“I did it!” These are the words that seem to spring out of each PA student’s mouth every August during commencement at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
As a PA educator, there’s nothing more rewarding than hearing my students say those words. With that said, when you’re in academic medicine, the daily “to do” list is never-ending. Lecture preparation, peer-review article submissions, committee obligations, and student advising make for a day full of surprises.
There is no “one-size-fits all” when it comes to organization. Find a system that works for you and don’t hesitate to make changes when needed. Staying organized not only increases your personal success as an educator, but increases your students’ success as well.
Time management depends on organization. Implement these tips to keep organized, and next year you’ll be saying, “I did it!” right along with your PA students.
1. Make Lists
As straightforward as this may sound, we often forget items we need to take care of if they are not written down. Our minds run away with new ideas or tasks, overshadowing our thoughts on the current task at hand. Therefore, make a list in order of importance to keep everything in its place.
It’s also a good idea to create a short-term list, including daily and weekly goals, along with a long-term list of semester and year-long goals. Keep in mind that your lists should be manageable and workable. As you complete your tasks, mark them off — the visual alone will give you a sense of completion. Once you have marked enough items off the list, it is time to make a new list. What a feeling of accomplishment!
2. Stay Consistent
Keep it simple! Completing tasks in a consistent manner allows you to accomplish the chore more efficiently. Why? Because the more familiar you are with the process of completing a task, the less time you will spend on it. For example, if your schedule permits, try grading assignments on the same day each week. This is especially important for online instruction, which can quickly get away from you.
3. Realistic Expectations
Learn to say, “No.” Impossible, right? It doesn’t have to be. If done in the appropriate way, saying no to a new volunteer opportunity or new committee commitment enables you to prioritize your current responsibilities.
When the time is right, you can add more obligations to your plate. In academic medicine, our plates fill up quickly — before we realize we’re already full. Therefore, mastering a few items permits a higher outcome, rather than spreading yourself too thin attempting to finish too many tasks.
4. Don’t Procrastinate
We often set aside the very items we are dreading to tackle, but this only leads to more angst by the end of the week. I find I am more productive when the tasks I find less enjoyable are completed early in the week. This leaves me with the easier tasks for the remainder of the week when I may be more tired.
5. Finish One Project Before Starting Another
Although multi-tasking is essential in education, starting too many major projects at the same time, rather than completing one before tackling the next, can become overwhelming. For example, commit to only one peer-reviewed publication at a time and complete the task efficiently.
6. Folders, Folders, Folders
Everything has its place, and there’s a place for everything! Papers can pile up quickly on your desk, so keep a stack of new folders nearby to stay organized. File away and lock up items such as test scores and exams, but keep items you need on a daily basis, such as schedules, nearby for easy access.
It’s always a good idea to go through folders at the conclusion of the semester and purge unnecessary papers, filing away folders not needed until the next year. This task may seem daunting at first but becomes easier with habit. In addition to folders for course work, I recommend making folders labeled: To Do, To Read, and To File. This way, even those pesky papers that don’t seem to fit in will have a place.
Additionally, tidy up your desk before leaving the office every day. You’ll leave the office feeling complete and arrive in the morning ready to take on the day.
7. Two Heads Are Better than One
When I was a new faculty member, I quickly realized consulting with others not only kept me organized, but allowed me to complete my tasks more efficiently. Identify the strengths of other faculty members and collaborate when needed.
Regardless of whether you are an Outlook person or prefer a paper calendar in your hands, it is a must to view your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. Whatever your choice of calendar, make sure it is accurate and updated. For PA educators, this is especially important for annual workload documents or curriculum vitae.
9. Escaping Email Jail
EMAILS! The ultimate necessary, but lingering, enemy! Email inboxes fill up quickly, so you must have a plan of attack. To stay on top of messages, delete unnecessary items immediately and file important emails monthly. Create archive folders for specific items and generic folders, such as “General July 2014 – July 2015,” for anything else. This will allow you to quickly organize and archive emails, freeing up your inbox.
10. Plan Ahead
Planning is essential to staying organized during the semester. Print all roster sheets and other assignments early in the semester. Complete your blackboard assignment links and grading columns, including your weighted column, early on. Before the semester begins, have a printed, paper copy of your syllabus and schedule placed on your desk in a folder labeled with the course name and number. The key to planning ahead is staying ahead. Keep track throughout the semester and plan to have all materials and lectures completed weeks ahead of time.
See…. I knew you could do it!