What would archaeology look like if it were easy?

What would it look like if archaeology were a snap?I haven’t given up on the idea of buying historical properties, fixing them up, and maintaining them as a rental property. I feel like this is also a viable way we can keep the historical fabric of American neighborhoods alive. I’ve written about this before, but my previous timeframe might have to be extended beyond 10 years for a number of different reasons. Home prices are insane right now across most of the country (Next time you see me, ask me how I bought a house in the East Bay Area of California. It wasn’t easy). I also need to figure out how to navigate my new job as a tenure track professor. Nevertheless, good dreams die slowly. Since I was a teenager, I’ve dreamed of owning multiple properties. It’s something I’m not going to give up but I may have to put that on ice as I work on other things right now.

Listening to podcasts and other media related to buying properties is one way I stay hungry to invest in real estate. This is why I listen to the Bigger Pockets Podcast, which is part of a real estate investing website dedicated to helping people gain economic freedom by buying properties. I was recently listening to Bigger Pockets Podcast #290—7 Paths to Financial Independence when something struck me as particularly interesting. While discussing Tip Number 4–house flipping, the show’s host Brandon Turner summarized a conversation he had with a general contractor who was describing how overwhelmed he was with his business. Brandon asked the salient question, “What if it were easy?” “What would your business look like if it was easy and fun and light?”

I can’t be sure but this line of questioning looks like something I read in Forbes magazine in a 2017 interview with Tim Ferriss. Ferriss said one of his latest books Tribe of Mentors was derived from some journaling where he asked himself, “What would this look like if it were easy?” Even though he was a best-selling author with a cult following, Ferriss wondered what he could do to make his life and career more fruitful, streamlined, and fulfilling, which is something most of us never think about.

In pondering this question over the last few days, I’ve realized the power of inquiring how I can make my work situation easier. I have also realized that it is something that the several successful cultural resource management professionals seem to have already figured out.

What if my career were easy?

On the surface, this question seems preposterous. Archaeology is not easy. Neither is forging a career in the CRM industry. This hypothetical is not placed before us in hopes that our chosen profession will actually be easy. Nothing worthwhile is easy. If success was easy, we would all be successful. I believe the question is supposed to get us to think about what our career would look like if we were able to achieve the ideal workday because, theoretically, a fulfilling dream job would be composed of a series of ideal workdays that all leave us feeling good about our work and motivated to come back for more. It is unreal to think that we could always achieve 100% ideal workdays, but having a vision of what that day looks like makes it much more likely that we could actually achieve it.

I wake up in the morning long before sunrise, do my morning routine and head out the door to work. When I get there, I spend the first hour or two writing (blog posts, articles, letters, book chapters, ect.) Then I hit my emails for a few minutes. Most of the email time is spent categorizing emails into folders and scheduling those with the most urgent need. It is 9AM and I’ve already been awake for about five hours. Time to have a short meeting with an assistant who helps me with my scheduling and keeping my accounts straight. The assistant helps me figure out what I need to do for the rest of the day or week, the status of my several projects, and the status of my research funding, ect. We don’t meet every day, but getting things straight on Monday and Thursday is a must. I spend the rest of the day addressing as many of these tasks as I can, knocking out the easy emails and phone calls first, prioritizing and tackling longer tasks later in the day. I check emails again right before lunch and 30 minutes before I intend on heading home. By 3PM I head home to get my kids from school. The rest of the evening is spent with my family except for my personal time before bed when I read/ research, watch a movie, ect. A few minutes before going to bed, I add some notes to my planner about what I need to do the next day.

This is what my ideal workday looks like. It looks different when I’m in the field as fieldwork has a different schedule. It is not my current reality. Currently, I work after 3PM, spending time in meetings, and work directly with colleagues and students. I do not actually achieve this dream workday right now, but, interestingly, I have come closer to this ideal since asking myself what my workday would look like if it were easy.

My ideal workday has several key improvements over my current reality:

Extraneous, detail-oriented tasks have been outsourced to someone who is good at doing those tasks: I make a lot of mistakes because I find doing detailed work onerous. I also forget a lot of things and overextend myself. In my dream workday, somebody else helps me take care of the details and remind me of what I’m forgetting.

Time is always set aside for writing: This blog post resulted from the reorganization of my workday to always include time for research and writing. It has now become part of my “Daily Trifecta” (meditation, exercise, and writing). Previously, I would go days without tickling the keyboard. Now, I write more consistently. This visualization of my ideal day has also helped my writing become more of an accretive process rather than an exhaustive binge.

