Five steps to help adjunct professors prioritise competing workloads

Teaching at universities while also working in industry can require superhuman powers of organisation. Brooke Wilson offers pointers for staying on top of things

Brooke Wilson's avatar
27 Sep 2022
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Many adjunct professors find themselves pulled in two different directions

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Colorado State University Global

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Often, publications and advice on prioritising one’s workload take a singular approach. They focus on one group or audience, such as students or individuals with only one profession, and they do not explore further for those who manage multiple vocations – which, as we know, is becoming increasingly widespread in the modern working world. There has certainly been a shift in society that sees more individuals now working several jobs concurrently and, at the same time, a greater emphasis is being placed on work-life balance.

In academia, a vast majority of adjunct professors teach while working within their respective industries, with universities utilising them for a plethora of reasons – one of which is their practical experience in their field. However, adjunct professors are then faced with the challenge of balancing their primary work responsibilities and their teaching responsibilities, as well as anything outside of working hours.


While it may be easier said than done, the following steps can help anyone who finds themselves in such a position to prioritise and get more done without being overwhelmed.

Keep a running list

There are various ways to create your own to-do list. This could be in the form of a note in your phone, OneNote in Microsoft Office or Google Notes. That list could go on, although I still enjoy the old-fashioned pen and paper, as there’s nothing quite like crossing a task off your list. 

Once you determine which option is best for you, it’s time to get started. While writing out one long list can work, I find that writing multiple lists, one for each area that needs attention, is a better option. For example, there could be one list for your primary job, one list for your teaching work and then a third list for personal tasks. This will give you a useful, overarching view of each area, whereas having one huge list might appear overwhelming and too daunting.

Identify what is important

This might seem simple, and all advice on prioritising would stress this, but we will approach it a little differently. Take those three lists from before and prioritise within each, making sure you are noting due dates on all entries where relevant. This sounds like a lot of work, but you would be spending the same amount of time on this even if it were one list.

As much as I like my pen and paper, OneNote or Google Docs offer very efficient ways to create these lists. They give you the option to save a general to-do list and then customise it with individual subsections, which you can then label according to your specific needs, and you can add as many of these as you need.

Set up notifications

This is the most important step of all. Some people use multiple calendars across different devices and/or for work versus personal entries, but I would advise you to consolidate. Use one calendar – but definitely colour code your tasks. All work items should be one colour, teaching tasks another and then label personal entries in a third. It sounds obvious, but make sure these are bright colours that look suitably different – you don’t want them to blend in on the same page, and if they’re too muted you might miss the information.

Also, be sure to set up alerts – both reminders before the due date and then when the task is due. If more are needed, do not hesitate to add them. For anyone who works very visually, organising your calendar to your preferred specifications will be advantageous.

Reassess your priority list

At least once a week, you should evaluate your list, update your notifications and make any necessary changes. You want to make sure that even as you add to your list, you’re still able to manage your workload and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This gives you the ability to move tasks around, reprioritise and adjust, which leads us to our last step.

Be flexible

Once your lists are updated, make those changes to your schedule, and remember that items are bound to be moved around. Jobs and task will constantly change, new assignments or teaching activities will come up and personal events will be added. Being flexible with the timetables – and cutting yourself slack when this becomes necessary – will minimise the stress of new additions.

We all want to be able to do it all, especially adjunct faculty, but adding more to your workload can seem daunting. When you are flexible, have a grasp of your priorities and know your schedule, it can help ease the feeling.

Brooke Wilson is a credit and risk management professional alongside her work in academia as an adjunct professor. She serves as a faculty member for CSU Global’s MBA programme.

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