Teaching Productivity

Forward: As I was editing this post, Bonni Stachowiak posted a GREAT article on How to support our students' productivity. I highly recommend THIS article (and everything else on her site).

The Problem

My dean is one of the most productive and detail-oriented supervisors I've ever had the pleasure of working with (I'm no sycophant - he'll probably never see this). I really don't know how he does it - but he keeps track of every note, task, email, and anything else. One of his blessed quirks is that he will respond to emails, if even to say, "Got it."  

Conversely another administrator (higher up the food chain) was infamous for failing to follow through on tasks, emails, and deadlines. Emails with high-impact information or requests went unanswered until three or four followups. This administrator frequently joked, "I may need you remind me a couple of times." While I smiled politely (Ok, so I AM a sycophant), I rarely found it funny. What this administrator was communicating is often struck me as disrespectful of my time, priorities, and responsibilities.

But what I find most interesting about my interactions with these two polar extremes is how they inform the way I think about my own work. I am modeled by these examples. In the first case, I find myself wanting to ensure that I am emulating productive behaviors. In the latter, I found myself fighting against apathy.

Which has had me thinking about my students - how do I model positive behaviors related to productivity?

I think it's important to teach productive habits to students. These skills are by no means intuitive, and I believe that they will experience less stress academically and professionally if I invest in some instruction on these habits. But I began to notice that there was a pedagogical gap in the way I teach good habits - and I'm going to call it modeling.

The Solution

Until recently, I tried to teach students some of the habits, skills, and mindsets that relate to productivity. Even in my upper-level courses, I will take time to show students how to make better use of time, or manage projects effectively. And, I take seriously my own dedication to habits, skills, and mindsets that will help ME more focussed and productive. But I've decided that more transparency may be an important way to bridge the gap.

In the past, if I promised a student that I would send an article to help with her research, I might have made the promise, and then entered the task in my task manager. She would receive the article as promised, and I believe that there is value in the fulfillment of promise - but she would rarely SEE me go through the process.

So now, if the same student comes to me after class to talk about her research, and I promise an article, I enter the task and narrate my actions. I'll often narrate the virtues that I am trying to communicate, while showing the student that I have to practice good habits as well. It might sound something like...

"I'm going to send you an article. I don't want to forget because I understand that this will be important to you - so let me make a note in my task manager. Ok, it's there. You should expect to receive it in your email some time on Thursday."

What I believe is important about this interaction is that the student hears several important points...

  1. Her professor has to keep track of promises, tasks, and responsibilities
  2. Her professor cares about her enough to plan to fulfill his promises
  3. Her professor follows through on his promises

And the result has been that, with much greater frequency, my students are asking to meet with me to learn how to improve their habits as well. Maybe if my students ever become administrators to whom I have to report, I'll have taught them sufficiently so that they answer my emails ;-)

Posted on April 22, 2015 and filed under General, Task Management.