It’s About Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and trying to change my view of what is possible for me to accomplish in a day. I say this as I’m occasionally waking up in a panic, completely sure I don’t possibly have enough time to finish what I need to within the deadlines I have. This is also on my mind because just today I created a new Google+ Community for my virtual writing group. Our goal with this group is based on the accountability models proposed by Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity and the coaching company Academic Coaching & Writing. These organizations contend that out of the three areas that most tenure-track faculty are judged on (these being service, teaching, and research), the first two have external accountability measures. That is, if you’re on a committee, there are other people counting on you to pull your weight. You will receive emails reminding you of meetings, and deadlines are typically part of the job. Teaching also has high external accountability—you have to show up 2-3 times per week and give class about something, so you are forced to prepare and then to assign grades, etc. Research, however, has little external accountability, except for the BIG AND SCARY (but vague) deadline of tenure review. So, we must build communities and measures to create that accountability. In my group, we set daily, weekly, and semester goals and check in with each other to report our project. It’s a little nudge that often does the trick. If I know my friend is going to ask me, “Did you finish editing your White Whale paper? It’s not going to write itself you know!” then I’m more likely to do it.

But what about the minutes and hours I have to fill doing this work that I alternately love and fear? I have so far tried lots of tips and tricks to get myself through the work day, having accomplished more than just accumulating likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, and photos of the awesome snacks I make as procrastination projects treats for myself for a job well done.

Behold, the Monkey Jitters! (banana, coffee ice cubes, soy milk, agave nectar)
Behold, the Monkey Jitters blended beverage! (banana, coffee ice cubes, soy milk, agave nectar)

These include setting a timer, which often words to motivate me. Timers I have tried: the Tomato Timer; Pomodairo; and just today, Toggl (which is more of a system than just a timer; more on that later). On my phone: Apple’s built-in timer for iPhone; and Seconds Pro. Some of these timers have been great, but the reason I keep trying new things is just me being human, I guess—I’m always looking for that magic bullet that will really motivate me to stay on target.

Because I don’t trust myself, I also use an extension for Chrome called StayFocusd, which I set to limit my Facebook and Twitter time to 30 minutes total between the hours of 9 and 5 on weekdays. Of course, there’s the fact that I could just go get my iPad, but let’s face it, I’m lazy, and all I really need is that temptation of “just five minutes on Facebook and then I’ll really get down to business…” to be taken away from me. StayFocusd does just that, though I may curse it as it cuts me off from my precious, precious social media fix.

The main reason I haven’t tried one of these new all-encompassing stay-on-task systems, like RescueTime and Toggl, is that I’m afraid of what I will discover. These apps track your time on your computer at varying levels, depending on the features you select and whether or not you pay for the premium versions, which allow you do to things like track your time when you’re away from your computer. Toggl allows me to time myself and to name the task I say I’m working on. I can organize these into projects, so my day today looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 4.32.31 PM

Toggl will also give you nifty reports and a timeline (if you download the desktop version) so you can see the peaks and valleys in your day, work-wise. So, when I checked my stats on Toggl right before clicking over to WordPress to write this entry, I saw that I had put in 3 hours and 50 minutes of work activities today. Not terrible, but also not terribly impressive. Where did the rest of my time go? I know 30 minutes was sacrificed to the social media gods, because I got locked out by StayFocusd before noon today (yikes). I did make the delicious snack pictured above, and I took an hour for lunch. That accounts for about an hour and 40 minutes of my day, which would bring me up to 5.5 hours. Aaaand, my first entry of the day, “Book, chapter 3” began at 9:23am, and I know I was basically surfing the web for those missing 23 minutes. That brings me up to nearly 6 hours. I’m fairly sure some of the unaccounted-for time was spent on MOAR EMAIL, and the balance on looking up whether Britney Spears is playing Vegas in July (she isn’t), when I’ll be there for my sister’s bachelorette party, and looking up prices for competing acts Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey.

NOT IN JULY. Because life is unfair.
NOT IN JULY. Because life is unfair.

I’m not quite done for the day yet–it’s conceivable I could do a bit more editing after I finish this post and go back to my White Whale of a paper that simply REFUSES TO WRITE ITSELF (so unreasonable). But if I’m honest, it’s unlikely.

So where does that leave me? I’m close to spending about 40 minutes on this blog entry, which counts as productivity in my book, so I’ll finish the day with about 4.5 “on” hours. Is that enough? Is that typical of your average worker who had to put in time at an office? If you know, please tell me—as long as answer puts me at “average” or better. Otherwise, I think I’d rather not know.

ETA: Here’s my full day on Toggl, all 4 hours and 47 minutes of it. Turns out I spent nearly an hour on that post! Sheesh.

I spent more time on Research than Service. (Yay!) That email count isn't accurate though because I forgot to start the timer a few times. (Boo!)
I spent more time on Research than Service. (Yay!) That email count isn’t accurate though because I forgot to start the timer a few times. (Boo!)
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It’s About Time