If you’ve chosen a career path in academia you may well feel that there is no such thing as a working week, and it’s more of a way of life. With a short search in Google you will be able to find survey results (from the Nature Journal, Higher Ed, Times Higher Education) going back to 2012 which all say that over 50% of survey participants work upwards of 60 hours per week. Most people feel that this is part of life in academia, or is it a question of managing your time more efficiently and being more focused and productive within 40 hours?
The positive side of academic life is the flexibility in how you use your time, and this can be both a blessing and a curse. It is tempting to procrastinate or take longer on certain less desirable tasks, and this applies whether you work in academia or industry. How you manage your time is often thought of as being key to reducing the number of hours spent working. Is this a myth or is it a fact? Can changing the way you manage your time make you more productive than you are now? Much depends on the stage your career has reached, as well as other variables.
Life is not consistent and there will be times when either your working or personal life will require more attention. Pushing yourself past the fatigue may mean that the quality of your work suffers. But is your time really your own? There are external variables in addition to your area of research (science or humanities). These include your ratio of research to teaching as well as class sizes and grading techniques, the type of institution you work at, the committee workload, and the degree to which you are expected to secure funding and get published. Your career stage also affects how much true autonomy you have in managing your time. But whether you are established academic in a research led institution or a newly qualified postdoc looking for your next role, managing your time to be more productive is something we all have to work on all the time.
One technique mentioned regularly by many academic bloggers writing about time management is Pomodoro. Pomodoro is often also suggested as a way to accomplish focused writing time. You can learn more about the Pomodoro timed focus approach here. We have also linked to many resources offering tools and tips for time management in academia and you can find these links at the end of this article.
It is also worth thinking through what you consider to be work, and make sure that you include the more administrative tasks in your working time. Reading in your research area is an essential task and one that perhaps does not always ‘feel’ as much like work as, for example, departmental committees and course planning. When you are trying to balance your workload this might be something that needs its own, separate time allocation.
With this in mind, your first act to reduce the amount of hours you are working is to be intentional about what you are doing and review how you are currently spending your time. You should then reflect on your priorities, both in your career and your personal life, as these impact each other.
We all have the same number of hours in any given day and how we spend that time is affected not just by external expectations but also by personal working styles. You do have autonomy to decide what your personal priorities are. This might mean that at the start of your academic career your personal life will need to flex to allow for career growth. Then at other times, such as a death in the family, it may be that your career progression will have to take a back seat for a while.
Here are our popular time management posts that include tips and tools:
Read more on techniques and reflections from other academics about how they manage their own time:-
Balancing teaching and research
Surveys done on working hours in academia:-