Friday, July 15, 2016

Slow Week 3: Time Management and Timelessness

I love the movement of this chapter.  It starts with the startling assertions that more faculty report the feeling that they can't get everything done no matter how hard they work than CEOs.  More faculty feel physically or emotionally exhausted at the end of the day than CEOs.

A key quote to me (among many -- I have 4-1/2 pages of notes, mostly quotes I wanted to spend more time with):

The fact that we need to give ourselves permission to eat, bathe, and pay bills reflects our loss of balance in the current university climate. The time crunch is not just a personal issue. It is detrimental to intellectual work, interfering with our ability to think critically and creatively. (17)

Berg and Seeber do a great job of going through some representative academic self-help literature and calling out some of the key assumptions behind their time management advice.  (One that I had read was Donald Hall's Academic Self, but though I had admired the way he called for academics to have credos or purpose statements, his time management never worked for me.)  Berg and Seeber ask "Is academic time really as 'subdividable, regular, and predictable' as Hall posits?" (24) (to which I want to scream no way.  Not only is academic time not regular and predictable, but I am not regular or predictable!  And these relentless time management systems seem to assume people are not moody or emotional or that their days are more regular than mine at least are.  If the point of the time management systems is to get intellectual work done, my moods and emotions are going to be relevant.  But I can't turn on a dime because it's 11:30 and a month ago I thought it would be a good idea if I'd work on my scholarship now.  Go!  But that's not Berg and Seeber's point here.)

It turns out that "[r]esearch show that periods of escape from time are actually essential to deep thought, creativity, and problem solving" (26).  We need timeless time or timelessness; this "flow" or "engrossment" not only makes us more effective at our intellectual work, it makes us happier.  "The major obstacle to creative and original thinking . . . is the stress of having too much to do" (28).  (Oh how well I know this.)

The following quote I'm pretty sure I need to see in front of my face on a regular basis:

We need, then, to protect a time and a place for timeless time, and to remind ourselves continually that this is not self-indulgent but rather crucial to intellectual work.  If we don't find timeless time, there is evidence that not only our work but our brains will suffer. (28)

I may put that one on my office door.  The rest of the chapter offers some concrete suggestions about how we can champion timeless time:

1. Get offline.
2. Do less.
3. Create/schedule (?) regular sessions of timeless time. (Berg and Seeber have five components here that are worth exploring.  Anyone?)
4. Give self regular timeouts.  (Kindness to self with radiate out to others.)
5. Change the way we talk about time all the time.

So what were your reactions to this chapters and its assertions about time management versus timelessness or timeless time?  Am I the only one who sees a relationship between timelessness and mindfulness and maybe even the current craze for meditation?  If you are, as I am, hooked already by Berg and Seeber's arguments, then how do people at your institution talk about or regard time and how could you resist that by proposing a counter-example?  How could you be a slow-er professor? What would each of Berg and Seeber's suggestions look like for you?  Is it worth it to try one suggestion out this week even?

What do you think, y'all?


Contingent Cassandra said...

I promise to come back with some more direct answers to the questions soon, but for the moment, I'm reminded of a questionnaire that I filled out recently, which sought to determine how I use my campus office (which is in a building that will be demolished and replaced within the next five years; the planning process is underway). What struck me most is that there was no way for me to represent the extreme variability of my days or weeks (in fact, the survey didn't even specify a time frame, though it seemed to envision a 40-hour work week).

Take "meeting with students": most weeks, I'm lucky if a single student shows up for office hours, but there are 3-4 weeks each semester when I'm spending full 8-10 hour days, 4 or 5 days a week, holding paper-draft conferences. So how much time per week do I spend meeting with students? I ended up claiming the 40+ hours, because that's one of the things for which I most need the office (actually, preferably, a private version thereof, since that's also the time of year when students are melting down and telling me perhaps a bit more than I want to know about their lives -- or, I suspect, in some cases, simply going away when they realize that they'd have to have such a conversation in the middle of a three-ring circus, with my office mate and her conferee a few feet away, and several other professors' students waiting within earshot outside the office). But that means that my other answers didn't add up to a sensible "average" workweek, because I don't have one (I did find myself tempted to ask if they design the athletic facilities for the "average" crowd -- in other words, the total number of people who come to games over the course of a year/365. That would work out just about as well as designing the faculty offices for the "average" week).