Work tasks are scheduled: One of the biggest problems I’ve faced is not getting things done in a timely manner so I’m forced to cram sh*t together at the last minute. That’s a stressful way to work. Having them neatly scheduled has helped me get things done more consistently.

Time is allocated for non-work activities: In this fantasy day, I get to make dinner for my family, help with homework, and put kids to sleep. Since I work every day of the week, even though I don’t go to campus on weekends, my ideal workday has to set aside time to spend with my family and doing non-work activities.

Emails don’t creep into activity time: I still don’t have an assistant to help answer all the emails but in this ideal day I have times when I check emails and times when I don’t. Email isn’t open all the time, so I’m not constantly getting disturbed by alerts.

My day starts at a consistent time: In this dream, I wake up early and start getting stuff done BEFORE most people are even conscious. Early to bed, early to rise is how sh*t gets done. Arizona archaeologists know the benefits of getting an early start, so I just applied this to my dream day. You don’t have to be the best if you’re the first one there. Waking early helps get things done right away in case your day goes sideways.

Like I said, this is just what an ideal workday looks like for me. You will obviously have a different dream because it would be weird if we were both sharing the same dreams. The idea is to visualize the life you would like to live so you have a better chance of achieving it. I believe in visualization so much that the book Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain is one of the resources I’ve recommended on my blog in the past (http://www.succinctresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Side-Hustle-Business-References-for-CRMers.pdf). Having a visualization of the life you would like to live gives you something to work toward. The clearer the vison, the easier it is to accomplish the ideal workday because you can achieve the whole vision in pieces. Achieve one goal then move on to the next. Before you know it, the entire thing will have been realized.

The biggest change from my current reality is the fact that tasks are shared with someone else, which helps me be more productive. My dream is to delegate tasks I am not good at performing. Doing everything myself is what sucks time away from teaching, reading, writing, and being a better archaeologist. It can be scary to delegate some of the things you’ve become adept at doing but I feel like it is absolutely necessary for professional growth because you can concentrate on things you are better at doing. Unfortunately, we cannot all afford a personal assistant (I can’t even though it’s my dream).

The process of identifying tasks that we would delegate to others helps us in three big ways:

1) It helps us recognize the things we aren’t passionate about;

2) It helps us realize the things we aren’t good at doing, cause us anxiety, or keep us from doing things we like/are good at, and;

3) It gives us a goal to work towards.

So, you can’t hire a personal assistant today. You can probably find some apps that would help. Or, you could hire a virtual assistant, which is a major recommendation of Tim Ferriss. Can’t outsource things you suck at? You can at least schedule them and give yourself additional time. This will keep you from avoiding them, which almost guarantees problems. Taking the time to do things right will also help you get better at the things you currently do not do well.

Guess what? This is actually happening

Tim Ferriss is not the only one working to make their work life easier. It’s not common in CRM but many successful CRM company owners have already done this. Like other leaders, some of the most successful CRMers I have ever met have figured out a way to pass on certain parts of their job to other co-workers or specialists, leaving them more time to do what they are good at. It is not common for CRM principal investigators to work towards “easy,” but those who have figured out how to pass on the reins to somebody else have given themselves a retirement strategy. These are the company owners and PIs who have a chance to retire without selling their company to somebody else. Many of these PIs are the ones buying smaller CRM companies.

Easying in CRM Management

Most CRM company owners are still grinding it out managing day-to-day tasks. There are several reasons why they have difficulties finding replacements for their activities:

  • Hiring a new employee is a fixed expense that siphons off revenue.
  • Daily activities have not become systematized so that they can be replicated.
  • It takes decades for archaeologists to learn how to run a CRM company which means it might take years to pass on that institutional knowledge.
  • They don’t trust that somebody else would do as good a job as they would.
  • In the past, employees have screwed up when entrusted with management tasks. This has created a reluctance to try delegating again.
  • Fear of losing $ because of inept employees. Fear that well-trained employees will job-hop and take company knowledge to a competitor. Fear that the company they poured so much life into will collapse if the owner is not there to do the “Big Picture” tasks…

I never got to become a CRM company owner (yet), but I have spend hundreds of hours working with CRM PIs and the above reasons why PIs don’t move towards “easy” is based on my own personal experience. Therefore, my recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.

