You’ve heard of running with scissors? At this point in the semester it can feel more like spinning with butter knives: So much activity, so few things actually completed. The relative of autonomy of faculty schedules is something we should be thankful for every day, but it can also make it challenging to distribute our energy to the right things in the right proportions. Having spent literally hours on a PowerPoint presentation for a single, not-that-complicated class session (thank you, Google Images), and then wondered why I never finished that grant application, I wear my own scarlet P for Procrastination, or maybe Prioritization-ineptitude.
Here are three tips for getting a grip on time management.
- Identify your biggest time vacuum and find a way to fix it. For instance, if each incoming e-mail chime is a Pavlovian stimulus, silence the alerts while you’re working on important tasks. Or try limiting your attention to e-mail to one or two blocks of time each day. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review calls this approach “e-mail budgeting” and offers good advice for how to make it work. Maybe your biggest time sink is, like mine, class prep. Try setting a time limit on that, too. When time is up, it’s time to teach, ready or not. Odds are, you really will be ready, even if the more perfect PowerPoint graphic has to wait for next semester’s iteration.
- Adopt a time management system. Options include David Allen’s massively popular Getting Things Done; the procrastination-targeting if unappealingly titled Eat That Frog, and The Five Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, reviewed yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education. If you’re a fan of digital tools, you might like timing apps designed to maximize your focus on given projects like 30/30 and Tracking Time.
- Protect at least 15 minutes a day for the work that fuels your passion for your discipline. Truly, just 15 minutes. That’s the theory behind Laura Belcher’s Write Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, currently in use by two faculty writing groups on campus, and it appears to be working. Whether it’s writing a book or article, developing a grant proposal or conference paper, or working on a project with disciplinary colleagues across the country, set aside inviolable blocks of time to attend to it, even if the longer blocks are few. Just opening the file every day will keep your head in the project and nourish this vital but easy-to-lose aspect of your professional identity.
* Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.