Beki Grinter

Immediate versus Important: Academic Time Management and Dependencies

In academia, academic management on October 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm

We all know the advice “don’t let the immediate trump the important.” I think it’s great advice. It reminds me to think about what’s more important and give that priority.

Sometimes I have defined “important” to include “non-work related” activities. Taking time to do some genealogy, or a bit of knitting, or go see a film, etc. That’s really important for mental health and wellness. And sometimes it’s in these moments that I actually come to see my own work more clearly.

Sometimes I have included “about work” related activities. Blogging is one of those. I enjoy blogging, it helps me to think not just about research but also the contexts in which it happens. Blogging is a genre that I still feel relatively new to, and I am just beginning to learn what effect it has on my writing and thinking.

But, recently I’ve been wondering about what happens when the immediate is the important and there’s more important beyond the immediate. It’s nice to believe that there’s a strong conceptual distinction, but it seems to me that being a faculty member is a lesson in times when immediate and important collide.

I am reminded of this when after submitting papers to the CHI conference I am asked to review and involved in some other CHI related activities. These are important, and they have a degree of immediacy. Most crucially, they are things that other people depend on me to get done. People in both my visible and invisible college (my HCI colleagues).

So, I decided to consult some time management books. Perhaps I got the wrong ones, but none of them dealt effectively with dependencies that arise from obligations. Sure, they did say that you should be careful what you commit to, and that is good advice, but they seemed to presume a greater deal of control over those obligations. How do you juggle the needed recommendation letter (set by a different institution) with the keen student in your class who seeks advice and who asks a great question, with a paper review solicited because someone else has had to drop out due to a life circumstance. By responding to situations that are to a degree entirely out of your control, but never-the-less warrant a timely response.

I’m a bit more cynical about the immediate versus the important. I’m a bit more cynical about time management strategies. What I want is one that explains work-life balance, and accounts effectively for unplanned and uncontrollable dependencies that arise because other people have important matters that can not be planned ahead.

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