She's Obsessed With "Streamlining"

Streamlining: “To construct or design in a form that offers the least resistance; to improve the efficiency of; to organize; to simplify; to improve something by removing the parts that are least useful or profitable” (

I have been obsessed with this word for the past week since my 3rd grader returned home, frozen hair peeking out from under her hat, after completing her first night of swim team this season. “What did you do on the first night?!” I inquired with my usual mix of excitement and hurried, describe-quickly-because-it’s-way-past-your-bedtime tone. She rolled her eyes (not at me) and described her horror because their coach had all the swimmers, even those like her with three years of experience, practice streamlining. “Humph. That’s so simple. We all know how to do that already. It’s just gliding.” She concluded with her somewhat adorable ”whatever.”

Ah, to streamline. To glide. To simplify. To improve something by removing the parts that are least useful. As a professor, mother, author, wife, sister, blogger, researcher, friend, neighbor, daughter, mentor … whatever … I’m thinking a lot about how 2009 might be more palatable and pleasant. How streamlining sounds attractive and simple but, alas, is so hard. In life. On campus. In the office. In our inbox. In our culture.

But what if we each cut out one little bit of unnecessary “drag” in our lives? Would we be better students? Listeners? Teachers? Employees? Mentors? Friends? Neighbors? I’m guessing so. But where to start?

I don’t have any profound answers, but I do have a few observations inspired by own attempts to streamline my office, email and work relationships this January Term: through my meager attempts to slow down a bit, as a result of wandering around campus and in the hallways these quiet yet productive weeks of Janurary-term, and by taking note of what others are doing. All in the hopes of streamlining. Even just a bit.

Here is what streamlining has amounted to in my little corner of campus:

4: The number of boxes of recycling I was able to fill when I cleaned out one four-drawer filing cabinet.
3: The number of colleagues I’ve witnessed, in just the past week, doing the same exact thing.
676: The number of e-mails I finally deleted from my inbox.
342: The number of those that I deleted before ever reading.
Infinite: The number of smiles on my face as I hit the “empty deleted items” icon.
7: The number of cards and thank you notes I tucked into my “happy file,” each received recently from current or former students extending their happy holiday wishes and/or gratitude for the past semester’s work.
8: The number of times I’ve had relaxed conversations with my colleagues without thinking “I need to run. Too much to do!”
89: The number of pages I wrote last week on a project, thanks to gift of time this January Term.
24: The number of emails I have received from students in the past two weeks. About grades. About the upcoming semester. About research. About graduate school applications.
4: The average number of days it took me to respond.
4: The average number of minutes in which most people (not just students) hope you will take to respond to email inquiries.
3: The number of deep breathes I take each time I remind myself that expectations about email – like all things social – are simply co-created (the faster we all respond, the faster we consequently continue to expect others to respond. And vice versa. And on and on). Where does it end? With us. In our own minds. And lives. We are in charge.
3.3 trillion: The number of snowflakes that just fluttered by my office window as I was writing this blog.
4: The number of seconds it took me to notice. Because I told myself I would.
-15: The outside temperature right now (I hope my colleagues teaching in Hawaii are reading this. We really don’t care to know what you’re doing right now).
72: The temperature in my OEC office. A working furnace is a beautiful thing. Thanks, everyone, in the Department of Facilities!
13: The number of times my phone has rang in the past two weeks but I didn’t stop a conversation to answer it.
Countless: The number of ways that people appreciate it when you are truly present in a conversation.
Streamlining. Simplifying. Organizing. May your upcoming semester, your 2009, your family, and/or your life feel a bit more of … whatever … without the extra drag … you want it to be … too.

Maybe we can learn something about streamlining (our lives) from these little swimmers."