At the start of summer, many academics find themselves on a different schedule than during the academic year. Maybe you don’t teach during the summer, or if you do teach, the schedule is probably quite different from your spring/fall semesters. Some service obligations continue during the summer, but others recede into the background for a couple months.
At the start of summer, it’s easy to feel that you’ve got all the time in the world. The weeks stretch ahead, full of promise. But even only two or three weeks later, it’s just as easy to feel like that time is slipping by and you’re not making the most of it.
At key transition times like this, I often sit down to make a time map, which I first learned about from Julie Morganstern’s excellent book Time Management From the Inside Out. A time map is a template of your intended weekly schedule. As such, it’s different from your actual calendar, since any particular week might have exceptional events, specific appointments you need to keep, etc.
To make a time map, start with a blank grid of the days of the weeks and hours of the day. I like to print it out on paper and plan my time map with colored pens. You might prefer to work directly on the computer.
Begin by blocking off the blocks of time during the week when you have fixed commitments, like classes, meetings, or family activities. Next, begin filling in the map with your high-priority activities, basic life tasks (bathing, eating, sleeping, commuting), and relaxation time. It works best if you group tasks into categories: just block out an hour for “morning routine” instead of 15 minutes for breakfast, 15 minutes for dressing, etc. Similarly, you might block off time on Saturdays for socializing, but you don’t have to specify who you’ll be seeing or what you’ll be doing.
Here’s an example from Revive Organize of what a time map looks like:
Many people like to “theme” the days of the week, with certain activities always happening on certain days. Maybe writing days are always MWF for you, with TT devoted to teaching prep. A time map also helps you see how to group similar tasks together. For example, designating a certain day for running errands and grocery shopping can make those things more efficient.
Creating a time map can show you where you have more possibilities in your schedule and where you are constrained. It forces you to confront the fact that you can’t just keep squeezing more activities into your schedule.
Once you have your time map drawn up, use it as a reference point as you plan your daily and weekly tasks. You may find, as I sometimes do, that the first draft of your time map was too idealistic. If there’s too big a gap between your time map and your reality, it’s time to make some changes, either in the time map itself, or in how you’re arranging your time.