I'm finding myself more attuned to the somewhat-predictable ebbs and flows of the semester these days, and much more inclined to take advantage of the odd bit of less-than-full-tilt time during the semester (and less inclined to feel guilty when I do).

Of course, these patterns are probably a bit more predictable for me because mine is a teaching-only position (well, unless and until the provost makes good on this threat to make full-time contingent faculty do service -- which I actually wouldn't object to, except that he seems to want to pile that on top of our pre-existing at-least-full-time jobs -- a pattern noted in the introduction).

heu mihi said...

I was struck by the advice that the authors collated from time management books. First of all, the kind of exploitation of grad students and admin assistants that they describe would surely get me in big trouble, even if I could be easy in my conscience about it (which I couldn't)--it assumes a level of unthinking privilege and is based on a disregard for other people's needs. More importantly, however--as the authors point out--it directly contributes to the speeding-up of the academic workforce.

I was a little wary going into this chapter because I've found some time management techniques that HAVE worked really well for me this year: in particular, blocking out specific times (or amounts of time--I find that I tend to move the blocks around) for research and writing. I was, perhaps a little absurdly, afraid that they would come down hard against such strategies and then I'd be in an ideological pickle. Well, they're not really *for* these strategies, as best I can tell, but what they seem to be attacking the most is the idea that our time is predictable and easily parsed, which of course it isn't. Their critique (as I am choosing to take it) is more with the underlying assumptions of (some of) these techniques. So I'm going to stick with what works for me, time-wise.

And the idea of timelessness is lovely! I mentioned in TLQ that blocks of time for reading is what I crave this summer. That's connected to timelessness, I think, and it's worth making space for it in one's life.

Oh, and I really liked the point that a lot of the "inspiring" tales of academic productivity in fact just make you feel bad about yourself. AMEN!

Earnest English said...

I've been wanting to try to imagine what each of the Slow Principles articulated so far look like in my life. So here goes:

1. Get offline. This is a big one. Being online makes me so grumpy and agitated, though here I'm mostly thinking about Facebook. I'm "friends" with some of my ex-students and a couple colleagues, but I've really tried to keep work and social life/FB separate. Because of a couple recent interactions, I see I need to take action here because I need a social life utterly apart from work. So this summer I have a task on this.

But while Berg and Seeber's ideas of work-life balance probably support the action I want to take, their real point about online stuff is probably email. During the summer on at-home days, I can restrict checking my email to twice per day, but I can't do that during the year. I can establish some boundaries on my email though. I need to think through exactly what those are and then put them on my syllabus and be clear on the first day of fall. So there's another task.

2. Do less.

I've been guilty of overloading myself with service tasks. Of course, others have also been happy to help with this, but I've let it happen. The truth is I care about things and there's a lot to do with respect to those things. But it's a real disservice to myself, my family, and ultimately to my students to overload myself to the point that I am a rushed freaked-out mess. That's no role model. That's not even a professor inclined to be fair. I want to be a good teacher, and I want to engage in the kind of work that will help my teaching and sense of self. I need to sit down and look at each service task and see what I can jettison. There are some big things that I can't, but at least I can try to clear other stuff out so I try to do those things well. So there's another task.

That's all I can do for now.

KJHaxton said...

I also drew parallels between a lot of this chapter and the discussions on TLQ about summer and timeless time. I also found the chapter spoke quite strongly to me because of some tasks I'm trying to do at the moment and doing them quickly or in limited time isn't good. They need to be worked on for a couple of hours each day then set aside for the next day. I need the processing and thinking time.

1. Get offline. - I'd probably do more drafting by hand if I could write at length by hand any more and that automatically provides means to get offline. Otherwise, I'm trying to view email as a sprint activity rather than a day-long marathon. Short sharp bursts of replying.

