Time Management Tips for Professors

Finding and managing time as a professor is overwhelming. For many professors, clocking a 60-hour week is the norm and finding where to cut back can be tricky. Facilitating classes, mentoring students, conducting research and professional development activities are just the beginning; and when midterms or finals come around, any established routine doesn’t last. Suddenly, on top of a packed calendar, there’s a constant stream of student emails asking for clarifications and extended deadlines, colleagues seeking advice and required staff meetings; all while trying to make sure grades for hundreds of students are accurate and submitted on time.

One way to ease some of the stress and anxiety that comes with being a professor is to focus on time management. By setting goals, making an actionable plan and implementing technology, professors can relieve stress and facilitate a more streamlined, impactful course for the next generation of doctors, scientists, scholars and citizens to enter the workforce. But first, it’s important for professors to understand how they are spending their time and where they can afford to cut back.

Breakdown of a Professor’s Week

According to an ongoing study out of Boise State University, professors report working 60-hour weeks on average with 10 hours Monday through Friday and another 10 hours on the weekend. About 17 percent of work during the week is spent in meetings while 13 percent of that time is spent reading or responding to emails. These admin tasks account for nearly 30 percent of a professor’s week and are not directly related to traditional academic duties such as lecturing, service and professional development. Furthermore, only 3 percent of the work week is spent on research, an important task for tenured professors. Here are a few tips to streamline a packed schedule and free up time.

Actionable Steps For Improving Time Management 

Set clear goals and create actionable plans. Creating a roadmap for the semester will ensure efficient use of time. Start by writing down two or three key things students should understand by the end of the course. Next, make an actionable plan for achieving goals and learning objectives. Focus lectures on important topics such as key points, course material of high relevance to students or difficult material that may require guidance. In an article from the Berkley Center for Teaching and Learning, the author suggests breaking a syllabus up by “essential” and “helpful” topics. Topics marked “helpful” can be turned into supplemental materials and made available to students who wish to further explore a subject. Finally, come up with specific assignments and class activities attached to each lecture topic that will encourage students to critically think and analyze the material.

Stay organized.  Once the semester starts, it’s easy to get caught up with emails, student questions and other duties. Staying organized can help day-to-day activities feel less overwhelming. Make a list of recurring weekly tasks, such as answering student emails or preparing lecture notes, and allocate a time block for each task.  Don’t forget to set aside office hours and be sure to share that availability with colleagues and students so they know the appropriate times to reach out. Stay even more organized with an electronic calendar such as Google Calendar and create to-do lists with apps such as Trello and Wunderlist.

Take advantage of EdTech tools. There are many EdTech tools available to professors that help streamline administrative processes. One tool many professors have found success with is student response systems, commonly referred to as clickers. Not only are these great for engaging students, but some even have downloadable apps that take attendance and track student participation. Another tool that is easy to use and evens provides an online TA to assist professors during the term is Packback. The online discussion platform uses artificial intelligence to moderate posts and provides in-line feedback to students. Dr. Mark Reisinger from Binghamton University says he is able to grade, moderate and provide feedback to online discussions in his large lecture courses in just 10 minutes a week with Packback.

Encourage peer reviews: Providing feedback to students can be time-consuming. Before large projects or papers are due, set aside time for students to break into small groups or partners to review each other’s work. Provide them with a rubric explaining how the project or paper will be graded and ask students to analyze each others’ work. Dr. Stacey Combes from the University of California, Davis finds that the best way for students to learn is when they are challenged to explain a concept to a peer. Dr. Combes encourages students to discuss their work and explain to one another what they’ve learned from completing their assignment and has noticed a better overall understanding from her students.

Implementing all these tips in a single semester would be a challenge, but even testing out one new time management method can lead to a more stress-free semester and free up time to focus on learning objectives and student outcomes. Interesting in achieving even more learning objectives while saving time? Learn how professors such as Dr. Brandon Chicotsky of Johns Hopkins University incorporated The Packback Method to increase student engagement in under 15 minutes per week.

Want to see a live Packback community and learn how you can increase student engagement and critical thinking in your course?