Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taking Control

When I explain time management techniques to academics, many respond by pointing out that one of the things they love most about academia is unstructured time, and that they are not willing to give that up. These academics look at my weekly plan and gasp: “Aren’t you giving up your freedom by so closely managing your days?” “What if a colleague stops by to chat when I am supposed to be writing; Do I send her away?!”


My color-coded calendar that marks my writing time in red, my teaching time in orange, and my administrative time in purple leads some people to believe that I have given up my freedom by structuring my days. They see that I have set aside specific times for writing, reading, preparing for class, teaching, and going to meetings and wonder why I would want to structure my unstructured time.

My answer is simple. If you are getting what you want done and enjoying a stress-free, productive life as an academic with lots of unstructured time, then time management is not for you.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself working long days and through the weekends and still never feeling caught up, then time management could be a useful tool.

Time management is not simply about being more productive; it is about deciding in advance how to make the most of our most valuable resource: time. When I plan my week, I include time to take long walks, to exercise, to have lunch with my husband, to pick up my children early from school, and to prepare home-cooked meals for myself and my family. I am convinced that, without time management, I would not find the time to do things that I think are important for my emotional and physical health.

In my current schedule, I have about five hours of teaching and three hours of meetings per week. With the remaining 32 hours of my 40 hour work week completely unstructured, I can decide ahead of time when, where, and what I want to do each day.

For some people, planning each day and week may sound a bit like their time is being too controlled. I like to think that taking control of my time is acceptable so long as I am the one making the executive decisions about how I will spend my time. With time management, you, after all, are the person making the decisions about how you will spend your time.

By deciding in advance, you can make sure you make time for leisure, reading, yoga, long lunches, trips to the dentist, or whatever other social, emotional, and physical needs you may have. You can decide before the week begins if you will spend your mornings reviewing articles, checking email, writing the third chapter of your book, or surfing the internet. You can also decide if you will grade papers this week or next, if you will revise your article on Monday or Tuesday. You can even decide if you will clean your house on Thursday afternoon or hire someone to do it.

I see unstructured time as a great privilege, because it allows me to decide how I will structure my days.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the official work week at my university is 60 hours. According to them it takes 12 hours total time (preparation, class, office hours, grading) to give a 3-credit course. On the typical load of 3 courses, you're thus 60% teaching, 30% research, and 10% service (3 hours of meetings and 3 of work resulting from meetings). It's an interesting little rubric but note that it does allow for exactly 18 hours of research/writing a week, in theory. Or if you use the same distribution and reduce time to 40 hours on your own recognizance, you still have 12 hours or 2.5 hours M-Th and 2 hours F.

    My question to those who "want unstructured time" is, didn't they have to schedule things in college and graduate school??? I think what they really mean is, they want to meditate in between tasks, and they want recreational time before and after hard work sessions - they don't want to feel rushed or create that under the gun feeling all the time. Which is fine. I think that's the way to put it more productively, anyway.