our work at Mason

I haven’t escaped the Marie Kondo decluttering fever. My drawers are emptier and my closet walkable again. Parting with bags of clothes was less painful than I feared, and rediscovering clothes I had long lost in the mess turned out to be quite pleasant. I’m now turning my attention to work.

I’m not talking about just tidying up my office–though that too is long overdue–but simplifying my job and, by extension, bringing more clarity and focus to others around me. That’s what Greg McKeown suggested in his book “Essentialism.” The idea is that we do fewer things but things that really matter, learn to focus our attention on those things, and say “no” to everything else. Do that and life will be less stressful and more fulfilling.

My team and I read the book a few years ago, discussed it, and agreed to work on these principles together. I learned a couple of things in the process. One, that I may be the main culprit in adding new projects and ideas–call them work clutter. Second, that it takes a lot of discipline to stay “essential.” The work never ends. 

Our strategic plan has 12 goals. Every year we distill them down to a set of annual goals. Over time, we’ve been able to reduce these annual goals to one page. But the list of goals is still too long–we shouldn’t need to reduce font size to 9 to stay within one page. To make it shorter and tidier next year, I’m beginning to ask what are the things that really matter given our mission, vision and values, the things we should be paying attention to now above all else. Here’s my start:

  1. We need to improve student success
  2. We need to expand access
  3. We need to increase the impact of our research
  4. We need to build a strong foundation for our future

#1 is about increasing graduation rates and career success, and preparing our students to live fulfilling lives

#2 is about eliminating barriers, providing more and smarter financial aid, and creating better options for non traditional students (community college transfers, working adults)

#3 requires that we conduct more impactful research on issues that really matter, and that we support innovation and entrepreneurship in our community

#4 is about building a high performing, diverse team of faculty and staff, equipping them for success and strengthening our financial position for the future

Essential enough? What do you think?