Personal Reflection on Time Management: Why I Am a Bad Role Model.

Do any of you remember that scene from “Pretty Woman”, when Richard Gere’s character Edward asks his ex-girlfriend Susan if she had spent more time talking to his secretary than to him? Her reply was, simply, “she was one of my bridesmaids”. Any time in a relationship of any kind that you don’t meet the needs of the people in the relationship, it’s going to cause problems. (Not all problems have to end with you scaling a ladder to patch up your relationship with Julia Roberts but there will be problems.) Now, before anyone is wondering (or my friends are worried), my marriage is still great, I’m talking about my professional relationship with my students.

Ah, the old Time == Money equivalence, via an article on portfoliosc.blogspot.sg

While I’ve been critical of myself and my teaching this semester, where I’ve done a good job but not necessarily excelled across the board, I haven’t identified one of the greatest problems that has crept in – no-one in their right mind should be emulating what I laughingly refer to as my work ethic, time commitment or current pursuit of success. Right now, I am not a good role model for students. While I am still ethical, professional, knowledgable and I’m apparently doing a good job, I cannot present myself as a role model to my students because I am losing the time that I need to seize new opportunities, and to allow for the unrushed catch-up time with other people that is vital to doing a job such as mine and doing it well. At the moment, any student who comes to see me does so knowing that I will have 15-30 minutes, tops, and that I will then have to rush off, elsewhere, to go and do something else. It doesn’t matter when they come to see me – if I’m in at 7:30am it’s because the day is starting at 8. If I’m still there at 7pm at night it’s because I have to be in order to meet requirements for that day or the next. Let me give you an example from my lectures.

My Student Experience of Learning and Teaching results have come in and there have been a lot of warm and rewarding comments from my students, among a pleasing overall rating. But one of my students hit the nail on the head. “[Nick] always seems to have a lot to say and constantly looks at his watch. (I assume that it’s to keep within time constraints) the problem is that he feels like he’s rushing.”

Ouch. That’s far too true and, while only one student noted it, you bet every other student was watching me use my watch to check my time progress through a busy, informative but ultimately time constrained lecture and at least some of them thought “Hmm, I have a question but I don’t want to bother him.”

It’s my job to be bothered! It’s my job to answer questions! Right now, it’s pretty obvious that students are getting the vibe that I’m a good lecturer, I care about them, I’m working well to give them the right knowledge and they love the course that I built… but… they don’t want to bother me because I’m too busy. Because I look too busy.

Every student who comes to see does so in the one of the windows that I have in my day, often between meetings, my meetings back up on each other with monotonous regularity and, looking at my calendar for last, week, the total amount of time that was uncommitted prior to the week starting was…

75 minutes.

Including the fact that Tuesday started at 7:30am and went until 6:15pm.

Please believe me when I say that I’m not boasting – I’m not proud of this, I think it’s the sign of poor scheduling and workaholism. This should be read as what it is, a sign that I have let my responsibilities pile up in a way that means that I am running the risk of becoming a stereotypically “grumpy old Professor”, who is too busy to see students.

So when you read all of this stuff about Time Banking and think “Well, I guess I can see some of his point – for assignments…” I’m trying to work out how I can take the primary goal of time banking – to make people think about their time commitments in a way that allows them to approximate a manageable uniformity of effort across time to achieve good results – and to work out how I can think about my own time in the same way. How do I adjust my boundaries in time and renegotiate while providing my own oracle and incentives for change? If I can crack that, then solving the student problem should have been made much easier.

How do I become the kind of person that I would want my students to be? Right now, it requires me to think about my commitments and my time, to treat my time as a scarce and precious commodity, but in a way that allows me to do all of the things I need to do in my job and all of the things that I love to do in my job, yet still have the time to sit around, grab a slow coffee, make a lunch booking with someone with less than a month’s notice and to get my breathing room back.

I have one of the best jobs in the world but the way I’m doing it is probably unsustainable and it’s not really in the spirit of the job that I want to do. It’s more than just me, too. I need to be seen to be approachable and to do that I have to actually be approachable, which means finding a way that makes me worthy of being a good overall role model again.


2 Comments on “Personal Reflection on Time Management: Why I Am a Bad Role Model.”

  1. Keith Cohen says:

    This is a universal problem and not specific to Higher Education. Having a schedule full of fixed appointments is a problem if you are managing others or are subject to schedule interruption (by higher management, disasters, personal tasks or any similar interrupt).

    Needing time to be held aside for meetings with students is fairly similar to unplanned management activities with subordinates in a business environment.

    I’d suggest scheduling unallocated hours during the day for tasks of opportunity, fixed hours during your personal peak period for deadlined tasks as well as collaborative work or meetings.

    It’s still possible to have high overall efficiency, but it requires that a proportion of tasks are not allocated hard completion dates, so they can fill any unused opportunity periods.

    This requires discipline in saying ‘no’ to new hard-deadline tasks (or duck-shoving) when your calendar approaches its soft-limit – and knowing (and accepting) what tasks can be allowed to be soft tasks.

    For juggling sufficiently complex time commitments against varying deadlines, use of project management software often becomes necessary in order to guarantee you wont get wedged by hard deadlines or overallocated to soft tasks..

    YMMV.

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