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?


  1. 40-40-40 -- so you have 120% of time each week? Or....?

    1. ha. thanks for the close read. It should be 40-40-20

    2. haha, I thought that's on purpose. The numbers were consistent with what people keep telling me about Tenure..

  2. Tanya, I enjoy reading your blog. I find it very insightful and valuable, especially as a very fresh PhD who is now trying to survive in the world of academia. However, what would you suggest in terms of time-planning for someone who also has administrative responsibilities?
    E. g. I do not only teach, but supervise two research projects and I am also an associate dean (thus more administrative work...). The problem I have is similar to what you mentioned about your two colleagues: I barely find any time to write and do research work myself.
    I find the schedule you made very useful, I will try to prepare one for myself, the problem is that, unfortunately, I have to sit in the office during the regular day, which means that you never know, when someone will stop by or will give you a call, or when there are gonna be any "emergencies"... Thus, the schedule might "fall apart" quite quickly...

    1. Hi anonymous, as a 40-40-20 academic (in Australia) I have found it a bit of a challenge to keep the teaching and admin. under control. A couple of things that have helped:
      1. My research comes first. I'm disciplined about this because I am the only advocate for my research(c.f. people constantly asking me to do admin and teaching tasks).
      2. I am in my office every day but when it's research time (this changes everyday for me) I shut my door, turn out my light and don't answer any knocking ever. Most people presume I've gone out, and when people know I'm in there what are the going to do, break the door down?
      3. I let every call go through to message bank and decide when I'll call back.
      4. I close down my email program when I'm not using it.
      5. I won't put aside my plans for 'emergencies' that have been created by other people's decisions (or more usually, non-decisions). Generally, I don't define things as emergencies because no-one is going to die (that's the beauty of being this kind of doctor and not the other kind).

      Reading this list, I think I sound pretty anti-social but I am friendly and collegial. My co-workers define these actions as Kris' funny little quirks. And they do love the research outputs that result.

    2. Kris has great suggestions. I also know people who stop in a coffee shop on the way to work for 30 to 60 minutes to do their writing before work. Others wake up early and squeeze it in. And, others, like Kris, just close the door.

      Good luck!

    3. Thank you both for your encouragement!

  3. i was just thinking of making the same kind of schedule! really happy to read this n it makes me want to make that schedule now! because i want to look carefully into what work i put to and for how many hours a day/week. indeed. time is the most precious thing we have and with all the work piling up, i need to be discipline in following my own schedule! thanks tanya! :D

  4. Hi Tanya, thanks again for another great post! This is my first year as a professor. I am teaching all new classes and devote at least 25 hours a week on class prep and reading, plus additional time on grading, meeting with students, answering student emails, and classroom time. Unfortunately, I have not done any writing!! Your schedule that allots only 8 hours to class prep seems like a dream. Is this assuming that one already has taught the classes? Any ideas for how to quickly and effectively prepare for new classes when one is just starting out?

    1. One thing I do when I know a subject area less well is to limit lecture to ten minutes, and then to keep the rest of the class a discussion.

      After the lecture, I have a list of questions, and ask them, one by one. We discuss each of them, learning the material better all together.

      Then, I put the students in groups to work on questions.

      This strategy wouldn't work if you have a class larger than 60 students.

      If you have a large lecture, I would show movies and have students get in small groups to discuss.

      The main point: Don't equate teaching with lecturing, as that is the most time-consuming (and least effective) way to teach!

      Of course, you may not be lecturing, but I imagine you might be if you are spending lots of time on teaching.

      As for student meetings, I keep those limited to specific times.

      And, I do often read for class at night. It feels less like work than other things.

    2. This is great - thanks! Do you have any similar tips on how to minimize the time spent grading?

    3. There is evidence that it is not a good idea to line-edit your student's work. Instead, create a rubric and give them points for specific items. Don't think too hard about whether or not the grade is fair. Just grade using a rubric and keep going.

  5. What a great suggestion! I have two small upper-division classes (1 hr. 40 min each, twice a week). I usually lecture for about 45 minutes and I will no more! Thanks :)

  6. Dear Tanya,

    What a timely post.As I'm embarking on my first TT job-at the very same institution with the same contract-I am trying to do some tentative planning. I still am at a research postdoc until next Aug so I can submit more stuff and prep my courses ahead of time. The Department Head made it very clear that research is a priority b/c of the R1 status of the institution. Would you say devoting only 16 hours in total for teaching the first year is at all possible. I had TAed quite a bit and gave lectures but never conducted an independent course. I will be primarily teaching graduate level and upper level seminars, on specialized courses that overlap with my research to a great degree, as my department is very laidback and flexible, and will be teaching the same course both semesters but I am just worried that the 16 hours formula is not valid for first years on the TT with no prior independent courses taught. I also have the same schedule-6 hours, 2 hours office hours, and these are condensed into one afternoon of teaching and one morning and afternoon, so two days..I know this sounds 'light' for those not at R1s but on the other hand, the Dept is very serious about research...what would be your advice for the first year?is 16 hours still reasonable?

    1. I think it is feasible to do it in 16 hours, so long as the reading that you do for research aligns with the reading you do for class.

      Especially for graduate seminars.

      I assign a book a week in graduate seminars. I try to make sure and write a summary of the book that will be useful in my own writing. Also, I have students lead the grad seminars most weeks.

      For grad seminars, I lecture very minimally, and come to class with a list of questions that occur to me as I read.

    2. Thanks Tanya,

      Yes two graduate seminars I'm teaching would contribute to my research. One is the field seminar on my sub-subfield and the other is a special readings course on a topic that I'm working on as a set of related papers as well as using some of the literature for my book ms. The latter occurs in the spring and the field seminar repeats both semesters, one at grad level, the other at grad/undergrad mixed level. That contributes less directly in that it's more likely to serve as springboard for future research, or reevaluating earlier papers that I had presented at conferences but did not pursue as journal submissions. I'm thinking of assigning a week based on that for example..So in that sense, the reading for that course -some rereading earlier material I'd read for my prelims or research and some reading new research that has been come out-will fall under the 'reading' bracket. My main concern is how much time will be spent practicing the actual lecture portion. For graduate seminar, I hope to conduct it in the style that I found most useful in graduate school-when the prof went over the material briefly in the beginning -15 min or so-then students respond with reaction papers and lead discussion with the prof summarizing at the very end. My question is: do you actually practice (in front of the mirror etc, or in the manner you would a job talk or other talk) the lecture portion? or is it more improvised based on powerpoint or notes? b/c if so I cannot see how it'd fit into 2-3 hours per one class session!

  7. I basically do it like that but depending on expectations of other things in your job it is not always feasible for all people all the time, and has not always been for me. It all depends on what your institution is like, how easy or not it is to work there.

    I spend about 25 hours a week on 3 courses, so 2 in 16 hours sounds about right. 15 hours on research is what you need for momentum.

    1. It is very true that sometimes your colleagues can make this kind of scheduling possible. Good point.

  8. Tanya,

    Thank you for this blog! I am beginning my career as a TT faculty member this August and your blog makes the task seem less daunting. In the comments section I noticed a lot of discussion revolving around teaching (both undergrad and grad) and managing your time. Could you possibly include a blog post regarding this topic (best teaching practices, how to prep courses in ways that do not drain your time, etc.)? Thanks again!

  9. yes exactly, I just don't understand how 16 hours or even 20 hours teaching is possible. I am teaching 2-2, no teaching releases or reductions whatsoever (Dean insists upon this) even though contract specifies an equal balance between teaching and research and the institution is an R1 with research obligations. 1 is a PhD course, the other undergraduate seminar. I have not taught independent courses before but just served as TA, given guest lectures, led sections etc. I prepared syllabi ahead of time, got feedback, sought advice, collected readings and slides. I have been reading online on various forums to think about 120 hours of work for 2 classes outside of class. This freaks me out. There certainly aren't 120 hours in the week! I am teaching T Th and another friend who does this-despite having been on a 2-1 load said she spends Mon-Thursday on teaching alone and works 30 hours Fri-Sunday taking no time off to get research done. She said her first year all 7 days were spent on teaching prep for one graduate course. I'm trying to break this down in my mind. For one course: 5 hours to get readings done, 10 hours to write slide and lecture notes, 5 hours to practice, practice, practice and find some questions. that is indeed 20 hours per 1 session. assuming 2 sessions a week. there goes 40 hours. that is one class. for 2 UG courses, that is 80 hours. Add grading etc-as a graduate student I know this alone can add 60 hours. and there is your 120. How is it possible to spend only 2-3 hours preparing for one seminar/lecture? I believe it'll only work if you aren't writing massive slides with notes, and not practicing the talk..please advise..

    1. My approach to teaching is that I am helping students to understand the readings and to put them into perspective. Typically, I will give a 10-minute overview of the topic, and then move on to the readings. I never have spent hours and hours preparing for class. I never have practiced a lecture for class.

      For a PhD seminar, I have the students lead the class. I do the readings, show up with a list of about ten questions of my own, and ask the students to do the same.

  10. I like the way you organized your schedule. This can be applied to other areas of one's life when trying to get things done on a daily basis.