How To Do It All: Managing your Life and Time as an Instructor

Women in Higher Education
Mental HealthOnline Learning
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Janet Mizrahi is a continuing lecturer of professional writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is also an author at BizCommBuzz.

For instructors, time management is critical. We all know professors who are in a constant state of stress. Whether they’re behind with grading, scurrying to finish a proposal or an article or up until 2 a.m. preparing a lecture for the next day’s class, these instructors seem to be playing a never-ending game of catch-up.

It’s exhausting, which is why I’m happy to say I’m not one of them.

Before you think I’m humble-bragging, let me explain. My ability to keep my life in balance starts with an innate gift for organization, which has been evident since I was eight, when I created my own children’s library (complete with a card catalog and check-out system!).

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about my methods; I’ve outlined below the most important and guiding time-management principles for instructors that I return to regularly.

Avoid Procrastination

It’s no secret that procrastination leads to anxiety. So, I stay on top of what I must do for work so I can relax later; one of the ways I do this is to keep crunch times to a minimum. I finish planning next semester’s syllabus during lull times in the current term so I can enjoy the break between terms.

I grade and return papers or homework within one week, so I don’t have them hanging over me like a black cloud. I try to stagger due dates in my classes, so I don’t face high stacks of papers to grade—the biggest buzz killer I know.

While procrastination is tempting, it’s the death knell to finding balance as a college professor. So, take Nike’s advice and just do it. The due date of that conference proposal is not a state secret—you know when it must be finished.

Likewise, feeling tied in knots because you have to teach and finish committee work as soon as possible is completely avoidable. I’ve learned that when I get rid of the work I’d rather postpone, I can take a yoga class (or do a load of laundry) with a free mind.

Work Strategically

Working strategically means streamlining. Take your most onerous tasks and figure out the best way to get through them as efficiently as possible. I have a colleague who changes her courses every single term and has been doing so for 25 years. This unnecessary and inefficient make-work leads to feeling pressure and not having time to enjoy life.

If you find yourself not knowing where to start, remember A-B-C. Make a list of everything that needs to be done, whether for work or your day-to-day life. Assign an A to those tasks that must be finished immediately to avoid a dire outcome. Label responsibilities that can wait a bit with a B. And C items can be put off until they become a B or an A.

Set Limits

Instructors are under pressure to build a career and often do so by volunteering for extra work, staying longer than posted office hours to accommodate students or attending a conference they really don’t have time for.

But our jobs too easily eat into family time, fun time and down time, which is why it’s important to set limits. I no longer write letters of recommendation for students I can’t remember or whom I cannot wholeheartedly support. I also only redo assignments that are not working.

Want to read up on other peer-tested teaching approaches? Explore additional Today’s Learner content, insights, interviews and more.