Time is of the Essence


Time is of the Essence: Time-Saving Tips and Tricks for Part-time Faculty

August 03, 2017

by Mandy McGrew
Educational Specialist for Scholarly Teaching and Part-Time Instructor of American Studies
Kennesaw State University

For part-time faculty, figuring out how to balance teaching and everything else in life can be a challenge. There are only 24 hours in a day and we do have to sleep at some point, right? So how can we manage being professionals, parents, partners, and part-time faculty members? Is it even possible to do so? The short answer is—probably—but it is not easy. There never seems to be enough time to do everything (Lyons 2004).Unfortunately, the title of this blog is misleading—there are no time-saving tricks or tips that work like magic. The truth is that there really is not enough time to do everything. Our time is limited and we must recognize that and manage it in ways that allocate the most time to the things we believe are the most important (Covey 1989). Managing our time means planning ahead and setting priorities. Since we cannot do everything, we have to make some tough decisions. So—what can you forgo to ensure that your students are learning and that you are maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

Have you ever been expecting company at your home in a half-hour only to notice your house looks like a tornado just tore through it? (Maybe this is just me?) An entire day’s worth of straightening up and cleaning takes place in that thirty minutes. You finish cleaning just as your guests arrive and calmly welcome them into your immaculate home as if it always looks like this. (Anyone else?) How is this even possible? There is a name for the phenomenon: Parkinson’s Law.

In 1957, C. Northcote Parkinson published his book, Parkinson’s Law, or the Pursuit of Progress, in which he laid out his theory that the work we have to do will expand to fill the time we devote to completing it. In other words, Parkinson’s Law theorizes that tasks take us as long to complete as the time we have to complete them.

Parkinson’s Law applies to teaching, particularly in preparing for class and grading student work. If you only have one hour to prepare for class, you can have your course prepared in that hour. On the contrary, though, if you give yourself an entire day to prepare for the same class, it can take you the entire day. Tasks like course prep and grading will expand to take up as much time as we allot to them. With this in mind, one tip I will share with you is very simple: when preparing for class or grading student work—set a timer and stick with it! (Whitney 2010)

Giving yourself a time limit can help you structure your prep time. Preparing for class, be that designing an entire course or writing a single lesson plan, can go on forever if you don’t set limits. Using a timer can help you when grading, as well. For example, if you have two hours to grade 40 homework assignments, divide that 120 minutes into 40 and you have three minutes to grade each assignment. Get out your timer, set it so it goes off every three minutes, give each assignment your full attention for its three minutes, and then move on to the next one. Being able to do this well will take some planning in advance, though (Walvoord & Anderson 2010; Whitney 2010).

When it comes to grading efficiently in an effort to save time, you need to decide which elements of each assignment are the most important. Sometimes we find ourselves dwelling on aspects of assignments that are pet peeves of ours, but don’t actually reflect whether or not a student has achieved the learning objectives. For example, if you only have seven minutes to review a student’s three-page reflection paper, you are not going to be able to correct each grammatical error. Instead, you will have to think about what the specific goals of that assignment are and whether or not the student has demonstrated that they accomplished these goals. Be sure that each of your assignments/assessments has a clear objective tied to your course learning outcomes, focus on those objectives, and forget the other stuff. Thus, my second tip: use rubrics or checklists to quickly assess whether students are achieving the learning objectives (Walvoord & Anderson 2010).

A well-designed rubric is an effective tool for identifying if students have met the objectives and it also provides meaningful feedback to students. Rubrics help you organize your expectations for an assignment, clearly explain those expectations to students, and identify and communicate whether or not each student has demonstrated that they have met the expectations. Rubrics and checklists can be crafted for papers, problems, projects, and presentations. There will be an investment of your time upfront when creating a rubric, but it will pay off in the time it saves when grading (Davis 2009; Walvoord & Anderson 2010).

Often, the hardest part of saving time is letting go of things that seem significant—but with a limited amount of time to work with, we have to set priorities and focus on what is most important.

In summary:

  • Give yourself permission to let some things go
  • Identify the aspects of each class meeting or assignment that are most important and focus your attention on those things
  • Dedicate a specific amount of time to preparing for class and grading student work


Covey, S., The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Davis, B. G., Tools for Teaching, 2nd Ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Lyons, R., Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty, Boston: Pearson, 2004.  

Parkinson, C. N., Parkinson’s Law, or The Pursuit of Progress, New York: Buccaneer Books, 1957.

Walvoord, B. & V. J. Anderson, Effective Grading, 2nd Ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.  

Whitney, H., “Using a timer for efficient course prep,” ProfHacker Blog: The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 20, 2010. Accessed July 31, 2017 http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/using-a-timer-for-efficient-course-prep/27884  


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