Let’s face it, the life of a higher education pro is not for those without a lot of get up and go. It takes a singular mix of dedication, initiative, and creativity to balance a schedule that at any particular time can include faculty management, budgeting requirements, a research load, departmental responsibilities, and—most importantly—student development. As a result, academic professionals work an average of 61 hours per week, often running the risk of burning the candle at both ends and ending up with diminishing returns as chronic multitasking chips away at human capital.
Higher ed pros’ schedules are also at the mercy of students, pitting them against a particularly steep time-management battle. Not only does the constant flood of emails, meetings, academic responsibilities, and side projects add up to a crushing workload (threatening to blot out any semblance of work-life balance), but educators are also called on to wear more hats than the average office worker. If you’re in higher ed, you’re likely overly familiar with juggling administrative tasks, research, fundraising, and, of course, teaching—all in the face of shrinking budgets.
The problem isn’t that higher education professionals are getting distracted from their work, but rather that other work is keeping them from the work they need to do right now. The pace of incoming requests, information, and responsibilities can be so overwhelming that those in academia often find themselves feeling frantic about their calendars.
How to get control of your time (and your sanity)
Outdated time-management techniques simply aren’t going to cut it in today’s technologically advanced academic world. Ditch the Post-it Notes—try some of these modern time-management tricks instead:
- Conduct a time audit
The key to solving a time-management problem is determining the root cause. Begin by finding out where your hours actually go throughout the week. There is often a significant, measurable difference between where you think your resources are invested and where they’re really going. An audit can enlighten you to the areas where busywork has usurped productive tasks.
There are many apps and tools available for time tracking, including Toggl, DeskTime, or Everhour. Download and analyze your data, identify areas that need improvement, and then create a time-management system.
- Create a better time-management system
Where’s the worst possible place to keep your to-do list? Your email inbox. Why? Because a constant stream of new messages of variable importance is a distraction that cannot be effectively prioritized. Stay away from this noise. Instead, use a simple calendar tool to keep track of important to-dos and deadlines, batch similar tasks, or block out personal time.
Want something a little more tech-savvy? Try Trello, Wunderlist, or Clear for elegant project management and to-do list applications. Most importantly, develop a system you can stick to and update regularly. Consider adding automated functions that can do some of this work for you.
Tools like Microsoft Flow or IFTTT can block time on your calendar, set a task reminder with the click of a button, or automatically download email attachments into a filing system for later review. If the back-and-forth of booking time on your calendar (or the distraction of drop-ins) causes frustration, online appointment scheduling tools allow you to provide students and colleagues with a booking link. Your constituents can self-schedule meetings with you during open time slots, and all confirmations, calendar invites, and reminders are automated on your behalf.
- Design digital habits that make space for intentional thinking
Being productive doesn’t always mean busy. The greatest ideas often flow when we allow ourselves time to think, research, and solve. This kind of sustained thinking is a critical element of the academic profession and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Prioritize time for these kinds of activities, and you’ll find yourself contributing at a much higher level as an expert in your discipline.
To find space in your busy schedule for this reflection time, monitor your Internet, social media, email, and instant messaging usage. Set aside “dark” time away from technology to focus on a single task without distraction.
Conducting online research? Set screen time limits for yourself so that you don’t find yourself falling into a time-sink. Optimize your email operations by batching the time you spend reading, responding, and converting notes to tasks. If you’re worried about the volume of emails on your plate or your ability to get through them, it helps to set expectations for colleagues and students of how often you check your inbox.
The race to excellence in the higher education arena is paved with ever-growing demands and distractions. While it’s easy to fall into a time-management sinkhole, these three simple strategies can help you organize, automate, and control your time in search of a comfortable work-life balance.
Kelley Wyant is the director of content and creative at AppointmentPlus, where she leads a team of writers, graphic designers, and video specialists in producing content that is engaging and helpful to both existing and potential clients. A three-time winner of the American Marketing Association’s Spectrum award, Kelley is HubSpot Inbound Certified and is a member of the Arizona Technology Council and the National Association of Professional Women.