Another book that you won't have time to read

Time Management for Academics

September 10, 1999

"I am not a workaholic. I'm lazy. I'm just time efficient." So said merchant banker John McLaren a couple of years ago, when it was announced that he had sold the book and film rights of his first novel for Pounds 1 million. I think it is safe to assume that here is a man who is realistic about the amount of controllable time he has at his disposal and carefully prioritises the tasks he wishes to complete in this controllable time. He never allows low-priority tasks to take precedence over high-priority ones, and he probably uses a weekly and a daily plan derived from a cumulative "to do" list and a clear set of personal goals. He no doubt gets a buzz out of doing the worst job first. He may well stand up while on the telephone. These are just a few tried-and tested time management methods. A comprehensive list could be contained in two or three pages. So why do academics need a whole book to help them find a way of putting more life into their time?

The reason is that Harry Lewis and Philip Hills require the would-be "master of time" to ponder a rambling and rather dyspeptic analysis of the ways in which British higher education erodes the academic's time. Their stated aim may well be "to help you with your time management problems", but like a couple of Job's comforters they insist that lecturers first need a "reflective understanding of what is happening" in order to counteract the enervating forces that are to blame for their plight. So Lewis and Hills conjure up the ghoulish spectre of heads of department who "value and reward willingness to accept sacrificial workloads". They bewail the "tide of managerialism", and snarl at the "loathed and interfering external assessment panel". They even include a list of "activities which take place at your desk". True, they do come up with some practical time management tips, eg acquiring keyboard skills, which would certainly transform the lives of two-finger computer users. But they also offer vapid and downright unhelpful hints, such as "listen to your mind, and your body" and "try to avoid being behind with your work". Readers may not fully appreciate being told "you need files not piles". Blood pressures will surely rise at the suggestion that academics "carve time out of an already overloaded schedule in order to have time to research the topic" (of time management).

The book has no conclusion, just two words of encouragement on the final page: good luck. If academics look solely to this book for help in managing their time effectively, they are going to need all the luck they can get.

David Head is head of modern languages, University of Northumbria.

Time Management for Academics

Author - Harry Lewis and Philip Hills
ISBN - 1 870167 32 5
Publisher - Peter Francis
Price - £19.95
Pages - 147

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