The Ultimate Time Management Guide for Faculty

As faculty, you have a lot on your plate.

Besides teaching class, you have class prep, meetings, student meetings, committee meetings, learning development, paperwork, and likely, more meetings.

If you’re not careful, time can get away from you, and you can finish the week wondering what you really accomplished that week.

This article is here to offer you a little help in managing your time even better to accomplish even more.

1. Know Your Priorities and goals

The most important step to better time management is to know your goals and priorities. You need to ask yourself:

  • What are my personal priorities?
  • What is my institution’s priorities?
  • What are my personal goals?
  • What is my intitution’s goals?

These are the basic questions you need to answer to help you prioritize what you do with your time. But, let’s dig deeper.  To find your organization’s priorities for you, ask:

  • Why were you hired? For what purpose?
  • What are your key result areas, the most important tasks that you do in your job?
  • Brian Tracy says in his book Eat That Frog! that each of us have 3 main core tasks that contribute the most to our organization. What are your 3 tasks?
  • Most of us have heard of Pareto’s rule, which states that 20% of our efforts give us 80% of our results. What is your 20% that gives you 80% of your results?

These are important questions to ask and explore. When you can answer these questions, you are then able to focus easier on the tasks that are most important and will bring about the most results. If you write them down, it makes it even more real.

2. Plan Ahead

Knowing our priorities and goals is important because it helps us know what to plan and prioritize. As much as possible, we should always be focusing on the Most Important Tasks (MITs).

As faculty of a college, there are often bureaucratic tasks and others that must be done. However, if you know what your priorities are, you can plan your time better to do as much of the important tasks as possible.

Steven Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People discusses the time management matrix:

The Covey 4 Quadrant Time Matrix

The matrix is split up into four quadrants. Quadrant I are urgent and important tasks. These are often crises that we face that must be done now or there will be serious negative consequences. Quadrant II is the ideal quadrant to be in. It’s the not urgent and important. This is where most of your 20% and planning are done. Often the more you stay in Quadrant II, the less you have to deal with Quadrant I.

Quadrant III is tricky, because it’s the urgent and not important. These are the crises that appear in our email or at our door or on our phone that really don’t have major consequences and aren’t really important. They just have the appearance of importance because they are urgent.

It’s these tasks that make us so busy during the day but leaving us feeling like we’ve accomplished nothing.

Quadrant IV tasks are the not urgent & not important. These are the time wasters. Facebook, idle conversations, personal phone calls, and so on. They do not accomplish anything toward your work.

Many people live in Quadrant I & III living in the urgent or they live in I and then get burned out and go to IV.

The ideal quadrant to be in is Quadrant II.

As you plan your week and your days, focus on the important. As the Quadrant III tasks pop up, again, stay focused on what is important. Some of the other tips in this article will help you with this as well.

Brian Tracy says in Eat That Frog!, “You can set your time and your life under control only to the degree to which you discontinue lower-value activities”.

How to Plan

There are different strategies for planning. Some prefer lists and some calendars. Some mix them.  It doesn’t matter as long as you are focused on your MITs. You just need to find a system that works best for you.

I personally use both. I may schedule blocks of time for certain tasks or appointments but have a weekly list I may pull on for each day.

Some recommend planning for the month first, then the week, then for the day the night before.

If you plan for the month, it doesn’t mean you have to plan each task for each day. It could be that for the month you want to accomplish certain tasks and focus on certain areas.

Then you plan your week. Covey recommends planning your week first before your day because, if you don’t, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture just going from day to day.

Write out the tasks or areas that you want to accomplish for the week.

Then, plan out your day the night before. Pull from your weekly list.

Again the purpose of planning is to help you focus on what is really important.

Tips to help you focus on the most important and get more done

Learn to say No

People will always come to us asking us to do things for them. If it fit’s in your priorities and goals, by all means, say yes.

However, many of us need to do better saying no to requests. If it doesn’t align with your goals or priorities, if it’s not part of your 20% in your key result areas, if, at all possible, just say “no”.

Remember, saying yes to one task is saying no to another.  If you say yes to the “unimportant” task, it means saying “no” to an important task.

Delegate and Eliminate

When you go through your task list, see if there is anything that you can delegate (if you are able to) or eliminate. It is likely that what is part of your 80% is someone else’s 20%. If you can’t delegate, you might can find a coworker who has different abilities and interests than yours, and you can trade with them certain tasks.

Other tasks can just be eliminated. If it isn’t important and there won’t be any consequences if you do or don’t do it, just cross it out.

Schedule Periods of Uninterrupted Time

Multitasking and interruptions can be killers of productivity. Switching from task to task wastes time and makes you lose focus, and interruptions do the same.

To be the most productive, set periods of time for uninterrupted focus on certain tasks. Put up a do not disturb sign, turn off your phone and email notifications. You can even let your students and coworkers know that at these set times, you are unavailable and will not answer email, phone, or a knock on the door.

