In a post for University Affairs Careers Cafe titled Time Management is Not Primarly A Technical Problem, republished here, I talked about how standards and priorities can complicate what seems like a simple task of deciding how long something is going to take and then allocating time to do it. I was talking to a client a few days later and realized that it’s even more complicated than that.
“When did I become the kind of person who scheduled time to read?”
I have struggled with this myself. I resist setting up systems for managing my tasks and time not because they are difficult or complicated or unsuited to the type of work I do. No, I resist because I am drawn to an identity that involves being flexible, not working all the time, and not being scheduled.
Of course when I don’t schedule things and when I don’t have systems, not only do I forget about stuff, but I can also spend a lot of time either figuring out what to do next or doing things that sort of look like work but really aren’t. Hey, I’m sitting at the computer and my fingers are moving on the keyboard, that must be work, right?
If you were attracted to academia by the autonomy it affords, then scheduling and task systems might feel at odds with that quality of autonomy. As you get busier, and especially as you take on leadership roles, you may also find that seemingly mundane things like task and time management trigger all kinds of identity resistance.
Identity is also implicated in standards and priorities
Have you ever felt that limiting the amount of time you spend on teaching suggests that you are not committed to being a good teacher? Or that turning down that request to serve on the committee makes you less collegial? Your identity as “someone who cares about students” or “a good colleague” can affect how you manage the time you spend on teaching and service.
This can also work in negative ways. We all have an idea of that academic you don’t want to be. You may associate a specific action with that identity you don’t want.
It’s harder than it looks
This is why it’s hard to find time for research, to get your email under control, and to take time on the weekends to do things that have nothing to do with your work.
It’s not you.
You are a pretty normal person trying to juggle a complex workload in a high pressure environment. Your identity is intimately connected to your work even though you are not just your work.
Hard, but not impossible
The first thing to do is notice. Do I think that doing things this way will make me a different person?
Then you can check in more detail:
- Is this true?
- Is it (theoretically) possible to have autonomy and schedule things?
- Is this the best thing I can do to be a ___________?
If you are running into a negative identity that you don’t want to assume, you could list all the things that make that negative image negative and then ask yourself whether doing this one thing is enough or if you would have to do lots of things on the list. That might go with a version of the “Is it (theoretically) possible …” question.
Edited May 31, 2016.