Faculty Pathologies I: Inadequate Administrative Processes

Continuing on the theme of what I’ve learned in the last year of building my own business doing dissertation and academic coaching and freelance editing, at the invitation of the blog owner, Chad, I’m back for a two-part series on common problems that I’ve seen working with faculty on their research, project, and time management. This is part 1 of 2.

Faculty usually begin their careers trained to do one thing: research. If they’re lucky, they’ve been trained to teach, at least a little bit, too. But no one ever begins their career trained in administration and management. Those are, theoretically, on-the-job skills that you pick up on the way. As a result, most faculty have vastly underdeveloped systems for managing administrative processes: committee work, cycles of paperwork like monthly meeting agendas, required paperwork for grants and other funding, and the most dreaded one of all – email.

For most of us, email becomes the default way of managing our committee work, paperwork, and other not-research-but-still-necessary-business. Which means, then, that a system to manage our email becomes a necessity. That system needs to comprise two parts: incoming management, and archiving management.

Managing incoming email needs to be something that you do deliberately, not something done haphazardly. I recommend setting aside 2-3 times per day to process your inbox. Anything that can be answered in 3 sentences or less gets a response; the rest get deleted, archived immediately if appropriate, or placed in a specific folder or given a tag/flag indicating that follow-up is required. Then, once a day, have a dedicated time for churning through the things that require more detailed follow-up. Set a designated amount of time for this and stick to it. That doesn’t mean you can’t tackle one or two semi-quick ones if you have 10 minutes between meetings, but it does mean that email becomes a designated, deliberate task, rather than an interstitial one.

The second part of email management is archiving. The goal is to keep your inbox containing only those things that are active: ongoing conversations, tasks you’re working on, things you need to follow up on. Everything else that’s closed should be either deleted or archived into a system of folders. Most of us are reasonably good at this, but it’s a good idea to make part of your Friday shutdown routine a quick cleanout of the inbox to archive anything that’s been completed that week that hasn’t already been put away so that you can start the week with an empty inbox.

These and other skills are things I can help you develop through academic coaching. If you’re interested in academic coaching, the summer is a great time to start. It gives you a chance to develop and solidify new or better habits before the chaos of term time arrives. Feel free to take a look around my website at http://www.leannecpowner.com/coaching/  and if you’re interested, drop me an email at Leanne@leannecpowner.com . The initial consultation is free. You can also follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LeanneCPowner/ or Twitter @LeanneCPowner for free daily writing tips.