Choices, systems & a little self-kindness
It’s often my privilege as the SAS careers consultant, to talk to SAS students about time management issues, such as how to maintain the momentum of your academic work in the pandemic, or how to carve out some more time for some longer term career development. For busy students or busy professionals, there’s never enough time so this article explores 3 approaches that might help you feel more in control of your time: prioritisation, organisation, and balance.
Step 1: Prioritise your time.
The core of good time management is the allocation of your focused attention to the right tasks at the right time. We all have too many tasks to fit into the time available. How do you pick the activities that will have the most impact and profile and therefore contribute to the development of your academic work or your career? These questions may help.
What does your academic think is important?
Take some time to clarify what ‘good work’ looks like from your supervisors’ or programme directors’ perspective. Write down an outline of your approach to a particular piece of academic work, such as your dissertation, and ask them for feedback. Study any assessment criteria that are published and map your approach against them. Generally, academic markers are looking for a cogent argument, well-contextualised in the current state of the academic discipline. You cannot know or include all the relevant data. Choose your approach and back it up with evidence and citation.
What aspect of your academic or paid work do you want to become expert in?
You develop your expertise and skills by putting in the hours. So identify an aspect of your current academic or paid work where developing expert status in a skill set or knowledge base will enhance your professional development. Take time to analyse what’s required, polish your skills through research or training, seek out opportunities to practise those skills to become super-competent and then look for ways to promote that expertise. What do you want to be famous for professionally?
Step 2: Getting organised.
Time management expert David Allen in Getting Things Done (2008) advocates the importance of capturing all your work tasks and ideas on a device or paper. Get it all written down. As you collect all your actual and potential commitments, categorise them by priority and estimate how long they will need. Then you can plan out and replan your timelines and your allocation of time. Set up planning conversations with any collaborators (study, work or family). Plans will always change but planning is always essential, and will help you to create the important, career-developing achievements as well to respond to the urgent deadlines and the troubleshooting always required in life.
How are you balancing your focus and your responsiveness?
Most lives have times when you need to concentrate on a big task and other times when you need to be taking a broader view and responding to other’s queries or needs. The hardest challenge is often to find time when you can concentrate on a task without interruption. When are your best time blocks to concentrate on your studies? Many people find that setting a regular “deep work” slot at a personally productive time of day works well. If you can create two or three of those deep focus slots a week, this can significantly increase your strategic progress with your academic and other projects. For more on Deep Work see the book of that name by Cal Newport (2016).
Step 3: Create the balance that is right for you.
How are you balancing the short-term tasks with long-term goals?
One way to quickly check the alignment of your time on task to your strategic goals is to colour code your strategic goals (limit yourself to 3 or 4) and then colour block your time in your electronic diary, according to the strategic goals you are progressing. At a glance, you can see which strategic goals are getting the biggest share of your time, and what adjustments you might like to consider. Some goals you maybe need to be moving on weekly, some less frequently. However, if a strategic goal isn’t getting a chunk of time at least once a month, then you may need to consider whether it is still a long term priority.
How are you balancing your work with your bigger life?
Are you using your skills of time-balancing to create a sustainable working pace and pattern that empowers you to progress in your career development and also to show up for your broader life priorities whether that’s family, creativity, adventure or community? Sometimes it can feel as if there is not enough of you to go round. If you are feeling in a study/work/family time crunch, take time to write down all of what you think you need to do and discuss it with a trusted confidant. This will help you evaluate whether the standards that you are setting yourself are realistic, generate some alternative approaches to the problems you are trying to resolve and identify what conversations you need to have with your academic, your boss or family members to help you ensure that you are spending your time resources on the activities that make the biggest difference to you.
And for quick time management inspiration, check out the Pomodoro technique. I used it to find the time to write this blog post!
And remember that you are always welcome to book 1:1 careers and professional development coaching to discuss your priorities and your time pressures, or any other career and professional development issues via firstname.lastname@example.org