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Finding the Time to Teach Part 1 – Finding Balance

Posted by on Friday, February 18, 2011 in News.

Finding the Time to Teach Part 1 – Finding Balance is the first of a series of posts written by CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow, Lily Claiborne. These blog posts are intended to share ideas for prioritizing, planning, working efficiently, and avoiding procrastination – resulting in a more balanced, successful life in academia.

There are many dimensions to the role of the graduate student TA: student, teacher, researcher, person.  The people and pressures surrounding each role often seem oblivious to the existence of the others and demand priority, which often leaves little time for refinement of your teaching skills.  In my recent GradSTEP workshop on “Finding the Time to Teach”, we started by discussing strategies for striking the right balance between these roles in order to reach your academic goals, develop as a teacher, and keep your sanity.

There are four main steps in managing your time well as an overcommitted graduate student and TA:

  1. Prioritize
  2. Plan
  3. Work Efficiently
  4. Avoid Procrastination

This blog is the first of several that will focus on how to achieve these four items, resulting in a more balanced, successful life in academia.


If you don’t spend some time thinking deliberately about what your priorities are, forces around you (deadlines, students, peers, advisor, professors) will take control of your time and you may end up not meeting your personal and academic needs.

As an exercise, list the top ten things that you have to do – these should include home, school, and personal activities, and should reflect the things that fill your days (teaching, research, family, social engagements, exercise, hobbies, travel, writing, chores, etc.)  Now, rank them in order from one (most important to you) to ten (least important).  Now, look at numbers nine and ten.  If you HAD to give up one of these two things, which would it be?  Move that item to the lower slot.  Now work your way up the list, moving down the items you’d give up and moving up the items you’d keep.  Looking at your priorities from this perspective often results in a list that is closer to your true values.

In 2007, Dr. Paul Hoskin co-led a session on “balancing your life” for the workshop on Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences. In preparation for the workshop, he created this diagram to help participants clarify their priorities.

Plan according to your priorities!!

Now that you know what is most important to you, plan your time accordingly.  Of course, every day may not afford you the luxury of filling your time with your highest priority activities (deadlines, students, etc. may take precedence on any given day), but across weeks and months, your time spent should match the priorities list you’ve made.  If it doesn’t, you need to make some more rigid plans and commitments that will help you achieve the balance that is appropriate for you.  This will result in a more whole person who will be more successful with research and teaching activities, even if they aren’t items number one and two on your priority list.

The following articles focus on finding balance in academia:

Coming next: Finding the Time to Teach Part 2 – Time Management

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