One way PIs can move towards “easy” is to start small by outsourcing some of what you don’t like beyond the boundaries of your company (i.e. hire virtual assistants) as training wheels for passing on tasks to subordinates at a future time. Another suggestion is to make the kind of workplace conditions that attract top minds and make them want to stay there. True growth happens when co-workers and subordinates are empowered to work towards “easy” themselves. Like I said, this is an iterative process that builds upon itself. Encouraging employees to identify strengths and weaknesses is a powerful practice upon which the entire “easying” process depends. Few think about personal weaknesses/strengths so simply evaluating these personal attributes is a good place to start. Cultural resource management PIs helping their employees find their “Easy Place” is good practice for employees at all hierarchical levels. For PIs, it is a way to see which tasks can be passed on to whom in such a way that it contributes to professional growth rather than seeming like an imposition.

Easying the job for archaeology professorsEasying the Job for Archaeology Professors

Oral histories related to archaeology professors describes certain professors who have abused student labor, stolen student research, and other sinister deeds. This is the kind of “easying” that gives the entire process a bad name for one primary reason: Students are not adequately compensated for their efforts. Rather than compensating students with money, prestige, or acknowledgement, these predatory professors thrive by delegating tasks to students or coopting their labor in order to further their own career. This is a despicable form of #freearchaeology that is even worse than the #freearchaeology that happens in CRM because it takes advantage of even more vulnerable practitioners (i.e. students). This can definitely make things easier for professors who “easy” their workday, but it is unethical and I do not recommend it.

Tenure-track professors delegating onerous tasks to graduate students and others so they can focus on “Big Picture” tasks is a pernicious way of “easying” their workload, but finding a way to delegate tasks is certainly necessary as universities increasingly extract more labor from faculty. More tasks == less time for research, teaching and other archaeology-related pursuits. Nevertheless, aside from abusive professors, few of us are “easying” or workdays by delegating any of our daily tasks. While reasons for not delegating revolve around money, as they do in CRM, some other reasons specific to academia include:

  • The entire workday is dedicated to work tasks so there is no time to delegate.
  • Students would rather not do delegated tasks as they do not feel like it is their job to help keep the anthropology department alive. A common sentiment among students is keeping the department afloat is the responsibility of professors. Professors get the money and students take it.
  • The problem of ethical attribution of work. If you have students help with research, how does anybody know who wrote which part of the publication? How can this count towards tenure track? If you co-author, are you stealing your student’s prestige?
  • Most professors are not thinking outside the box. Grants are just one form of revenue that helps get archaeology done. Professors are not thinking about seeking partnerships in professional community or outside academia—a practice that would make them managers rather than employees (more on this below).
  • Some pundit professors see themselves as too famous, too valuable, too prestigious to let somebody else take the reins. They are thought leaders and we should all simply acquiesce to whatever they want.
  • Fear that they won’t be conducting original research anymore. Fear that graduate students will “steal” data and publish it before the project PI. Fear that they won’t be living the brutal tenure-track life (i.e. sacrificing real life to be a professor uber alles). Fear that students will muck things up and waste precious grant money…

First of all, I do not think students should be helping professors publish. Students should be publishing on their own. Professors should be helping them get published. But, I do believe students can help with data collection that could lead to publications for both professors and students. This is how so many professors use field schools.

I think the biggest reason why professors do not make their workday easier by delegating tasks to others is because they do not want to act like they are running a business. In general, archaeology professors do not act as if they are running a business even though they secure funding like a CRM company would (Grant proposals are basically request for proposals [RFPs]), they “train” students (CRM companies manage employees), and publish the results (CRM technical reports perform the function of journal articles and books). Archaeology professors are also shoehorned into “service” activities just like a CRM principal is forced to attend meetings, hearings, and other non-archaeology related tasks.

For archaeology professors, I think the first step in “easying” your workday starts with seeing yourself as a business manager. Hell, be bold and think of yourself as a business CEO. Your research is your product. The students you pay are your employees (NOTE: The students are not all your employees. Just the ones you pay. If you aren’t paying them, they are not working for you even though you may be extracting #freearchaeology from them [see above]). Academic grantwriting == CRM proposaling. “Networking” with deans, grant funding agencies, ect. is the same as cultivating business leads. Your research design, which should include community involvement and student training, is how you structure the impact of your work aside from publications. Money, payroll, data, presentations, and publications are major aspects of what you do. This is what you are “selling” to the university, govt. agencies, other academicians, prospective grad students, community collaborators, ect. It is easier to manage the processes that go into pulling off major archaeological projects, impactful research, and large budgets if you think like a business manager or company owner. Like it or not, this is how your university already sees you.

