Thursday, March 6, 2014

Time Management Skills in the World of Academia

Contributed by Taya Norlander, Graduate Assistant and Ellie Dailey, Tech Fellow for the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Sometimes it seems that in the academic world, more than others, time never stops.  In fact, there are times when it seems that the clock ticks just a little bit faster in the world of academia.  That, however, is not the case.  No matter what we do, there are still only 24 hours.  Unfortunately, of those 24, only 8 of them, give or take, are spent at work.   That said, time management is one very important thread that helps sew our professional lives together.  Below are 5 ways that you can facilitate effective time management skills into your professional life:

·  Figure out which aspects of your day you can control: It is highly likely that much of your day is planned for you before you even walk into your office. You have meetings, appointments, and tasks that you must do whether you want to or not.  To help determine which aspects of your day you can control, spend some time observing and reflecting on where you spend your time.  Then, think critically about how you are using your time inefficiently.  Are there certain times of the day where you have free-time but you find you are not being proactive about getting things done?  You have control over that time. Cut down on those passive minutes. 

·   Make a to-do list each day: This is not simply writing out all the things you have to complete.  You should make a to-do list(s) that is prioritized.  Tasks that have a due date need to be at the top of the list; the closer the due date, the closer it is to the top.  Tasks that do not have a specific due date will find their home at the bottom of the list.

·  Schedule solid blocks for each day: You already created your to do list so you already know what you have to do.  Now, re-write your schedule, including the time allotments that you have indicated for each task.  To help the schedule seem more ‘concrete’, it may help you to set alarms on your computer.  The alarms will chime when you are ‘finished’ working on that task then it is time to move on to the next thing on your list.

·  Work smarter not harder: Working really hard on one project means that all of the other projects on your list of things to do are not receiving all of the attention they might need.  Working smarter, not harder is a skill that will seemingly fall into place as you gain control of your daily tasks and your prioritized to do list(s).

·  Delegate tasks: Do you have a graduate assistant or office assistant that can help complete some of the more simple tasks that come up routinely?  If so, make that part of their daily or weekly routines to help free some of your time.  They are paid to help you, and given explicit instructions, a timeline, and guidance, they are more than capable of helping you get things done.    

 The image seen below is of a time management matrix (Mind Tools, 2014).  As you work through your 'to-do's' classify each item on the list in terms of importance and urgency.  Important activities have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals.  Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are often associated with the achievement of someone else's goals.  Urgent activities are often the ones we concentrate on; they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.
Once you have identified and labeled each item on your to-do list, start at the top with the items that are urgent and important and work towards the items at the bottom of the list that are urgent and not important.  

Mastering time management skills takes time and effort.  Time management is about control, if you let time control you, rather than you controlling time, you will never accomplish everything you need to accomplish.  Learning to work efficiently and effectively at the same time is key to doing all you can do in the time delegated to your work life. The number of hours in the day is not changing.  What is changing is how you use those hours. 


Concordia University. (2014). 5 Time management tips for teachers. Retrieved from:

Mind Tools, ltd. (2014). The urgent/important matrix. Retrieved from:

Scholastic (2014). Time management strategies: how to delegate tasks to increase daily teaching time for an efficient classroom. Retrieved from

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