2. Do less. And not feel guilty about it or that you're not doing your bit. This is easily written, harder to do, particularly if it involves a change in how much you contribute.

3. Create/schedule (?) regular sessions of timeless time. I like this in some ways, not in others. I feel the act of scheduling seems to detract from the concept, but is essential to allow it to happen.

4. Give self regular timeouts. (Kindness to self with radiate out to others.). Need to do better at this - I find working at home helps because I can do other stuff during breaks - my net work day is longer because I amble between work and home style tasks but I get more done on all fronts, feel less tired and feel like it was better quality work.

5. Change the way we talk about time all the time. I'm sick of the word 'busy' being used as code for I don't want to do it. I do think we need to change the conversation about time and stop allowing people to grandstand with their uber-business and their 'so much to do' angst. I think we should be able to say no to tasks without offering a reason or excuse and we should definitely stop saying we're too busy to do things. I think we should also translate our attitude towards time into something more positive, particularly when students are concerned - what do we teach them?

Perhaps more later, I need to think more.

Good Enough Woman said...

As I suggested before, sabbatical was wonderful for that sense of "timelessness." I felt like a human being, and I had time to think deeply in a sustained way. I was able to do more of that last spring, too, when I dodged campus-wide service (while still doing things in my department). It was glorious. So the "do less" idea sounds good to me. Avoid long email debates or discussions also seems like a great way to avoid inefficient time-suckage.

One bone I'll pick with the book is the comparison of our busy-ness and stress to that of CEOs. I get the nature of the comparison and why it seems worthy: The outside corporate world thinks professors don't work hard, so they're trying to put things in terms that corporate types would understand (esp. as our institutions become more "corporate").

Nevertheless, I still don't like the comparison because it seems that it is caving to the idea that we have to use corporate measurements. It reminds me of when I was in the social sciences, and scholars were always trying to show why social science was as valuable as hard science. And then when I switched to the humanities, I found that the humanities scholars were leaning more to social science methods to self-validate. I think we can discuss our workload without that corporate comparison.

That said, even if make a corporate comparisons, I don't really think a CEO is a good comparison to a professor. I think a better comparison would be middle- or upper-managment who are not "in charge." Maybe a VP of a company. And in that case, I'd still take my job any day of the week. When I talk to my cousin, for example, who is in upper management for a fabric company, I can't believe the degree to which she must rely on those above her and below her in order to get her job done. She has SO much less autonomy than I do. And the timelines and unexpected demands floor me. A commonly cited cause of work stress is having responsibility without control. Although professors sometimes have responsibility without control (I felt this way when I was working on outcomes and accreditation), we offer have more control of our work than, say, a middle manager in a corporation. A CEO seems like a bad comparison because they aren't part of the pressed middle. And, in general, corporations are doing the same thing colleges and universities are--trying to squeeze more out of the workers. So, as I see, the pressed middle are screwed (i.e., expected to work all the time and be at the institution's beck and call) whether they are in education or business.

The focus of the chapter that I like is the part about the time needed to think. The idea of doing research and teaching without such time is absurd. As I read, I thought about how many times, I've prepped for class in 15 minutes, rushing to class from a meeting, just hoping things come together. That's not good for anyone.

I totally agree with KJHaxton about the competitive busyness. I have been guilty of that, but I'm trying to get over it. Last spring, sometimes I would just tell my chair that I couldn't go to an impromptu Friday meeting (Friday was my "thesis work day"). I didn't tell him why. It was great. Granted, as I've mentioned before, I've earned good will because of lots of past service, so that might not work well for everyone, but it felt great.

What Now? said...

I found really powerful in this chapter the recognition that "always upward and onward" is ultimately not sustainable. That's a lesson that was driven home to me this past year in my teaching. I finally came face to face with the fact that my pedagogy has ramped up higher and higher because I've tried to do better and more every year, and I've finally worn myself out completely. (And I've probably worn some of my students out too.)

