Monday, February 11, 2013

How Are You Spending Your Time?

Time is our most valuable resource, and we must be careful with how we spend it. This is particularly true when you are on the tenure track and have a set amount of time to reach specific goals.

How are you spending your time? Are you making the best use of your time to reach your goals?

I recently met two Assistant Professors who told me that they had not written anything this year. Both of these Assistant Professors work at research-intensive institutions. One told me she spent all her time preparing for two new courses. The other told me he was spending all of his time working on several major committees.

Both of these professors seem to have their priorities out of balance. As faculty, our job includes research, teaching, and service. At a research institution, you will be evaluated primarily on the basis of your research, although you also have to engage in teaching and service to meet your job requirements. I think that the best way to ensure balance is to engage in all three of these activities each week.

Let’s presume for now that you are working a 40-hour week – although I know many of you insist you are not. How should you be spending your work week?

When I worked at the University of Kansas, my department made it clear that I would be evaluated based on my research, teaching, and service. My chair also told me specifically that I would be evaluated with the following formula: 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service. At the end of each year, we had to fill out merit forms that used this same formula.

It became clear to me that I needed to align my time with my priorities. Thus, I made a little chart for myself and decided that I would spend my time according to those priorities. I would spend at least 16 hours a week on research, 16 on teaching, and no more than 8 on service.

Let’s look at 16 hours on teaching. With two courses, I was spending 6 hours in the classroom, and had 2 hours of office hours a week. That left me with 8 hours to prepare class and grade. Thus, I scheduled that amount of time into my week to accomplish those tasks.

Next up was 16 hours of research. For me, that translated into 2 hours a day of writing and one hour a day of reading, searching for literature, and other tasks related to research.

I had 8 hours a week left over for service. As an Assistant Professor, I rarely spent 8 hours a week on service. I often had about 3-4 hours a week in meetings. Some weeks I had to spend extra hours outside of meetings reading files. But, usually, I used that time to respond to emails.

My schedule looked something like this:


To keep to this schedule, I do my best to avoid scheduling meetings in the morning – time I have set aside for research and writing. These activities are an important part of my job and I do them best in the morning. Thus, I don’t schedule any other activities during this time.

When students ask to meet with me, I encourage them to come to my office hours. If they can’t make that time, I schedule a time with them that fits into my teaching time.

When I get Doodle polls about meeting, I try and schedule those in the afternoon – when I have set aside time for service and email.

Of course, I often have to rearrange my schedule. However, when that happens, I just move things around. Let’s say someone wants to schedule a meeting during my teaching prep time. I simply switch those two times around. The most important thing is that I am spending the appropriate amount of time on each aspect of my job.

What about you? How much time do you spend on research, teaching, and service each week? Is the amount of time you spend in line with the priorities of your institution?