Management for the Harried Professor
Samuel M. Natale
In the film, "The Hours" Virginia Woolf says "I am
instructed by doctors of my interests". Regrettably, that seems
to be the way of the world today with its ever increasing demands,
requests, and requirements. We are instructed by doctors, lawyers,
colleagues, administration, faculty, family, government and a host
of other individuals and organizations of what we "must"
do to achieve. For many of us who are blessed with a career that
we find fulfilling and noble, we have the additional difficulty
of being asked to choose so very often between good things. That
is to say, we need to make decisions on which of the requests we
have before us to act. So very often, all the requests are important,
helpful and needed. How do we choose? Which do we decide upon? How
do we know we have chosen wisely and prudentially?
All of the above
has become folded into the concept of "Time Management".
In reality, it ought to be called, "Self-Management".
I offer some ideas below that may be of use to some of our readers.
Nothing here is new or particularly insightful but I find it often
useful to "recall" what we already know and reposition
it in our minds.
In some ways,
the task is easier than we want to admit, once we shed our idea
of our self-importance and the urgency of the demands around us.
There are really only two options available to us: change ourselves
or change the world. Since the world doesn't seem to want to be
changed by me or anyone else, I'm left with having to change myself.
It's really all about that.
Since most of
us are of good heart and willingness to help, there is a tendency
to say "Yes" to things and opportunities before we have
a chance to really think them through. Hence, my first cardinal
(and I do mean never) carry your appointment book with you. I
know, it's hard to imagine life without it but if you do not have
the book with you, you must take time to go find it and check
as well as a moment to get sane about what
you really can do
or not do. Once you locate the book, you
can take a broader view of your commitments and see where and
how this request/necessity fits.
is a critical variable. I recently sat on a doctoral dissertation
committee which dealt with how each of us has a learning style
as well as a most productive time of day. This is perhaps a genetic
and developmental issue that determines when each of us is "at
our peak". I'm often amused when the curriculum people at
some of the secondary schools speak of scheduling the "hard
courses" in the early AM which tends to be, ironically, reported
prime time for many teachers, while the current research on adolescents
indicates that the adolescents are far more alert later in the
afternoon when, I suspect, many of the faculty would prefer a
book, a drink and a nap.
It's a wonderful word and few of us use it with the respect it
deserves. To be honest, our inability to say "No" is
more about our desire to be liked and affirmed and to avoid others'
disapproval rather than our desire to be helpful to others. We
are to be helpful to one another and to our common missions but
that means fitting our abilities with the situation at hand and
seeing how and if our skill base meets the criteria of mutual
satisfaction and sensible productivity. The word "No"
does not mean one doesn't care but that simply, for many possible
reasons, the request is not a priority or possible at the moment.
is a critical tool but it needs to be used sensibly and prioritized.
Specifically, too often, our lists become catch alls for everything
that we think we need to do and so at the end of the day we have
completed 18 of the 24 items on our list
none of them time
stamped as important or having primacy over the others. The "To
Do" list is only as good as the prioritizing we do with it.
The A's need to be the urgent/primary things; the B's are good
to get done; the C's
.well, if we don't get those done and
we have prioritized them correctly, will either disappear or come
back in another, more important form.
basically is an important control mechanism. It suggests that
generally speaking we get 80% of our results from 20% of what
Just check your closet and notice that most of us wear
that 20% of favorite clothes 80% of the time. It also seems to
apply to many reports of teachers and executives who indicate
that determining the critical 20% made the difference for them
in time use.
important and frequently mentioned technique but it makes me smile
since in these days of more work with fewer people and since I
am not a millionaire, I find it difficult to find anyone to whom
to delegate. Remember when one delegates a project; we retain
responsibility for its completion. A deadly trap (and one inexperienced
managers often make) is to delegate that which they do not know
how to do. Sure, it seems like it saves time but how can you supervise
accuracy and efficiency when you do not know what is being done?
Individuals need to go up the learning curve first themselves
before they delegate responsibility for something.
is not free time. It may sound trivial but when we name time as
"free" then it is available to other people and projects.
Personal time is about the things one needs and prizes to do individually
from personal care to exercise to reading and meditation.
is a concept taken from Bud Harris book of the same name. He defines
it as "making a commitment to valuing ourselves and our lives
enough to pursue the decision to become people of substance."
The extension of this is that we value ourselves such that what
we do has meaning and significance and our work contributes not
just to more paper pushing but to the common good. The Scholastic
adage "Nemo dat quod non habet", (one cannot give what
they do not have) is pertinent here. We need to have substance
to get the job done intelligently and collegially.
There are few conveniences greater or more intrusive than the
telephone. The issue is control. YOU must control it and not the
other way round. Just because someone calls, does not mean that
one must take the call. Obviously, one needs to return urgent
calls but some people believe that every one of their calls is
urgent. YOU need to make that call, not the caller. In fact, it
is not a bad idea to screen all calls and take only those that
appear or are truly urgent. As for calling back, one ought to
simply group them and return calls either before lunch or before
leaving time when people are more anxious to get on with their
lives than dally on the phone. It actually works believe it or
Knock on the Door.
Again, one does not have to answer every knock on the door. If
you are in the middle of a project, it is more sensible to simply
not answer the door. A "Do Not Disturb" sign can work
on some occasions though there is a tendency for each of us to
think that the sign is not meant for "us". When the
sign is not appropriate, then it is fine to get on with the project
underway and respond at a later time to someone who may need attention.
It also blocks the "time eaters" who roam the halls
looking for something to occupy themselves
it ought not to
unless you are so inclined.
Well, what are
you waiting for? Get out there and start using your time creatively.
It is, after all, the only time we will ever get. Good luck!