How to Stop Time Theft

Planning for classes is ALWAYS time consuming. Every year, I reorganize my course at least nominally, in addition to adjusting my strategies for presenting information. Other lecture topics are relatively static and don’t require much substantive updating; except when relying on screenshots as I do, I am forced to make updates where necessary which can lead a massive time commitment for relatively minor changes to the material. Then there are situations that are rare, but not as rare as I would like, when updates occur to the database itself forcing immediate changes or requiring updates to past lectures. This was exactly the situation I found myself in last week when on Monday I lectured about HeinOnline and harped over and over to my students about verifying they search in the appropriate tab, only to have HeinOnline announce this featured had been changed on that Thursday!

To make sure my students had the most up to date information (but mostly so that I wouldn’t look like a liar) I incorporated the new information into the following week’s lecture. Ultimately it took about 15 minutes to make the screenshots and include them in the PowerPoint. The problem is that as the semester progresses I’m running out of minutes, seemingly taken up by small tasks that pop up continuously. Another example includes meetings; while I’ve written about how great meetings can be, there is no doubt they take up a tremendous amount of our time, seemingly more now than prior to virtual working. Over the course of any given day I have between 2-4 hours of available time to focus on new or pressing work.

This is not to mention the time wasted from in-home distractions which come from the simple fact that I have three children under the age of 6, none of whom respect the sanctity of a home office! Even if these distractions don’t take up much of my available time, it is well established now that small distractions can cause massive slowdown in productivity, sapping the efficiency of my time spent. All of this is to say that over the course of a day, my time gets nickeled and dimed to the point that by the end of it, I feel like I have either simply stayed afloat while accomplishing nothing.

It has taken me quite some time to arrive at this realization (having ignored the myriad self-help articles) but sometimes it is better to just get what you can done rather than try to get everything you need (or want) done. Obviously this is not a good long term strategy, but there are some days that trying too hard can be counterproductive. Similarly, focusing on one task is way better than multitasking: again, multiple experts have expressed this but sometimes experience is the best teacher. There have been so many instance where I have felt pressure to get 10 jobs done that I try to get several done at once, leading me to forget a step or create a substandard product, which then requires extra attention. Finally, planning a head (not one of my fortes) has proven to be incredibly helpful, but you can’t be wedded to your plan: when I run into roadblocks or delays it is often more productive to jettison one thing for the benefit of the others.

While these are only some of the ever evolving strategies I have implemented, I am interested in how others have tried to mitigate time loss in your day to day lives. Feel free to reach out with any and all suggestions to include in a future post.

About Matt Timko

Matt Timko is the Academic Technologies and Outreach Services Librarian at Northern Illinois University’s David C. Shapiro Memorial Law Library. He is also an assistant professor, teaching Basic Legal Research to the first year students. In addition to Matt’s teaching, technology, and outreach roles, he is also a reference librarian, assisting students, faculty, and the public.
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