Faculty Dept Chair Organization 101
February 9, 2024 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Looking for Systems/Software for academic department chairs (USA) to manage tasks, deadlines, deliverables, people? Books/resources about chairing departments?

I’m Faculty in a STEM department in the US, at a predominantly undergrad institution. I may be picked for assistant department chair soon - am unlikely to be able to refuse (no-one else is stepping up….), with the expectation that I become chair after that.

I’d like to get my shit together in advance
some qs:

1) How do people systemically to keep track of all short/medium/long term deliverables, tasks, deadlines,? How to track Issues, ongoing conversations and plans with people?

2) Software that assists #1. Software must be macOS, can be paid for as a one-off (but not SaaS), well supported, must run locally (i.e. not just cloud based)...

3) I have the 2012 edition of “The Essential Department Chair: A Comprehensive Desk Reference”, but much of it is likely out of date. Any other recommendations for books or resources for chairs?
posted by anonymous to Education (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just answering #2, I've used TaskWarrior in a hectic role: it's free and open source, it's been around a long time, it runs on a Mac (install it with Homebrew with 'brew install task'), and it is vastly more configurable than its simple start document suggests. That said, in retrospect it involved so much self-discipline and so many personalized decisions around my own use cases that I think starting with a spreadsheet having 'creation date' and 'due date' columns and gradually adding the fields, worksheets, and custom views I needed based on the best practices and kinds of use cases other people have for TaskWarrior would have been about as good. Just as an example, columns for 'issue type' and 'issue label' get you to the point of having both large projects and their associated detail tasks with individual due dates into the same worksheet. Likewise, the self-discipline to keep meeting notes in a folder of text documents named like 20240209_askme.txt yields a greppable work diary associated with the creation dates for work items.
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:31 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Noteplan has some of the features you're looking for. It'll handle task management, you can build a sort of personal Wiki, and it can integrate with your calendar. I've been using it as a daily work diary for several years now. It stores things in plaintext Markdown files, so it's easy to move in and out of it.

Among my favorite features is to click on a calendar date in the future, and make a note. When I get to that day, there's my note. Thanks, past me!

Noteplan is part of Setapp, which I highly recommend.

Since they're plaintext, I have Noteplan's files indexed by DEVONthink Pro, which is my outboard-brain and I honestly would be lost without it. Particularly in academia, where you're constantly referencing PDFs, and building up a personal library, DT is a truly incredible piece of software. Every Mac user owes it to themselves to at least try DEVONthink.
posted by eafarris at 7:46 AM on February 9

How do people systemically to keep track of all short/medium/long term deliverables, tasks, deadlines,? How to track Issues, ongoing conversations and plans with people?

Ideally, a big piece of this is not technical, but rather, involves good staff support.
posted by advil at 8:51 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

I buy a lot of software for people at a University and two I've seen requested a few times for this type of thing are Asana and ClickUp. Are you looking for something to keep track of just your projects and deadlines or for your whole team to use?
posted by Eyelash at 9:10 AM on February 9

I direct a small program at a small school. Only one faculty member has part of a line in the dept; most faculty are affiliates and contribute when and where they can when there are big tasks (like an external review or a search). I've stuck with a very low-tech solution to keep me and my admin on the same page: a yearly google document that has my long-term goals/tasks at the very top; every week before we meet I make sure to add the date and a check-off list of what we're working on. It works for us b/c it's generally just the two of us.

Re: readings on being a faculty chair--the most helpful advice I have gotten has been from senior colleagues at my institution in different departments and programs. Their knowledge is site-specific and culturally-tuned-in. I also have a set of colleagues at other schools that I use for reality checks / venting sessions.
posted by correcaminos at 9:21 AM on February 9

Also just remembered Airtable is another software option. I don't have any experience with these myself, but I generally have about 60 things I'm waiting to hear back about and I keep track of all of them with an Excel spreadsheet - it really lowers the mental load to not have to look at all of them, but just the ones with today's date in the follow up column. Not to mention makes it way easier to remember everything!
posted by Eyelash at 9:22 AM on February 9

Negotiate for some staff support, ideally someone who reports to you and not to the Dean's office who can work for 10 hours a week or so supporting you. Also, academia loves to trap people and make us think we can't say no, but maybe you can actually just say no to these absolute oversteps into your time and space as a researcher and teacher. What happens to the department when you say no? Why is it your job to hold up the department in this way? These are questions I wish I had asked myself more when I was on the tenure track and that I definitely ask myself a lot more now.

But this also isn't answering your question. To your question, in addition to getting some real staff support, I also highly suggest just using whatever organization methods have always worked for you before. For me, it's a physical planner, to-do lists, a shared calendar, booking time to work on specific tasks in that calendar, and a time tracking software that asks me what I've been doing every few hours so that I can keep track of every task I'm actually completing. I also make events from emails a lot: this allows me to schedule tasks on my calendar and dedicate time to working on things with all of the requisite documents linked and ready to go in those calendar appointments. If I were somehow unlucky enough to become department chair, I would use this same system, because this is what has worked for the last 15 years for me as an academic. Do not reinvent the wheel when you are also becoming a department chair.
posted by twelve cent archie at 10:13 AM on February 9

It’s not made for this, but I used scrivener. I liked a lot how it allows me to have quick access to so many different pages of information.
posted by umbú at 10:10 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

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