time management

At a meeting a couple of weeks ago, Stacy broke the bad news. I, along with others, need to document what we do with our time.

It isn’t even so much that I need to say exactly what I’m doing, though this is implicitly revealed. Rather, I have to imagine who is the responsible party for paying me, and who am I responsible to while I’m doing whatever. It’s a pain, but it makes sense. We have to show the powers that be how much we’re supporting various projects. Since these projects are important to me, I’m willing.

But it’s funny. It leads to interesting questions. For example, while I’m typing out some random musing (like this, for example), who’s paying for it? Who am I responsible to? And, when I get up to get a drink of water? And stop by the restroom? It’s fun to imagine whose tab is being run up by me standing at a urinal. But I don’t really get too caught up in this. I’m not that cynic, not quite, not yet.

More, this has made me think again about what exactly I do. This has always been a hard question for me, but each year it gets more complicated. When it comes down to it, I have almost no bosses over me. There’s a Dean and a Chair and a Director and a VP and others that can each point, suggest, even command. But really, what keys I depress and how the frivolity takes place in and out of a classroom is my own making. In essence, I’m self employed, but paid by the taxpayers of this six-sided red state.

Usually, this is a really good deal for said taxpayers. Through graduate school, research lines, years of teaching different courses, directing projects, grant writing, committee work, designing curricula, and hosting a conference or two, I’m more or less in the habit of doing lots of stuff and calloused to a fair amount of self abuse. More often than not at this point in my career, I feel bad about myself for not doing more. I think the system is partly to blame; another third is my own psyche; the final third is just the learned behavior of doing some things that seemed to go well and feeling let down when there aren’t rainbows and butterflies everyday.

So, what exactly do I do? And how do I begin to write it down? As Stacy described, we typically work in 90 second intervals, so to think of 15 minute or 30 minute blocks of time is a challenge. Even now I bounce around from email to class prep to the journal that is providing an armrest and I was just walking to a building across campus and then talking to a colleague down the hall. It’s all good. It’s just that after another half hour has passed, I have to figure out what that combination of things added up to. Was I being a physicist or was I training teachers or was I planning a project? Usually it was a little of each. In fact, it’s the little of each that I really like (and hate) about my work.

And what about my drinking birds? Now I have ten of them all gathered around a bowl of water. Who do I bill this to?

The upside is that I have to think of my time in 30 minute intervals instead of 90 second episodes. Maybe thinking about these longer chunks of time, maybe just thinking about them at all, will help. We’ll see.

Today I did a particularly good job today in staying focused. Part of the reason is that I had to. I had three classes in a row, and for the last of these I had planned the wrong lesson, having lost track of where I was. I had to be doubly focused to make up for it. Later in the day, I was extra proud of myself when I picked up a new, latest generation iPod Touch. This, it turns out, is actually part of my other job with another boss at the same institution and for the same taxpayers. I left it in my bag, seal unbroken, not to be opened until later, even though I knew there was a physics video analysis that I am fascinated to try out. I worked on a newsletter instead, and I picked out a very nice font, I think.

Later, at home, I played with the girls. It was a game called “try out Daddy’s new technology.” We used “clickers,” or “Response Cards,” that are new to my office, part of the same project as the iPod. I don’t know how to use these, so they helped — they’d used them in their own classes before. We took a survey of what dessert they like best, what their favorite color is, and what pet they would most like to own. Their responses made cute little bar graphs on the laptop, and we were all impressed with the immediate collection of data. In the process, I learned about the software that runs this stuff. Being after hours, at home, and utilizing child labor, I wondered who I would bill this to.

For now, I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter how much work I’m doing at home, with or without the girls. I’ll pour myself a pint and whatever time I use I’ll bill to myself. This motivates me to get more done while I’m actually on campus. Also, this makes it less complicated when I plan classes while in the shower. Being naked or drinking beer are probably against all regulations for state work, and that’s fine with me.

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One thought on “time management

  1. Loved it! Sounds like I have a kindred spirit the other side of the pond living a parallel life, albeit in academia rather than on planet architecture…

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