I just finished the first week of the semester and I’m already falling into patterns of trying to do things that I know don’t work for me in time management practices. It’s been easy for this to happen because what works for me is not aligned with the common advice that is dispensed about how to manage your time and balance the demands of research, teaching, and service. What I hear most often is to break up tasks and assign them to time slots on your calendar. It sounds great in principle, but I need more flexibility in my work since I prefer to focus on something until it’s at a stopping point or finished instead of just because it’s been an hour. I’m the kind of person that will fixate on what I left behind instead of moving onto the next task.
So what did I do wrong last week? I put tasks on my to do list for each day that assumed I would have time to go back and forth between a bunch of tasks each day. A little bit of time for X then some for Y then some for Z between meetings and other commitments. It worked on Monday when I had no meetings and my other commitments went smoothly. But Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday just became days where I pushed several to do items to the next day and the next day and the next day, never actually getting to them. So the literature review I was supposed to get back to, the comp I was supposed to grade, and the HR trainings I would rather not do (but have to) just never got done.
Part of that was because I had deadline sensitive work to complete. The teaching prep for next week for a new course had to happen and took all the time I had on my teaching days (Tuesday and Thursday). The grant application that has a hard deadline took all my non-meeting time on Friday. The problem was not how I used my time, but how I allocated tasks to my to do list assuming I would switch between tasks to get to them all. I did not stop to take an hour everyday to complete another module on the HR trainings. I did not go through one book from the stack on my desk for the literature review on my research days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). But I still checked things off my to do list. That I was still getting things done reminded me that it was my expectations in the process that were off.
So next week, I’m going to give myself the big blocks of time I need to first finish this grant application and then grade that comp exam before I turn to that literature review. I will remember that I don’t do well juggling between multi-day (or week) tasks in a day. I work best when I focus on one thing at a time and knock it out. If you were also feeling like your time management had been off, assess your time management strategies based on how you work best, not what someone says is a best practice!