Introducing a new Teche column, Pracademics, on the day-to-day of teaching in higher education.
Some time ago I was asked to write a post for Teche on time management for higher education teaching. (Then I was asked a bit later about the post, and then some time later again, and well, …)
I’m extremely bad at time management but that’s because, really, it doesn’t exist and isn’t possible.
I mean, time’s been managing itself for a while now, right? Doing its own thing and doing it well. The ultimate self-directed learner.
Oh, I’m supposed to be writing about managing our own time, and as teaching academics and practitioners?
OK, well, yes – still learning how to do that. Although, up to this point, it hasn’t been so much about managing time. More like wrestling it or stealing it or wishing it would speed up or slow down or just stop. Wishing we had more to call our own.
Even in academia, which is a relatively autonomous profession, much of our actual work time is managed for us, and not by people but by systems, procedures, and deadlines. Our teaching time for example, is ‘managed’ by the timetable. By the academic calendar. By the lecture hour/s. Tute hour/s. Unit guide. By the exam timetable. Assessment deadline. Marking deadline. By the exam schedule. The exam meeting agenda. The fortnightly supervision meeting. The Consultation hour/s. By the class prep time which Is.Never.Enough. The teaching workload allocation, which can be the most, erm, challenging time management system one might ever encounter.
And, because we have systems-not-people managing our teaching time, ‘time management’ often boils down to something that turns the wind-up key in our back, points us in a certain direction, and off we toddle, stopping only once we’re in front of the lecture theatre at 10am, the tutorial at 12 noon, the workshop at 2.30pm, the seminar at 4pm, and A Screen at all other times. And don’t even get me started on the meetings[i].
In short, Time Management in pracademia is really ‘Where-you-have-to-be-at-a-certain-Time’ Management. Literally, getting our bodies where they need to be, physically – and hopefully, mentally – and where urgency is governed by who and how many will be disappointed if we don’t get our selves in place in time.
So when your work/time is managed for you by various external systems, deadlines, and processes, and all you have to do is get yourself in place in time, time management isn’t really the issue. Attention management, focus management, enjoyment management on the other hand – that’s another thing.
Like, how to switch from the intense group focus of teaching to the equally intense-but-different focus needed for thinking about major revisions to a research paper, in the minutes you have between class and a meeting.
Or how to focus on delivering a 9am seminar that engages others when you haven’t slept the night before because the 6-year-old has a bad cough.
Or how to enjoy giving a lecture, even though it’s the first time you have ever done it, it’s not really your field, and the official prep time allocated was exactly 9.5 hours too short.
I would dearly love to see some tips on how to manage these and other time-related issues in pracademia… oh, that’s what this article is supposed to be doing?
In the interest of attempting to fill the original brief, here is a list of quite reasonable suggestions for managing ‘your’ time to find ‘extra’ for getting things done. This was taken from this very sensible post here, which in turn, was taken and adapted from here. Also included, commentary regarding potential applicability to the pracademic context.
- Get up earlier / Stay up later. Note that this may leave many with about two hours of sleep a night.
- Read emails at set times during the day. Note that this advice doesn’t include email response time.
- Leave work early / go to work late. This may mean working from home more.
- Take a longer lunch. This may mean working longer after lunch.
- Go on a news diet. Have tried this and it didn’t give me extra time but it did reduce anxiety somewhat. Unfortunately, it also increased unease in not keeping up-to-date with what’s happening. Also, this does not work if you have colleagues who gorge themselves on news and/or who like to share / discuss / critique it. Which, in a university, would probably be the majority.
- Don’t do anything after work. This will leave many with at least a couple of hours out of 24 (which they should use for sleep).
- Cut back on shopping. Please don’t do this. If anything, we need to get out and about and do more shopping, especially for fruit and veg.
- Cut out non-essential reading. Note there is no such thing as ‘non-essential reading’ in Pracademia. There is only Prescribed and Recommended and Whatever is Needed for Literature Reviews.
- Trim civic commitments. Don’t do this. Outside commitments are probably key to what’s keeping you relatively healthy.
- Use car time efficiently. Having been in a few meetings where someone is driving-while-meeting, the key takeaway for pracademics here is don’t work while driving. Please.
- Minimize housework/yardwork. For people who work in and with their heads and/or do work where there is often little directly observable effect or impact, housework, especially the kind that makes a visible difference to chaos, is strongly recommended.
- Minimize recreation. Do the opposite of this, Pracademics.
- Cut down on Television: Not going to happen. Sorry.
- Cut down on Internet: I would really like to recommend this as an achievable outcome. Really.
[Teche editor: Is there anything at all you can say about improving pracademic time management? Something, anything … helpful? Or positive?]
Here are two things to think about when you’re toddling/racing to the next class or meeting:
- Systems may manage (rule) your teaching work time but where, how, and with whom, you spend ‘real’ (deep, sustained, focused, engaged, enriching, nourishing) attention is still up to you.
- You are not alone.
This is the first post in Pracademics – a series aimed at anyone teaching and working in higher education. We have lots of thoughts about possible future topics, but we’d really like to hear your ideas in the comments.
[i] Unlike teaching or workshop-leading or supervising, however, you just need to be physically, and not necessarily mentally, present in meetings. And with Skype and Zoom, now you just need to be visible in meetings. In both types of meetings, however, make sure you have an attentive look on your face.