01 October 2008


I'm realizing why, when I'm teaching, I tend to alternate 12-hour days on campus with days when I do maybe 4 hours of work interspersed with the gym, errands, laundry, and so on. It seems as if 40 hours a week ought to be the same whether you do it as 8-8-8-8-8 or 12-4-12-4-6-2. But it isn't.

Part of it is a matter of what I'm doing. Teaching is a curious combination of energizing and exhausting (Dr Crazy had a post recently about needing the energy from one class to cope with its drain on her energy; I knew just what she meant). On campus days, when I'm not teaching, I'm usually in a committee meeting or in office hours. In office hours, I'm either meeting with students or dealing with correspondance or other paperwork, possibly prepping for class. Once in awhile I manage a quick dash to the library. When I'm being very determined to keep research going, as I was all last year, I will schedule a whole hour in the library to write or read (if I stay in my office, I find it very hard not to respond to the inevitable knocks on the door).

So I can stay awake and focused to do all these people-oriented things, and find the hour in the library restorative. There is really nothing to do but work; I push away all thoughts of domesticity and what a friend calls Life Admin. Then the next day I'm worn out from all the classroom performances and interactions with other people, and it's nice to sit quietly and read and take notes, or work on an outline, or actually write something, while the physical activity of errands (or whatever) re-energizes me after sitting down to a writing or grading task. And over the course of the week, the hours sort themselves out (I do keep track).

Having all day every day to read and write is another matter. The research is no longer a welcome break from other kinds of work; it's THE work. I have a schedule, but it's easy to show up late when the appointment is with oneself, not someone else (or a room full of someone elses) waiting for one. Then there are the things that aren't really on the schedule and so, at some point, overrun it, like organizing a series of Kalamazoo sessions for next spring. It seemed like something that could be done in a few minutes here and there, until deadlines loomed and participants needed to be chivvied and in some cases coaxed out of the woodwork. Then it ate most of a day: except for the two hours scheduled to write with a colleague, for which I showed up and did my work.

(I must say, though people often say that gathering academics together is like herding cats, that I find herding cats vastly easier. What is the equivalent of a nice rattley jar of cat treats to shake for medievalists?)

Part of the trick to time management is to be realistic about the amount of time tasks take: not my strongest point, but I'm working on it. Another is to get the right combination of variation among tasks and time to concentrate on a single project. It is such a luxury to have a thought and spend a couple of hours following up on it, consulting relevant volumes immediately, and letting one lead to another, instead of making a list of things to look up next time, whenever that is. Then there are the rituals that signal "time to work." I've been starting my work day with half an hour either studying Greek or brushing up my Latin. It seems almost self-indulgent, but it's a mental exercise that calms my mind and helps me focus. I think I may also need more interaction with other people. In addition to my dates with my writing buddy and a regular library day, maybe some phone check-ins with virtual writing buddies would help.

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