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Using a timer for efficient course prep

For most faculty, the flexibility of a workday is a wonderful perk of the job. We’re generally not tied to 9-5 workdays with strict times for tasks. For the most part, we don’t have hard and fast rules about how and when to prep for classes. But sometimes a lack of boundaries, specifically in time, can actually lead to a decrease in productivity.

ProfHacker Natalie has posted previously on the timer as an everyday essential item. She touched upon a specific use of a timer which I think is helpful to apply to course prep efforts. To quote from her post,

Set yourself limits. Decide that you will spend only X minutes doing something, set your timer, and stick to it.  This is especially helpful for activities that could go on forever (“online research” or checking your feed reader).

I’d add to this list to use a timer to set your time limit for prepping for courses. This is especially effective if you’re prepping for a new course. Since I moved institutions, my course preps are different; I’ve now got algebra-based general physics instead of calculus-based, and for the first time for me, a course for physics majors (analytical mechanics). I want to do the best that I can in prepping for these, but along with teaching efforts I must balance getting ready for labs, contributing to the life of my department through taking on miscellaneous responsibilities and just generally helping out, meeting with students, writing some grants, and, in the future, committee assignments (my college generously protects most new faculty from assignments in their first year). Course prep could very easily spill over into time that I need to use for these other responsibilities.

Limitless course prep doesn’t mean perfect course prep. I find that I am at my most focused and do the best job with course prep when I have a set amount of time to spend. Using a simple timer has helped me be more efficient with my course prep at my new institution, and I use the alarm clock on my great multitasker, the iPod Touch. There are of course many options available, from kitchen-style timers (analog and digital) to software, as discussed in Natalie’s post.

What tactics do you use to keep course prep efforts efficient? Tell us below in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user pasukaru76.]

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