Building Systems to Optimize Faculty Development

North American May 6, 2024

A system is “an organized or established procedure” that can be used to optimize academic pursuits. Systems are created by maximizing our most valuable non-renewable resource: time. According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, systems result from cultivating habits that align with specific goals. Because habits are driven by a dopamine feedback loop, they must be highly desirable. Effective systems are built by taking action and replacing bad habits with better ones.

Clear writes, “Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.” Through our actions, time that was previously being spent on less important activities can be reclaimed. How one spends that reclaimed time is an important consideration.

Greg McKeown, author of the book Essentialism, defines essentialism as a disciplined approach to making decisions that best utilize our time. It means saying “yes” to the right things and “no” to everything else within our power. 

Ultimately, essentialists make fewer investments but yield greater rewards. This is because their focus is intentionally directed toward what’s most important. According to McKeown, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” Therefore, he writes, “Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.”

In my experience, faculty are responsible for negotiating annual workload documents with their administrators. They are then expected to organize their efforts toward completing those activities. In our Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Loma Linda University, for example, workload documents consist of teaching, administration, service, scholarship, and clinical activities. 

As much as possible, faculty should negotiate workload documents that maximize time spent on what they consider to be the most important activities. These documents should also include clear definitions of successful activity completion. 

Deciding what activities to prioritize can be difficult. McKeown describes the challenge this way: “Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, ‘What do I have to give up?’ they ask, ‘What do I want to go big on?’”

Another important consideration when creating a workload document is rank promotion. Faculty should be aware of rank promotion guidelines, and they should be strategic in building systems that support timely promotions. 

Meeting with the designated rank promotion committee chair to get feedback on these goals is a good idea. For example, rank promotion guidelines often include specific authorship positions and/or platforms for scholarship dissemination, faculty peer reviews, documentation for faculty development, student course evaluations, and required time spent at a particular rank. Becoming educated on the specifics of rank promotion can prove helpful in shaping and refining workload documents.

Solomon tells us in Proverbs 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (NIV). The more informed and intentional faculty can be when designing and building systems, the more rewarding and abundantly satisfying their academic careers can become. Faculty development is optimized when, with great intention, their energy and limited time are focused on what’s important.


Eric Johnson

Eric G. Johnson, DSc, PT, MS-HPEd, NCS, is a Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions, USA. He was the 2014 recipient of the Loma Linda University Kinzer-Rice Award for Excellence in University Teaching.


  • | May 13, 2024 at 6:05 am

    This is a way of training and helping faculty remain focused on what is important in a school

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *