Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Is Your Vision? Beyond Time Management for Academics

There are a wide variety of books and blogs that will help you with time management as an academic. Kerry Ann Rockquemore's book: The Black Academic's Guide to Winning Tenure--Without Losing Your Soul has excellent tips for time management as does Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice.

After reading these books and others (especially Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen), I came to realize that effective time management is a matter of aligning your every move with your long-term vision.

Before worrying too much about time management, give some thought to your long-term vision for your career. Many people, if pressed, can figure out a five-year plan for their career. However, it is much more difficult to imagine the long-term future. Despite the difficulty of doing so, it can be a great exercise.

To get an idea as to what your vision is, you must ask yourself:

  • Who am I? 
  • What do I want? 
  • Where do I want to be in twenty years?

If you are currently in graduate school, it is often hard to think beyond the immediate goals of finishing coursework, passing comprehensive exams, and defending a dissertation. If you are on the tenure-track, it can be difficult to even imagine anything beyond the goal of getting tenure. I don't expect anyone to provide an immediate answer to the question of what your vision is. However, I do think that it is important to reflect on this question and to realize that there is more than one career path, even for academics.

For example, some people may have the goal of becoming University President. Others may wish to become the President of their disciplinary association. Still others may wish to lead an institute, a social justice center, or a teaching institute. Some academics may want to be head of the department. Others might want to get tenure and start a business on the side, or spend most of their time gardening. The point is that there are many potential goals an academic could have. And, there are distinct paths to each.

If your long-term goal is to be the President of your disciplinary association, your everyday decisions should be distinct from a person whose long-term goal is to be the head of a teaching institute on campus. Ideally, your vision, your five-year plan, your semester plan, your weekly plan, and what you do each day should all be aligned.

In my blog: Get a Life, PhD, I have discussed the five year plan, the semester plan, the weekly plan, and daily writing. In this post, I am suggesting that these five levels of planning need to be in harmony.

Imagine going through life knowing that each action you take is aligned with your long term vision. That would be fundamentally different from making decisions on the basis of your immediate needs, and saying yes or no to requests primarily based on feeling external or internal pressure to commit to others.

I believe academics have the power to take control of their lives. I also believe that it is remarkably empowering to take control. Taking control does not mean shunning every request for service or refusing to attend meetings. Instead, it means seeking out opportunities for service, research, and teaching that will get you closer to your long-term goals and declining opportunities that do not move you in the direction you have decided you are going.

To take control of your career, follow these five steps:

  1. Develop your vision for your career. 
  2. Develop a five-year plan based on your vision. Check out Karen Kelsky's post on this as well as one here.
  3. Make a semester plan that will get you to your five-year plan. Check out this post as well on semester planning.
  4. Plan out your weeks so that you meet your semester goals. Here is another a great post on this.
  5. Execute your plan on a daily basis. For most of us, that means writing every day.


  1. Thank you for this! Your advice resonates even to non-academics! :-))

  2. I love your message about taking control. It can seem that so many things are outside our control, so, yes, I do agree that it is empowering to shift our perspectives and practices in this way. Gracias!

  3. Joy: I am glad you found it useful!! Ann: I am happy to hear that message resonates with you!

  4. In talking about this subject, especially with graduate students and others who aren't yet (and perhaps won't ever be) on the tenure track, I think there has to be a balance between urging people to take control of the things they can control (e.g. deciding to prioritize certain activities over others, and carving out time no matter what for the ones that one considers very important) and reminding people to be realistic about what they can't control (e.g. the explosive growth of adjunct and other contingent faculty jobs, and, partly as a result, a supply of tenure-track jobs that is far smaller than the number of people who would like to embrace some of the goals above, many of which are best pursued, and some of which can only be pursued, in the context of a tenure-track job). Long-range planning is certainly possible for those of us who aren't on the tenure track, but it isn't always clear what opportunities might, realistically, become available, or what activities are likely to make us eligible for those opportunities that do become available. Add to that the fact that we generally have less "disposable" time and income than tenure-track folks, and you add several new variables to the planning/prioritizing process. That doesn't make it impossible, just more difficult.

  5. Cassandra: Excellent points. Long-range planning would be more difficult outside the context of the tenure track, especially if one's immediate goal is to achieve a tenure track position.

    As you imply, I do think that adjunct faculty can benefit from taking a broad view of their long-term future and figuring out what sort of academic or non-academic position would suit them most. But, of course, envisioning is complicated with so many things outside of one's control.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Thanks for the posting Tanya.
    This is educating. It is what I needed to apply right now.