Time Management for Academics

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It can be daunting to juggle the large number and range of commitments that academic life involves. Bad time management can leave you feeling stressed and out of control. Here are some tips on managing your time to save your sanity and to impress your colleagues with your professionalism!

1. Don’t spend too long writing lectures

One of the most obvious mistakes that new lecturers make is to take too long writing a lecture. If you have been invited to contribute one or two lectures to someone else’s course, perhaps while doing your doctorate, the tendency is to over-prepare and spend a week preparing one hour’s lecture.

However, when you suddenly have to deliver an entire course of 10-20 lectures on a topic that you are unfamiliar with, it is impossible to spend that length of time writing a single lecture. It must be a day’s work at the most, and that includes research and writing time! If that seems impossible then you are probably trying to pack too much into your lectures or are over-preparing each topic.

2. Don’t spend too long marking

Marking is another area in which academics become overwhelmed by the volume of work. Your university may have strict deadlines for marking of essays (for example the edict that feedback must be given to students within 2 or 3 weeks). If you have a pile of 50 essays to mark this can seem unreasonable.

Marking is intensive and can be stressful because of that, but if you work steadily and carefully doing small batches at a time, it is possible to even enjoy it! You will want to give ‘perfect’ feedback but the intention is to make it useful for students by not swamping them with information and thus allowing you the time to complete your work. Everyone works at their own pace, but as a guide, a 1500-2000 word essay shouldn’t usually take more than 20 minutes to mark.

3. Set aside certain times of day to attend to emails

Another ‘black hole’ for time management is emailing. Especially now that smart phones allow email access on the go, the tendency is to respond to emails as they arrive. While it is important not to allow a backlog to develop (I try as far as possible to finish every working day with all emails dealt with or at least with action pending) if you respond to emails instantly you will never get anything else done. Imagine you’re trying to write a lecture and three or four times an hour you break off to answer an email. That lecture is going to be disjointed and slow to write. You also need to know when to focus on the task at hand. If this is a real struggle for you, consider investing in internet blocking software such as ‘Rescue Time’ or ‘Net Nanny’.

4. Have a clear sense of your priorities

Time management involves having a good plan of weekly, monthly and termly tasks. Make note of impending deadlines and fit the work needed to complete that task into spare days (if you have them!) If you see deadlines approaching that you know you will not meet, do not bury your head in the sand. Contact the person immediately to let them know that you’re unable to complete the task by the allotted time and ask for a later deadline. Suggest one that will be manageable and be realistic about what you can achieve.

5. Use diaries/wall planners/electronic versions

It sounds obvious, but the stereotype of the disorganised scholar working in chaos surrounded by piles of paper is sometimes true! If you start your working life in an organised logical manner, then these habits will be taken with you throughout your career. Gaining a reputation for promptness and timeliness will enhance your standing in the profession and will surprise many contacts who are used to lateness and disorganisation from others.

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