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Time Management for Department Chairs

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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In principle, time and money are not interchangeable, but for practical purposes, many tasks are of such a nature that tradeoffs between time and money can be made. For example, we hire assistants to help us perform tasks that we would otherwise have performed ourselves (trading money for time). Or we engage in services that consume our time but generate revenue that will be available for us (trading time for money). Time management is not only about prioritizing tasks and activities but also about making wise trade-offs that effectively utilize our combined resources of time and money



The posting below gives some practical tips for department chairs to assess the value of their time and how best to allocate it to the benefit of their department. It is good advice for the rest of us as well. The posting is is from Chapter 3, The Art of Enough: Managing Your Resources in the book Time Management for Department Chairs by Christian K. Hansen. Published by Jossey-Bass ; A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Time Management for Department Chairs 

Don't let yesterday use up too much of today.  - Will Rogers


Time, money, information, physical resources, and human resources are the five basic resources that must be managed wisely in any organization in order to achieve specific goals. The management of time, at least in principle, is an illusion in that time exists independently of the other four resources and cannot be created, bought, sold, or otherwise manipulated like the other resources (Douglass and Douglass, 1980). Money, by contrast, can be transformed into information, physical resources, and human resources; consequently, time and money are the two resources that department chairs are most concerned about. Although department chairs do not think of themselves as \"managing\" human resources, these are without question the department's most valuable asset; in fact, typically, 85 to 90 percent of a department's budget is directly tied to human resources. Although faculty cannot be managed in the way other resources can, the chair's leadership skills can influence faculty to perform at their optimal level. (We will discuss this in more detail in Chapters Six through Eight.)

In principle, time and money are not interchangeable, but for practical purposes, many tasks are of such a nature that tradeoffs between time and money can be made. For example, we hire assistants to help us perform tasks that we would otherwise have performed ourselves (trading money for time). Or we engage in services that consume our time but generate revenue that will be available for us (trading time for money). Time management is not only about prioritizing tasks and activities but also about making wise trade-offs that effectively utilize our combined resources of time and money.

There are many ways in which time and money are similar and some ways in which the two are fundamentally different. A similar characteristic of time and money is that wasting either one represents a lost opportunity to reach something that is of value to you or your academic unit. Perhaps the biggest difference between time and money is the attitude most people have toward consuming the two resources. All of us, from time to time, make poor financial choices that result in a loss of money (in large or small amounts) that could have been spent better. Most people feel bad about wasting money. Yet the truth is that most of us waste large portions of our own time as well as other people's time and don't feel the least bit bad about it.

One important element in improving your management of time is to ask the following question: Am I making wise choices in trade-offs between time and money at both the professional and the personal level? At the professional level, this mostly translates into deciding which tasks to delegate and which to do yourself. If you choose to do one yourself, you are consuming your time, and if you delegate it, you are consuming your department's financial funds (assuming that you could reduce the hours of your assistant or colleague if you delegated less).

In making good trade-offs between time and money in your job, consider the monetary cost of every task or activity that you choose to do. For example, in deciding whether to have one or two department meetings each month, consider the cost of these meetings (more on this in Chapter Seven). Does the cost of the tasks you are doing reflect an effective use of time and money, or could those resources have been used to greater benefit elsewhere?

Scarcity Versus Abundance Mentality

Do you frequently use phrases like \"it's a zero-sum game\" or \"I can only do so much\"? Do you believe that increasing resources for your academic unit is a matter of effective competition or effective cooperation? Take a look at the phrases in Table 3.1, and think about which types of words and phrases are most common in your vocabulary. If you are like most department chairs, you probably associate mostly with the words and phrases on the left side of the table, those common to people with a \"scarcity mind-set.\" Scarcity-minded people think in terms of resources being limited, that there is only so much to go around, and that the only way to increase resources Is through competition. Their gain is some else's loss. Abundance-minded people tend to focus on their potential rather than their limitations. They believe that there is \"enough for all of us,\" and they regard their successful peers as mentors rather than as competitors (Covey, 1989).

Table 3.1 Expressions Commonly Used by Leaders Who Think in Terms of Scarcity and Those Who Think in Terms of Abundance

Scarcity Mind-Set                                     Abundance Mind-Set

Budget restrictions                                   New source of revenue

Inequity                                                      Unused potential

\"There are 'haves' and 'have nots.'\"      \"We are all very fortunate.\"

Competition                                               Cooperation

Zero-sum game                                         Win-win

Can only do so much                               No limit to our potential

Closed system                                          Open system

Political decision                                      Rational decision

Beyond my control                                   Potential to influence

But wait a minute, isn't my university's budget fixed, so that if I get something, someone else has to give something up? If you think short-term, maybe so, but not if you think long-term. Suppose you are trying to get funding for a new tenure-track position. Does that mean that another department will have to lose one? Not necessarily. For both public and private institutions, budgets are highly dependent on total enrollment. Moreover, if you have been successful in recruiting more new students for your programs, it is likely that you have also been responsible for increasing enrollment for other departments. Departments, colleges, and universities, as well as state and federal budgets, are all open systems. They can all grow or shrink without doing so at the cost of another unit. Let's now consider two examples involving scarcity- and abundance-minded thinking.

