NESI Blog: Time management

Time management for a successful and sustainable career in academia

By Associate Professor Dori Pekmezi, University of Alabama at Birmingham

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Careful planning and time management are key to meeting benchmarks for academic success.

A good place to start is by setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) short and long term career goals. Break down the tasks required to reach these goals and make a comprehensive to-do list. Review it often when considering taking on new projects/assignments. Staring at all the other deadlines and goals you might not meet if you say yes will help you feel more confident saying no.

Give yourself daily assignments towards your bigger goals. Carefully prioritize along the way, using asterisks to designate time-sensitive, high reward tasks on your to do list. Delegate when/if possible and try to avoid procrastination traps, like letting the “perfect” get in the way of the “submitted.”  Designate a certain amount of time for a task, set a timer, and try to stick to it.

For optimal productivity and creativity, consider single tasking. Multi-tasking requires a lot of switching back and forth and can be draining. Allow yourself the luxury of focusing on one task at a time without distraction. Turn off the phone and outlook. Put a sign on the office door.  You may find you get more done with less stress this way.

Finally, reward yourself for meeting goals and celebrate all the small victories along the way, even if it is just a quick coffee with a co-worker.  An academic career is a marathon, not a sprint! So take good care of yourself along the way.

Action points:

  • set SMART short and long term career goals
  • keep a to do list and make daily progress towards these goals
  • try single tasking and pacing yourself to avoid burn out and stress