As taught in the Qualified Tutor live sessions, one of the 7 Ps of Tutoring is Preparedness, and in a much repeated phrase, ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’.
Therefore, time management is so important – I will explore my experience of studying at the University of Oxford alongside maintaining other commitments, and my experience of when I was tutoring, to ensure everybody is preparing to succeed.
Firstly, I found it was a lot of work to manage my time effectively initially, and gradually the task seems to become easier – this is honed through continual self-reflection, and every week I review what I have achieved, if I could have produced more, and where were my least unproductive periods.
Of course there will be times you work better and times when you don’t, and you need to be understanding with yourself about that, but the goal is to maximise productivity and minimise time wasted. This is therefore about conscious management and developing a mindset where you are aware and you are reflective.
Secondly, you need to choose what tools you’re going to use to manage your time – some people use a paper calendar, diary and notepad, and others (like myself) choose more digital based solutions.
The two main tools I use are Trello and Google Calendar – Trello for my to-do-lists where each list is a day, and Google Calendar for all engagements (lectures and tutorials, seminars, discussion events, meetings, speaker events, tutoring sessions, or anything else that is happening).
There are many ways of using these tools and how I use them isn’t the only way – some people for example use Trello like a Kanban Board to track progress, and others use Google Calendar for logging deadlines. It is important to say though that everybody will have their own solution, and over time you will get an impression of what works best for you.
The activities you’re doing may also change how you use these solutions, so be adaptable when needed.
Thirdly, you must have an impression of your goals so that you can efficiently prioritise your tasks – that may be simply which deadline is coming first, or it may be a longer-term aim. It’s about breaking tasks into manageable chunks if they are large so you get started (as cheesy as it is, getting started is the challenge), and it’s about being realistic about what you can do – while I find to-do-lists which contain more tasks than time available in the day encourage me to keep working, others will find them intimidating, so once again it is about gaging what works for you.
Prioritisation applies to the order of cards in Trello for me and my email inbox – my to-do-list is also the emails that are in my Inbox, with emails requiring no action or that have been actioned going into folders to enable searching.
Other people prioritise by using colour (which can be used on Trello, in Google Calendar, or notebooks), and no doubt there are other methods as well; I personally don’t use colour as I find it distracting and I find that colour coding can reduce my productivity. Being able to prioritise and using your tools to enable this is really important.
A great way to keep you on track is to be physically aware of your motivation – so why are you doing this task?
It may be you are doing it simply because it pays the bills, or you could be doing it because you are passionate about supporting the student, or because you want a qualification to enable you to get your dream job.
By reminding yourself of this, it encourages effective prioritisation as you only want to focus on tasks related to your goal, and because it encourages you to keep working. You equally need to balance this with participating in activities you enjoy and are non-career related – these can be used as motivation, and can be used as rewards for completing tasks. I find by participating in a wide variety of activities it increases my productivity compared with taking on less roles, and it also increases my enjoyment of what I do as it creates a varied timetable.
Ensure you are aware of what your motivation is, and always remain focused on this as this minimises productivity loss (and sometimes taking a break is the answer as you can’t do your role well unless you have enough energy!).
Application to Tutoring
So to apply this to tutoring – for me, it was about starting planning early, having complete to-do-lists, and being a reflective practitioner. So starting early; I would plan a broad outline for the next term’s sessions and what I thought needed to be achieved in them (with flexibility of course) about six weeks beforehand as I found my best executed ideas were thought of over time.
I would reflect on what I needed to achieve while commuting on the bus when I tutored in-person, or when making a drink or listening to a podcast at home. Your best ideas always come then, so give yourself the opportunity to develop these ideas.
Next, it’s about noting everything you need down and having organised lists so that you have all the information to work with. As referred to throughout this (including in this paragraph), being reflective is at the absolute core of time management though – being aware of what you need to do, considering how you can deliver the same service more efficiently, and knowing your time capacity is really important.
When I was a lighting tutor, I used to organise myself by unit I was teaching – I would have a list for each unit as I only focused on specific areas in my teaching practice, and I would have a note of all resources I needed to create and by when.
As I taught multiple students similar content, I would also have cards for individual students so that I knew their progress and what needed to be looked at next. I would try to look ahead and consider longer-term as well as shorter-term deadlines so that I could ponder the longer-term work – that way when I got to those tasks the ideas were already formed in my head and all I had to do was make them, so reducing the amount of time I needed to produce them.
In my role as a lighting tutor I also ran Arts Awards for some students and I worked on live events – a very similar process would be implemented but by show, or by Arts Award group (Arts Award was taught in small groups of around 5 students). Having detailed lists and tracking what was needed for every student or show was how I was able to maintain all these elements of my role.
This blog has outlined some of the advice I have about the ingredients for time management. Being aware of what you are spending your time doing, what you need to achieve and when is where I would start with time management.
Ensure you try out different tools (paper-based or electronic) to see what works best for you, and understand that your approach will change over time and will depend upon the particular task in some cases.
Some people may choose to timetable out all their time, or choose the approach I have of only including important events, where others will include deadlines – it doesn’t matter, but it is important to self-consciously review as you go forward to see if you are happy with your approach.
Ensure you give yourself time to do the activities you enjoy, and see if you can vary your schedule as much as possible – I’ve found these have all been effective techniques. How you approach time management is personal, but its importance cannot be overstated; you want to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.