As we get ready to start another academic year, I want to pull the curtain back and share how I plan my schedule each week. I may go through this exercise several times over the course of the year. I take time to think through my weekly schedule and how I want to allocate my time. I have found that I can be more productive with a weekly schedule template that allows flexibility, yet doesn’t force me to reinvent the wheel every week.
Setting a weekly schedule template can prove to be a powerful productivity tool.
As a faculty member, I have a great deal of flexibility in how I schedule my time. There are a few meetings that I have to do each week (such as class), but otherwise I largely set aside my time.
This freedom can be empowering, yet can also be debilitating.
There is always more class prep to be done, another article to write, or an email to send.
When does your day start? When does it end? How are you going to allocate your effort within those start and stop times?
These are important questions that you must answer ahead of time. Much of the feelings of overwhelm and overwork stem from not answering these questions and sticking to our answers.
To prepare your weekly schedule template, ask yourself the following questions.
1. What time will your day start and end? You’ll see that I generally begin my days at 9 am and end at 5 pm. There is some variation such as when I teach on Monday evenings or leave at 4 pm on Fridays, but I have a general start/stop time. This helps me make sure that I balance work and personal time.
2. Total the number of hours you will work each week. In my case, I have scheduled 38 working hours from Monday-Friday. This should be enough for me to finish what I need to do this week. I will rarely work outside of these hours. I will total probably another two hours on the weekend planning my next week or doing a few small projects early in the morning. This gives me a 40 hour work week. Many faculty report spending upwards of 60 hours per week according to a study from researchers at Boise State. While I doubt the accuracy of these findings, I think we can all agree that working 60 hours a week is unhealthy, unneeded, and unproductive. You have to set boundaries for yourself and stick with them to avoid working this much. Your students, colleagues, and dean won’t tell you to work less. You have to protect you.
3. Determine your major work areas and what percentage of time to allocate to each area. I am a believer in separating your time by major work areas or responsibilities. For those familiar with the Getting Things Done (GTD) method, this is often called context. For me, I have major areas for teaching, research, service, and CTE (administration). Most people will have 4-6 major areas of their job. Next, determine what percentage of your time you will allocate to each area. Will you spend 25% on teaching or 50%? Obviously, this will vary based on your course load, needed prep time, and institution. How much time for research/writing? Each person’s allotment will be slightly different. The advantage of setting this percentage before the semester begins is that you can assure you’re spending time on your most important areas. This strategy can help avoid the urgent and not important from taking over your schedule. If you’re on the tenure track, this is critical!
4. Calculate the number of hours to spend on each work area or responsibility. Simply multiply the hours by your percentage allocations for each work area. You may have to tweak a little to get round numbers, but don’t substantially change the hours for each area. If you’ve never done this exercise before, you may be shocked at the amount of time in some categories. Remember, you set the percentages for a reason. If you’re surprised, it is likely because you haven’t been spending your time this way. Ask yourself why not? I have a hunch that it is because you’ve been spending too much time on areas that you shouldn’t be and neglecting your most important work. I know that was true for me particularly early in my career.
5. Schedule your hours for each area within the start and stop times previously decided. There will be a temptation at this stage to make your days longer. Resist this! You don’t need to work more. You need to trust your system and schedule the hours in the way you’ve determined. Think about your energy level. Think about set meetings that you need to work around. In my schedule, I have writing early every morning except Tuesdays. Why you ask? I teach late on Monday nights. I know that I won’t be ready to dive into writing so I save that for the afternoon. Consider your various activities and schedule to maximize your potential for success. I could schedule writing for Tuesday morning, but I’m not likely to spend that time productively. Instead, I’ve scheduled my CTE administrative time which will include more emails or meetings that I can do with lower mental energy. I also build in lunch time every day to give myself a break. It may seem counterproductive, but I know taking a break will leave me refreshed for my afternoon projects.
I truly believe you can be more productive with a weekly schedule template. It is important to remember the purpose of a template: to serve as a guide or model. I daresay that I may not have a single week that goes exactly like my template. However, this gives me something to work from as I schedule my week. It also helps as I schedule meetings several weeks ahead of time to keep these meetings into reasonable blocks of time.
To create this template, I spend about two hours working through this process. It would take me far longer to reinvent the wheel each week. Also, I would be much more likely to start allocating time based on urgency or inertia rather than strategically thinking through how I spend my time. Be proactive and plan your weekly schedule template now to set yourself up for a successful semester!