Monday, January 10, 2011

Theming the Year and Trying to Get to the Truth about Workload

I don't usually do the whole theme-the-year thing that a lot of you do, but this year I think I'll try it. I'm torn between "Health" and "Peace," which roughly amount to the same thing. I want to approach various parts of my life in a healthier or more peaceful way: academic work, parenting, partnering, connecting with others. I want to be less angst-y and recognize that in some cases it really is a choice. Writing my recent short article was a great lesson for me -- instead of metaphorically grinding my teeth and generally working with a great deal of friction, I just got on with it and did it. I didn't panic, didn't worry anxiously that the editors wouldn't like it or that I sucked or anything. I just worked and got it done. I think that this is how I got the dissertation done on my best days, but it's hard to remember that when those days were interspersed with angsty, procrastination-filled days when I couldn't sit still and settle down into the work. That anxiety often gets in my way. And so often it's about the future, which I can't control anyway.

Then there's my actual physical health, by which I mean that I need to get some exercise, especially since I eat pretty well -- probably too much, but I eat tons of veggies due to my winter CSA. I'd also like to get a handle on my finances, which I've got a plan for.

But what I've been thinking about for the last few days is really marking how many hours a day I'm working. I have this general sense that because I only go to campus three days a week (typical for my university with all the commuting professors) I'm not really working enough. And then I have this inferiority complex and try to take on too much. I really do too much service, probably, but most of it is stuff I really believe in so much it would hurt for me to leave it alone. (Some things are using skills and interests that only I have, you see.) But though I was having a really hard time getting my syllabi done when I was sitting in my office last week, I did notice that I had very little problem working on them in the in-between times this weekend. At no point this weekend did I freak out and yell: "Take care of Tot because classes start Monday and I've got to finish my syllabi GAH!!!" Not only did I just get on with it, but I didn't have to sequester myself from AL and Tot to get it done. Now, mostly I got things done when Tot was asleep. I certainly couldn't grade that way. But I also noticed that I was working a LOT of the time. I didn't take a lot of time to relax either. If I were in my office daily, there'd surely be some time when I sat there staring out of the metaphorical (not actual, though perhaps I should put a lovely picture up that I could space out to meditate on) window pondering. But instead my pondering time -- or much of it -- is when I'm doing something else -- like trying to keep Tot from killing himself by jumping off his new toddler bed. (No, he's not sleeping in it. But he likes to climb into it and say he's going "nigh nigh." I still haven't gotten him off sleeping via nursing. I've tried. He's two years old. I'm tired. I have no great excuses here. But at least I'm only torturing myself. And Lover.) So at some important point (I think actually when I started at Specialized U) I started writing down everything I did and accomplished each day (sometimes week), which has proven really helpful come annual report time. But now I think I also want to spend some time focusing on how long I spend as well to see whether my fears of underworking are really founded or not. (Not that academics necessarily have to work 40 hours a week to justify themselves, but that I feel like I do radically under that, except when grading, when the figure jumps up.) It's not that I will necessarily change anything if I do find that I underwork, but I'd like to really know rather than act out of fear. Knowing the truth seems to be the first step to approaching work in a healthier way.

So I may actually keep track of my hours here on the blog. I've already done a lot of work this morning -- proofread 2 syllabi and associated material, emailed them into printing (twice because I was too tired the first time), checked work email several times, written some email back, and done some hmmphing and thinking because this colleague that I'd like to work with on a specific project thinks I want to do something different but because he's having family crises right now it's not a good time to sort it out. How long did I spend on all that? At least two hours. So that's a good start to this.


Anonymous said...

That sounds like a great idea! Am interested to see how things unfold.

Congrats on all the work you've accomplished -- I need to get cracking on my own syllabi RIGHT NOW.

Or in an hour.

Tiger Mom PhD said...

It sounds like a great theme (I actually chose "health" this year too!), and I think that determining the truth about your workload really is a first step in figuring out a healthy relationship with work. I look forward to watching the blog for updates on things.