Embracing the mindset of a businessperson would reshape how archaeology professors interact with their employer, research labs, projects, and careers. Rather than seeking funding to pull of research, professors would be looking for funding to support their employees who could be community members, student interns/research assistants, or an actual employee who works for your lab. These employees would need training (not just field training) because the perpetuation of this well-oiled machine requires skilled employees. Trained students would help write technical reports, research designs, and portions of grant proposals that support that support the lab and pay their bills. They get money and experience in exchange for their labor. This is only possible if you try and manage your work as if it were a business.

As PIs, professors would keep trying to tap into grant funding but could also look for other sources of income such as doing regulatory compliance; specialized analyses procured from CRM companies, museums, or others; and helping local agencies solve preservation problems. Professor PIs would lead by example, grinding for funding, tracking results, and producing publications. The students who work with them would become familiar with budgeting, research designs, and RFPs because they would be helping produce them. Right now, universities are actually forcing most professors at public institutions towards this model as the cost of maintaining the 21st century corporate-university complex continue to skyrocket. We are being pushed into finding our own funding through creativity and networking because we live in a world where academic grant funding is not increasing and is harder to get. The world is forcing professors to act like businesspeople, a reality that has not been embraced in archaeology.

I know this academic archaeology model can happen because I worked for the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) at the University of Arizona. The model I just described is exactly how BARA works. I believe this is a reason why BARA-trained students have no problem finding gainful employment in archaeology and anthropology after graduation. We also bring this model with us to our future employers. It is the future.

Easying for Non-Managers

If you are not a supervisor or professor, I know what many of you are thinking: “That’s all great but I’m not a professor or a Principal Investigator. I’m only an archaeological field technician/undergraduate student. How the hell could I make my job easier?” I’m glad you asked that question.

It is most important for archaeology students, field techs, crew chiefs, and all subordinates to think about how they could make their job easier than it is for management. Why? Because lower-level archaeologists have further to go on the career path. The sooner they can visualize their easy workday, the more likely it is that they can actually achieve it.

“Easying” one’s workday is not limited to those with authority. Visualizing an ideal career is something that early careerists need to do. The sooner the better. It is something everyone should be doing from the first day on the job until the day they retire. If you are just starting out on the pathway of a career in archaeology, you should start seriously thinking about what kind of workday you would like to have. What do you want your workday to look like? What tasks do you do well? Where do you need improvement? Identifying your current knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) and building the KSAs needed to get where you would like to be is crucial to accomplishing career goals in a single lifetime.

Easying in archaeology depends on your point of view

Historic preservation through real estate is central to my plan of furthering with heritage conservation in the United States. Historic preservation regulations are designed to create incentives for property owners. Tax rebates, lower loan rates, amortization, depreciation, and stable property values are all benefits of owning a historical property. You get all of that while also helping maintain a small piece of the historical fabric of a community’s landscape. I want it to make this a reality, but it’s only going to happen if I master my current position. That’s only going to happen if I keep working towards easying this position.

Principal investigators in CRM will only survive if they do easying of their own. Figuring out ways to work towards your ideal workday is practically the only way PIs can navigate the world of overwhelm, burnout, and stress that comes along with being responsible for keeping your employees fed.

For professors, easying will involve mental gymnastics that reshape the way they see themselves and their role in archaeology. Universities are where we learn our craft before CRM and teaching the next generation of archaeologists is initiated by professors. But, most professors do not teach as if they are managers. They train young archaeologists in a capricious way that does not always prepare them for professional life. Professors: Reforming our own view of ourselves and what we do will make it easier to accept the reality of being a professor in cash-strapped, budget-cutting 21st century academia. It is also how we address the clarion call from the CRM industry to produce students who can do CRM archaeology.

To archaeological field technicians: Start thinking about easying your workday as soon as you can. You should be thinking about what kind of career you’d like to have but you should also think about what you are going to have do to achieve the position you’ve always wanted. Trying to think of ways you can realize your ideal workday is your task as much as it is for everyone else in cultural resource management.
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