October 23rd, 2008

Time Management Strategies for Academic Leaders


About three years ago, having served four years as department chair and having gone through the typical headaches that people in my position go through, I began studying and practicing time management techniques.

After adopting some simple strategies, I find that the job I do today is much more effective and enjoyable than when I began my current leadership position. In this article I will share some key time management principles that you can implement on your own.

Tracking Your Time Effectively
If you ever wondered why you never seem to have enough time, then I recommend that you take some simple steps to find out. For most academic leaders, recording a time log for one or two weeks will suffice as an initial assessment. The time log can be recorded using a notepad and pen, but an electronic spreadsheet may be more effective if you have a computer easily accessible through most of your day.

At the end of each day, review your time log and write yourself some notes in the margin on each activity you did during the day. Consider the benefits of each activity and how you might have gone about achieving the same results more effectively.

One goal of the time log exercise is to draw a profile of your daily or weekly consumption of time on various types of tasks/activities. Once you have completed your time log for your initial period, you will need to do some simple analyses on it by grouping tasks into categories that describe the jobs you do and tallying up the hours spent on each.

Creating a Time Management Plan
After reviewing your time profile, you will likely realize that there were important tasks that you did not complete, and others where many hours were spent without measurable achievements. If that is true, consider how much time you should have spent on each category to be most effective. I refer to this exercise as creating a time budget.

Split your budgeted hours among your categories, and use that as a plan for how you intend to spend your next week at work. I recommend keeping score of how many hours you actually spend. I have developed an Excel spreadsheet specifically for that purpose, but it can be done in a less formal fashion.

Prioritizing Tasks
There always will be more tasks on your “to-do list” than you will have time to do. One of the key principles of time management is to prioritize tasks on the basis of the following criteria:
• Importance
• Urgency
• Payoff
• Effort needed

Tasks should be considered important either because there is a high payoff from doing them or, conversely, a negative consequence from not doing them. I personally use a scoring system each morning when I review my “to-do list.” Tasks are scored on a scale from 1 to 5 in terms of importance and urgency. Routine tasks are usually managed separately from this list. Each day, I block out times to handle tasks such as checking and responding to email, returning phone calls, and typing or dictating simple memos.

Benefits of Time Management
All academic leaders will benefit from implementing time management techniques and continuing to identify areas in which improvements can be made. The reward for doing so is getting the important jobs done in a timely fashion without having to sacrifice your personal time by putting in endless extra hours on evenings and weekends.

Bond, W.J. (1991). 199 time-waster situations and how to avoid them. Hollywood, FL: Fell Publishers.

Covey, S. (1990). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Fireside.
Crandell, G. (2005). Time management for more effective results. The Department Chair, 15(3), 11-12.

Douglass, M.E., & Douglass, D.N. (1980). Manage your time, manage your work, manage yourself. New York: Amacon.

Gmelch, W.H. (2004). Choosing the path of academic leadership: How to survive and stay alive. Proceedings of the 21st K-STATE Academic Chairpersons Conference.

Hansen, C.K. (2007). Effective time management for academic leaders. Proceedings of the 24th K-STATE Academic Chairpersons Conference.

McKenzie, A. (1990). The time trap. New York: Amacon.

Christian K. Hansen is chair of the Department of Mathematics at Eastern Washington University.

Excerpted from Academic Leader, June 2008.