Batch tasks

If you have similar tasks that you need to do, batch them and do them all at the same time. This saves you time from switching from one task to another to another.

Set times for email and phone

This may not work depending on your institution’s policies, but if possible, have set times that you respond to phone calls and check and answer emails. This saves you tons of time from jumping from a task to email to task to phone, etc. It also helps keep you focused on your most important tasks as many emails and phone calls are Quadrant III – urgent & not important.

You can let your students and coworkers know your policy. They may try to bypass it, but if you stick with it, they will start to respect it.

Prepare before starting

Before you start a task, clean off your desk and make sure you have everything for the task at hand and only what you need for the task at hand. This save you time by not having to search through piles of clutter for a certain item and keeps you from having to get up and look for something you need to finish the task.

Keep a notepad with you (or notepad app)

David Allen in Getting Things Done discusses the importance of clearing and emptying our mind on paper. When you don’t, you often spend time trying to remember an idea or task that you need to do versus being creative and coming up with new ideas.

Also, we often don’t have as good of a memory as we think we do. Have you ever had a great idea in the middle of the night but forgot what it was in the morning? Always have something with you to write stuff down.

Avoid pointless meetings

Many meetings that take place are wasted time. The issues covered could easily be handled over email, a phone call, or a brief chat. If there is a way to get out of meetings that you don’t need to be in, do so. It will save you a lot of time, especially if the meeting is not run very efficiently.

Theme your days

Some people like the focus on different task or key result areas on different days. For example, on Monday you might focus on class preparation. On Tuesday your focus may be on grading. On Wednesday it could be on paperwork and other admin details. And so on. Instead of mixing task or key result areas throughout the week, you dedicate one day to one area and then focus on different areas on other days.

Prioritize Your list

If you are using a task list, Brian Tracy recommends organizing it with the ABCDE Method. With this method, beside every task, you write A, B, C, D, or E.

  • “A” tasks are tasks that are very important and could have serious consequences if done or not done.
  • “B” tasks are tasks that you should do but only have mild consequences either way.
  • “C” tasks are tasks that are nice to do but don’t have real consequences work-wise. This could include phoning a friend, going out for coffee, etc.
  • “D” tasks are tasks that you can delegate to someone else.
  • “E” tasks are tasks that you can eliminate with no consequences either way.

If you have more than one “A”, go back through your list and number them in importance – “A-1”, “A-2”, “A-3”, and so on.

When you start working on your list, start with “A-1” and work down.  You don’t work on “A-2” until you finish “A-1”. You don’t move to “B” tasks until you finish “A” tasks.

Create a Stop Doing List

A stop doing list is, as you can predict, a list of tasks that you need to stop doing. The idea for this list came from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. Put on the list the tasks that waste your time and the unimportant tasks that can bog you down. Then find a way to eliminate them, pass them on, or reduce how much you have to do them if possible.

Rule Your Technology

This is related to the email and phone suggestions from before. Our technology can be very beneficial, but it can also enslave us. Don’t be a slave to technology. Don’t let it determine how you use your time, jumping at every notification, message, or email. Instead, control it. Rule it, or it will rule you.

Manage your energy, not just your time

Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in The Power of Full Engagement discuss how it is more important to manage our energy than our time. If we are low energy all the time or try to do creative work when our energy is low, it hurts our productivity.

To manage your energy, make sure you get enough rest and sleep. Take breaks to refresh your mind. Eat healthy. Take walks or exercise.

Know when your peaks and valleys are and plan your day accordingly. If you are more creative and at your peak in the morning, let that be the time you create and plan.

Ask yourself the right questions

Brian Tracy says that the core question for time management is this: “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?”

Ask yourself that throughout the day. Before you start a task, ask yourself that question. If you catch yourself running through tasks, ask yourself “Are my current activities matching my goals and priorities? Are they moving me toward them?”

Asking these questions can help you keep on track and focused on what’s most important.

Know Your constraints

Know what areas you are weak in and what slows you down. Find ways to overcome it. If it’s not in your core areas, delegate it if possible. If it is, take time to learn and grow and improve those areas.

That area is a bottleneck. If you don’t improve it, you will always be limited by it.

Always be learning

Always be learning. Always be improving yourself. The better you get at your 20% and your key result areas, the faster you will get them done and at better quality, too.

Even if it’s an area that’s just one of those things you “have to do”, if you get good at it, you can get it done faster and give yourself more time to focus on what you find most important.

Focus on the Most Important

The key to better time management is to know your priorities and goals and focus on those.

As Brian Tracy says in Eat That Frog!, ““..your ability to select your most important task at each moment, and then to get started on that task and to get it done both quickly and well, will probably have more of an impact on your success than any other quality or skill you can develop.”

I hope one of these tips will help you manage your time better and be more productive.

What tip stood out to you the most?

Further Reading:

  • Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy
  • Time Management by Brian Tracy
  • 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management by Kevin Kruse
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  • The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen.
  • The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard