Working in student affairs is fraught with many challenges and opportunities. Being able to successfully maneuver through a busy work environment is a skill that all student affairs professionals need to develop. I have found that playing chess has helped me to think about various strategies and tactics used for the game that I can also use at work. Chess is a wonderful game that I encourage you all to learn and practice.
MANAGING TEMPO – In chess, “tempo” refers to a single move. By alternating turns and making moves, you gain tempo. If you get in a position in which your pieces are under attack, you may have to move backward in order to prevent losing a piece. You lose tempo by continually moving your pieces backward in a defensive position rather than moving forward and setting up an offensive attack. Eventually you do not develop enough pieces to be successful, your opponent squeezes you for space on the chessboard, and starts picking off your pieces one by one.
Sometimes I can find myself and other student affairs colleagues losing tempo when it comes to successfully managing our own projects and schedules throughout the day and year. Create tempo by eliminating distractions as much as possible, which can include avoiding unproductive meetings. If something can be solved with a quick email or phone call, get in that habit of doing that instead. Additionally, manage tempo by reducing extra projects and responsibilities that simply do not add to the goals and mission of your direct work. Not only will this help you in a time-management sense, but will also help you from an emotional standpoint so you are not overstretched.
PLAYING FOR THE END GAME – The goal in chess is to put your opponent’s king in a position in which it is being attacked (“check”) and ultimately cannot make another move (“checkmate”). Having a plan in place from the beginning (and throughout) is more helpful than merely making moves in response to what your opponent does. Having the end in mind (to use a phrase from Covey) helps you think through the process in getting there. You should use this process for strategic planning for the year as well as lifelong career goals. Unfortunately, we can get trapped in the day-to-day tasks of work or constantly putting out proverbial “fires” and neglect long term planning on an ongoing basis. Taking time out of your work week (even if it’s only an hour) to make future plans should be a part of your regular schedule.
MANAGING ALL OF YOUR PIECES – In chess, the queen has the ability to move like every other piece (aside from moving like a knight) so it’s a very versatile tool. However, many new players use the queen to their detriment by using the queen too early and too much. Doing this risks the possibility of being captured and not developing your other pieces; this puts a player in a compromising positional standpoint. Being able to utilize all of your resources and skills is crucial given the scope and complexity of our work. Doing everything yourself or simply delegating important work to just one key person is not a smart strategy. Having one staffer managing everything will burn them out and is counterproductive. Additionally, you are less likely to get more done if you are limiting those who could be more involved. Like chess, use all of your employees to help you accomplish your goals.
Playing and studying chess can help you not only in the game, but in life as well. I highly recommend the following books if you are looking to learn how to play chess or to expand your knowledge if you already play:
Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess: Basic to Advanced Strategies with America’s Foremost Chess Instructor by Bruce Pandolfini – Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (September 9, 2003).
Winning Chess Strategies by Yasser Seirawan – Everyman Chess; Revised Edition edition (May 1, 2005).
Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan – Everyman Chess; Revised Edition edition (May 1, 2005).