I am therefore embracing "Do less" for this coming school year. I already got myself out of one service task -- one that I cared about and was good work but that I was coming to resent because of its energy commitment when I already felt stretched so thin. And I'm thinking a lot this summer about what needs to happen in my classes and what doesn't.

JaneB said...

heu mihi said: " I really liked the point that a lot of the "inspiring" tales of academic productivity in fact just make you feel bad about yourself. AMEN! " and I second that AMEN.

One of my university's straplines recently has been "go beyond". Literally, we have been exhorted to "go beyond excellence!" at which point I just quietly implode into a small puddle of raging goo. maybe that's what's beyond excellence?

I don't do well with highly structured time. My sister highly structures everything - she has lists of lists and measuring utensils in every container in the kitchen to save a few seconds - and if her routines are disrupted she's horrible to be around - she's addicted to them, and without them she panics. We both in some ways have inherited anxiety, from genetics, from the circumstances of our upbringing, yet we usually address it in opposite ways, and I feel hemmed in by most time management strategies. Partly because I am a human with some boring chronic minor ailments meaning fluctuating energy levels and a somewhat puppyish attention and focus which cannot be guaranteed to work on specific things at specific times, partly because my job is NOT particularly autonomous in the day to day.

Some time management things have been useful - I like the idea of the whole array as a tool-kit I can dip in and out of, using different things according to the particular pattern and demand of the next couple of months. Fergus O'Connell's writing has been more useful to me than most overly academic stuff - e.g. "how to do a great job and go home on time" - one great suggestion was that you start by working out how much of your time is spent on UNPLANNED work over a week. If that works out at about 3 hours a day, or 1 hour most days and 4 on Wednesday, or whatever, you then build that in to your plan - you take the stuff you have booked in, like classes, add the unplanned time, THEN actually plan in tasks (and keep a few 'next step' things on a list in case unplanned things don't happen, to get you ahead). A lot of the book is about saying no, pushing things out into the future rather than doing more work in the hours you have etc. - it chimes well with the ideas here of timeless time, though it uses different language.

I found this chapter pretty comforting - it was good to hear that others find time management obsessions to be a pursuit of impossible perfection, and that we need space to meander and day-dream and follow up interesting ideas, however that works for us. Although I'm still interested to find out HOW - scheduling unscheduled time feels anti-intuitive, but I suppose otherwise it'll never happen.

JaneB said...

For me, I'm not so sure the internet is the big issue - I don't facebook much, love twitter but keep my list quite small and so far have no problem signing off it when things get busy, and I'd be a lot lonelier without blogs and more bored without the little treats of web comics throughout the week. Email's fine, I mostly keep on top of it without much trouble and prefer it to people walking into my office. No, it's the nagging worries and the anticipated-unknowns - for example, we won't get a timetable until mid-September this year. The draft was due mid-July and I'd been fighting off all the 'what-ifs' for a couple of months waiting for it, and now it's TOTALLY BUGGING ME that I can't make any appointments, plan which days I might exercise, draft my syllabi, fix travel plans, until I know what it is. That I can't start to fix any problems until ten days before teaching starts (they say there will be no problems. This is my 19th year at northern Uni and never before have there been NO problems. The last couple of years we, as a department, have spent much of August and September negotiating solutions to problems. Why would it be any different? It's the same people and the same system, but they tell us to trust them despite all the evidence. Yet THEY won't be blamed and expected to come up with fixes when students are unhappy and classes are mis-scheduled and rooms are double-booked. And there I go again, borrowing worry before I know if it actually IS a problem. I MAY get my perfect timetable...). But this is also about time - time being used up with worry, and the lack of control of my own time, and the assumption that the work following this event which is OUT of my control, the release of the timetable, can easily be fitted into the last ten days before classes start (when everyone is trying to complete and print syllabi, travel bookings, etc. etc. and when I'll be SLIGHTLY busy with OTHER things since this work was supposed to be possible in July & August, and other things have to be done later.

Time-pressure and 'onwards and upwards' makes me increasingly selfish and solipsist, too.

Earnest English said...

I too am thinking a lot about how to do less. If I'm crazed, my students are too. Not good for anyone.