Ask Andy

Ask Andy: Time Management

"Clock" by Raymond Bucko:

If there’s one thing that we understand over here at Ask Andy, it’s that all grad students have multiple responsibilities to simultaneously juggle and manage. From fellowship requirements, to our own research, writing grants and securing funding, we spend our days traveling to many physical locations and wearing all kinds of hats. Today we answer two queries about balancing and organizing our professional lives.

Hi Ask Andy! I’m teaching three classes across two campuses and finishing coursework at the GC while also applying for additional funding so that in the future I’ll have more time to do my research. When I marked off the hours on my calendar, it looked like I’d have plenty of time, but that’s not how it’s going. I’m overwhelmed and feel like I’m not prepping enough for the classes I’m teaching, not reading enough for the classes I’m taking, and just generally not managing the day well. Please help! —So Exhausted.

Oh, So Exhausted, you’ve truly hit the grind of grad school. I can’t tell you how many questions we field about how to manage time in grad school, and the feelings of frustration when you just cannot seem to get it together. In your case, it seems like you did a good job of calculating the hours you would spend in class, but may not have accurately accounted for work required outside of class. Did you factor in enough time to prep and plan the classes you teach? What about for travel between campuses? At this point in the semester, you might need to re-assess the time you’re devoting to each component, and devise a strategy to get through the rest of the semester. Start by thinking about whether there’s overlap across classes. Can any research or writing do double-duty for you?  Can you reduce time spent on grading—for instance, by using class time to have students’ peer review each other’s work, so that it’s been further revised before it reaches you?

One pro-tip: create a weekly schedule for yourself and stick with it. As a very wise person once said: “packing takes as long as you have to pack,” and the same might be said for class prep. Determine each day what must happen during that time, and make that happen before anything else. Adhering to the schedule you’ve created will force you to make strategic choices about what reading you can (and can’t) do, and may clarify how much prep is actually necessary, before the returns start to diminish. And let go of the guilt that you’re not always doing your best: as former VP contributor and GC student Erin Spampinato wisely wrote, sometimes good enough is good enough.

Lastly, recognize this semester as a “teachable moment” and use it to gauge  how much to take on next semester. Do your best to consolidate your time at different institutions so you spend as little time traveling as possible. If you need to teach more than one class for financial reasons, ask for multiple sections of the same course to reduce prep. Re-evaluate any assignments or activities that proved especially labor-intensive. Don’t forget to factor in the small tasks that eat away at our weeks: responding to student emails, scanning PDFs, tracking down library books for your research projects. Recognizing and being realistic about the many demands on your time will help give you a clearer idea of what you can feasibly do in a semester without feeling constantly burned out.

Dear Andy, I’m not new to teaching, but this is the first semester I’m teaching across multiple campuses and institutions. I’m having a really difficult time managing the systems across different campuses and organizing all my prep for the class and student work. For example, I have to use CUNYFirst for some classes, and another attendance and grading platform at a different campus. I have to check both work emails. Plus, it seems like my papers and materials are never where I need to be when I need them. Despite trying, it seems like I can never have my act together. Any suggestions?  —Here, there, everywhere

Hi Here, there, everywhere! Perhaps we cross paths in our journeys from one CUNY campus to the next, on a delayed subway line, both looking at our phones and hoping we’ll make it to our next class on time, and that we have the right set of papers in our bag. Keeping track of different rules, logins, materials, learning management systems, etc, is one of the hardest parts of the CUNY adjunct experience. One strategy:  don’t try to remember everything; instead, keep notes. When you finish a class, take a few minutes to jot down what do you need to do before the next one. In a centralized place, make a list of key phone numbers for each campus (main office, IT Support, Campus Security) as well as your room numbers (next time we meet on the train, let me tell you the story of a rainy Week 11 when I completely forgot in what room my class met). Depending on your campus, you might be able to forward institutional e-mail directly to a different address, eliminating the need to check 30 different inboxes. If not, set aside a specific time of day when you will check each one (perhaps during your office hour), and let your students know that you check and respond to  email once/day. If there’s another address you prefer, ask your students to write you there.

Now, let’s chat about carting around a whole library and office supply store in your bag. It’s no good. How do you feel about commenting on student work online? If students submit assignments electronically, you are just a wifi connection away from grading anywhere and at any length you desire. If you prefer hard copies, think about trying to mark assignments while on that specific campus. Most campuses have a shelf or a file cabinet drawer reserved for adjuncts. Use it wisely. If you’ve assigned a textbook that doubles as a dumbbell, consider getting a second copy (as an instructor, you can often get a desk copy for free) and keep one at home and one in your office, or, if you’re worried about translating notes from one to the other, think about making photocopies of your readings so that you don’t have to carry the entire semester around each week. Our lives as CUNY adjuncts and students do require us to be here, there, and everywhere all the time, but hopefully these strategies can help lessen the physical and mental burdens of occupying these many spaces!

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