The master plan

Figure out what motivates you at work. Be it an upcoming project or anything else you might be excited for, you need to recall what drives you personally, reflect on your thoughts, and solidify them. 

Eat the elephant one bite at a time. It might be no easy feat to approach large projects post-vacation, but what you can do instead is to break projects down into more manageable, bite-size tasks, make an action plan, and tackle each step one by one, tracking your progress. 

The strategy works in other situations, as well. If you’re a planner, you can visualize the process on paper – jot down a big task, draw arrows away from it, and brainstorm all the related ideas on how to complete the task. Say, you need to make a presentation. To do that, you will need to make a plan, do your research, select images for your slides, and, finally, put it all together.

Prioritize. Our plate is always full, and we want to do all tasks at once – but it doesn't work that way. If that sounds like you, next time try to prioritize your tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix. To make a matrix, draw a large square on a piece of paper and divide it into four quadrants: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important. Then, analyze a task according to its importance and urgency and put it in a designated quadrant. Items from the first quadrant (urgent and important) demand your action right away, while those in the second quadrant (urgent but not important) can be easily delegated to your colleagues or assistants; the third quadrant tasks (important but not urgent) can be postponed and the fourth quadrant (not urgent and not important) may simply lose its relevance over time. 

Track your thoughts. In the face of problems or uncertainty, we are prone, largely unconsciously, to say phrases, like “I don’t understand”, “It’s not serious”, or “Let someone else do it.” We use these negative statements to absolve ourselves of responsibility for not doing something we don’t want to. When you struggle with a certain task, ask yourself: “Why do I feel this way?”, “Why don’t I want to do that?”, and “Why do I fail?”. Use the answers to plan your next steps. Keep asking yourself until you realize what really holds you back. Once you know your “why” – take action. 

“My initial thought when I dread a certain task is “What’s the deal?” as in “What’s the deal? I have to redo the course plan once again.” Finding myself trapped in this mindset, I start an internal dialogue with myself. Why don’t I want to redo things? – I’ll have to waste my time doing it. Why will I waste time? – because I don’t know which exact changes are needed. Why don’t I know this? – I need more knowledge. And that’s the why,” explains Elena Karpova

Credit: elena_kalinicheva /

Credit: elena_kalinicheva /

What about emotions?

It’s okay to feel sad when your vacation is over. Ask yourself what could make a job better for you and, even if it’s out of your hands, try to find the positive in the situation. For instance, you might hate waking up for an 8:20 class when it’s dark and freezing outside. Though it’s not in your power to cancel classes, you can look at the situation differently – the sooner you start, the sooner you finish, which leaves you with some extra free time you can use to catch up on your reading, finalize your project, go to an exhibition, have a meal with your coworkers, or watch a movie on the big screen. 

Relive your vacation experiences once again. For that, you can share your impressions with friends or colleagues – or post vacation photos on social media. 

Pamper yourself with small gifts. When doing so, you need to give yourself a specific reason for each gift – maybe you’ve organized an engaging and useful class, or want to reward yourself for always striving to keep students engaged. But don’t forget to pamper others, as well – your colleagues will be happy to receive presents from you. 

Add vacation-like excitement to your weekdays. This could be going on a picnic or a camping trip, just like ITMO staff did this August – for several days, an ITMO Family team enjoyed campfire stories and gorgeous sunsets at Lake Yastrebinoye. You can also explore the city more after work. This way, you will be able to not only relax and unwind but even gain a new perspective on your tasks. 

The article is based on Elena Karpova’s lecture at ITMO.Expert, which took place on August 23-25. The event brought together over 200 lecturers, PhD students, and mentors from 16 cities in Russia. At lectures, round-table talks, and workshops, participants learned more about mentorship practices at ITMO, how employers can help newcomers adjust to the new environment and advance their careers, as well as why universities should collaborate with practicing mentors. Recordings of the event are available via this link (in Russian).