Example 1

At University X, near the end of an academic year, a dean announces at a chair's meeting that the college has some residual funds that need to be spent on a onetime basis before the end of the fiscal year. The dean asks all department chairs to bring back \"wish lists\" from their departments related to equipment and classroom technology enhancements for discussion at the next chairs' meeting. One particular department chair, Dr. Z, decides to devote a large portion of his next department meeting to developing such a wish list, putting more items on the list than can be covered by the funding but hoping that his department will at least get funding for its top one or two priorities as what he and his faculty consider their \"fair share.\"

The chairs' meeting that follows turns out to be a disaster. By majority vote, it is decided to create a \"master list\" that includes all of the proposed items, and each chair is given a number of votes that can be placed on any items of choice. The items that receive the most votes are then funded, up to the point where all funds have been depleted. The chairs of some of the largest departments in the college, including Dr. Z, feel that this process is unfair in that having the same voting power for every department regardless of size is unfavorable to the larger departments. Added to that, many of the small departments are forming alliances to support items of common interest, whereas the largest departments are proposing items of more isolated interest. In the end, a curious application of the 80/20 principle is achieved whereby 80 percent of the funds are given to only 20 percent of the college.

Example 2

At University Y, several chairs and an associate dean from the natural sciences get together to write a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) grant proposal. All science departments agree to support a proposal that is aimed at improving the quality of precalculus instruction by having more classes taught by regular mathematics faculty instead of graduate instructors and providing more extensive mentoring and training of the graduate instructors who teach courses. By thinking in terms of abundance rather than scarcity, everyone involved works in synergistic cooperation to write a win-win proposal. The chairs all agree that this project will be of benefit to the students they serve over the long term. For example, if a biology student has a bad experience in mathematics, that will increase the chance that the student will switch majors or even drop out of college completely. Seeing that all science and engineering majors have to take mathematics, a win for the Mathematics Department is a win for everyone.

Let's compare these two scenarios. In Example 1, the scarcity-minded thinking of everyone involved results in substantial feelings of inequity, lack of trust, and polarization between departments. A large dollar amount is spent with more negative impacts than positive. In Example 2, abundance-minded thinking allows everyone to think \"outside the box\" to achieve an overall win for all. Note that in these examples, scarcity thinking happens even in the process of distributing unanticipated resources, whereas abundance thinking happens even when there are no resources to distribute.

I want to emphasize that being abundance-minded does not mean being in denial or ignorant of the impact that a major challenge, such as budget reduction, can have on your department's operation. The main difference between scarcity and abundance thinking is that scarcity-minded people tend to see changes as threats and abundance-minded people see them as opportunities. Being abundance-minded does not mean that you have endless capacity to do \"more for less.\" Scarcity - and abundance-minded people alike can do \"more for more\" and \"less for less.\" There are a number of factors over which you have no control. State budgets for higher education rise and decline with changes in the political climate and the economy. Budgets for private institutions are affected by other factors that you cannot control. A crash of the stock market can significantly lower a private institution's endowment, and in a recession, donations tend to decline and fewer people can afford to send their kids to expensive private institutions.

But being an effective department chair is not just about producing more with your resources. During lean times, your focus should be on protecting your key investments, namely, your valuable faculty and their loyalty. You can't maintain the same production with fewer resources, so you should prioritize by suspending the functions that can most easily be reactivated once resources are restored, along with those that should have been eliminated anyway. Use the lean times to plan your strategy for the good times to come. History shows that good times always follow lean times, so be prepared to present your needs to your dean once resources come back to your school or college. Leaders who are negligent during the good times and panic during lean times are the ones who tend to buy high and sell low. In contrast, those who plan for the good times during the lean times are the ones who buy low and sell high.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

Much of the time management literature points to the importance of knowing the value of your own time. Figuring out your value is not complicated math. It basically involves dividing the number of hours you work per year into your annual salary. However, there is a slight difference in what an hour of your time is worth to you and what it is worth to your institution. Douglass and Douglass (1980) give detailed instructions for figuring out how much you are costing your institution per hour, taking into account not just salary and benefits but also cost of office space, utilities, secretarial support, professional development, and equipment, and counting as total hours worked only hours during which you are actually producing (that is, subtracting time spent eating lunch, drinking coffee, going to the bathroom, checking your personal e-mail, and so on). If you had to bill your institution for the hours that you actually worked, how many \"billable\" hours are you producing each year? Suppose you make $100,000 per year in salary and benefits and you work an estimated 2,000 hours per year. That would result in an hourly rate of $50 per hour. But when you figure in the cost of your secretarial staff, your office space, and other overhead and the percentage of time that you are being productive, it is more likely that your hourly rate is on the order of $200 to $250 (which is closer to the hourly rates charged by professional consultants).

Questions to Consider and Practical Tips

• Compile a list of the major assets among your four tangible resources: money, information, physical resources, and human resources. What proportion of your (financial) budget is associated with each of the other three resources mentioned?

• How much control do you have over each of your tangible resources? For example, what portion of your budget is locked into salaries over which you have no control?

• How much is an hour of your time worth? Add up your salary, benefits, and other work-related expenses paid by your institution, and divide it by the estimated number of hours you work per year.

• How much is an hour of \"department time\" worth? Based on a calculation similar to the one suggested for your own time, how much does a one-hour meeting involving all your faculty and staff cost your institution?

• Consider the relationship between the time and money that you control at both the personal and department level. Are you making wise trade-offs between time and money? For example, could you free up time by hiring people to do things that you) or your department) are currently doing? Are there tasks that you (or your department) are currently doing for which the cost is higher than it would be to hire someone else to do them?

• Review the expressions listed in Table 3.1, and circle the ones you use most commonly in your vocabulary as a leader. Do you have a scarcity or abundance mind-set? If you are predominantly scarcity-minded, do you believe that your mind-set limits your imagination in terms of the growth and prosperity of your department?