Time Management Tips for Professors

Managing time as an instructor is overwhelming. For many instructors, clocking a 60-hour week is the norm, and discovering where to cut back can be tricky, especially without proper time management habits.

Facilitating classes, mentoring students, conducting research and professional development activities are just the beginning. Then, when midterms or finals come around, any established routine doesn’t last. Suddenly, on top of a packed calendar, a stream of students asking for clarifications and extended deadlines comes through. Then colleagues start seeking advice and required staff meetings pop up. All while trying to make sure grades for hundreds of students get submitted on time.

One way to ease the stress and anxiety that comes with being an instructor is time management. By setting goals, making an actionable plan and implementing technology, instructors can relieve stress and facilitate a more streamlined course. But first, instructors need to understand how they are spending their time and where they can afford to cut back.

Breakdown of an Instructor’s Week

According to an ongoing study out of Boise State University, instructors report working 60-hour weeks on average. This includes 10 hours Monday through Friday and another 10 hours on the weekend. Instructors spend 17 percent of their workweek in meetings and 13 percent of the time reading or responding to emails. These admin tasks account for nearly 30 percent of an instructor’s week and are not directly related to traditional academic duties such as lecturing, service and professional development. Furthermore, instructors spend only 3 percent of the workweek on research, an essential task for tenured instructors. 

Actionable Steps For Improving Time Management

Here are a few time management tips to streamline a packed schedule and free up time.

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. Make sure to focus lectures on key points, course material of high relevance, 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 explore a subject further. Finally, come up with specific assignments and class activities attached to each lecture topic. These assignments and activities will encourage students to think and analyze the material critically.

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 job. 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. You can even create to-do lists with apps such as Trello and Wunderlist.

Take advantage of EdTech tools

There are many EdTech tools available to instructors that help streamline administrative processes. One tool many instructors 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 even provides an online TA to assist professors during the term is Packback. The online discussion platform uses artificial intelligence to moderate posts and offers in-line feedback for students. Dr. Mark Reisinger from Binghamton University says he can 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 time management 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 additional learning objectives while saving time? Learn how instructors such as Dr. Brandon Chicotsky of Johns Hopkins University incorporated The Packback Method to increase student engagement in under 15 minutes per week.

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