Professors: tips on working 9 hours a day, 7 days a week?
February 20, 2015 8:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm an overworked tenure-track university professor at a research university. Halp!

I need advice on how to manage a 60-70 hour work week for the next 8 weeks.

I plan to submit my tenure application this summer (2015). I am somewhat confident that I will get it.

This term is busier than usual. I have taken on more responsibilities than ever before. We are 6 weeks in the term and there are 8 weeks left to go. For 5 of those first 6 weeks, I worked an average of 60 hours a week.

This pace is not ideal for me. I don't exercise as much, don't eat as well, don't sleep as well, am irritable and distract my overactive mind with television to fall asleep. Basically, I start feeling very fatigued.

I want to know how those of you who have been there manage it, all of it. How do you stay organized? How do you stay motivated about your lectures? How do you avoid insomnia? How do you keep healthy habits? Where do you seek support?
posted by Milau to Education (14 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I would work 6 days a week, not 7. try 4x12 and 2×8 for a total of 64 hours. A full day off is really restorative. Your alternative, if you must do seven days, might look like 4×12, 1×8, 2×4. In both these configurations you get some semblance of weekend.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:33 PM on February 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

Small efficiencies:
Brush teeth in shower.
Order all frozen or prepared meals. Order them online.
Hire a laundry service.

Can you get some money for a grader to do some simple work?

I try to prep all lectures in one weekend.
How much can you phone in teaching and service?
posted by k8t at 8:45 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this will help you, but a few years ago I posted a similar question when I was in a similar place (ie, working a ridiculous number of hours per day for several weeks and need suggestions to be healthier).

The answer to that question that helped me at the time and in regards to health was to just suck it up and order food from a place that had prepared healthy food (I picked salad). So it was more expensive during that time, but on my own, I would have eaten garbage, which would have been worse health wise. The other answer that helped me at the time was that it really wasn't possible to continuously work like that and have an sort of "healthy" life style - and it retrospect, it was true.

I have been where you are at (ie, the first year I taught at a small college) and was killing myself trying to prepare lectures. A few colleagues gave me a couple excellent suggestions. One of them has already been mentioned by k8t; if you are already have a paid student and/or TAs (and there is the budget for it), get them to grade. I had students use numbers and not their names for tests, so I could hand it over to the grader. The other thing that helped me was suggested by a colleague was to have some students do their own work (ie, a project, a presentation). I put a lot of thought into what could reinforce class material, give them some skills, and share something worthwhile with the class, but at the end of the day it also was able to save me from coming with a couple hours of lecture. No idea as to what would for your particular field, but just an idea.
posted by Wolfster at 9:34 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a lawyer, not a professor, but when I worked hours like these for limited periods of time, I created efficiencies where I could (as stated above) but especially tried to work at home the first half of the day, then go for a run, and then head to the office. The break in the day, especially including exercise, really helped. At least one full day off also helps.
posted by mchorn at 10:25 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not an academic, just someone who has worked 12 hour days 7 days/week for a couple months consecutively several times. My suggestions;
Eat the healthiest convenient food you can get - salads or whatever from the market.
Keep hydrated.
Exercise/stretch every opportunity you get.
No TV! Read or meditate in bed and get every bit of sleep you can.
Stay in contact with friends, check-in regularly.
Have your laundry done - wash and fold or other.
Organization and motivation are up to you.
posted by X4ster at 10:33 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

You must not work 7 days a week, because it's a sin. There's a whole commandment against it!

I would suggest instead working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Make full use of your smartphone calendar, if you have one.

Figure out how long a commute you have and block that time door-to-door in your calendar with a reminder 5mins before.

How long does it take you to get dressed? Put that in the calendar, with a reminder, before your commute.

Before that, you must do 30 minutes of exercise. It's fastest if you do this BEFORE you shower and dress in the morning, and it's fastest if you do it at home. The BeFit channel on YouTube can get you started and it's free. So schedule in those 30 minutes.

The time immediately before those 30 minutes is the time you have to get up. If you have pets to feed, though, allow another 30 minutes for that and schedule that in first.

Count backwards 7 hours from that. That is your lights-out time the night before. It is not negotiable. Schedule it in. If you can't fall asleep, read a book.

You'll notice I didn't allow any time for breakfast, so you need to figure out how much time you need for breakfast - 15 min? and schedule that in somewhere, either by adding it on or spending less time getting dressed. A coffee percolator with a timer, that you can set up the night before, is worth the money.

A book that does what it says on the tin (for a change) is Edouard de Pomiane's Cooking in 10 Minutes. It assumes you have an hour for mealtimes. Leave work 10 hours after you arrive and schedule an hour for dinner when you get home.

For lunch, I recommend the really simple strategy of packing 5 different fruits and a hunk of cheese. If you're still hungry after that you can always get something from the canteen, but you'd be amazed at how filling it is and fruit strangely never really gets boring.

Lay out all your clothes the night before, including underwear, socks, coat, etc. Set your exercise clothes for your workout the next morning. Empty and repack your bag as soon as you get in (while the water is boiling, like Edouard de Pomiane told you).

If there aren't enough hours in the day for you to do this, you need to work less. I hear you saying "yes, but" but those are your choices. This is only a job, it is not more important than your life. You have a right to live.

Contact a friend or relative every day, just once.

As for correspondence, mail etc., only handle it once. If you can't action a thing immediately, put it where you can pick it up when it becomes actionable.

Put stuff away. Clean as you go. A stitch in time saves nine. Do it now.

An invaluable technique is the 20/10 or 45/15, and its friend the Pomodoro technique which is 25/5. You can get a timer app and keep it going throughout the day. Also browse the Tumblr blog "Unfuck Your Habitat" for no-nonsense advice that works.

Sounds implausible? Only if you're a perfectionist. You have to be very strict about trying to stick to this, but of course it's not gonna be plain sailing. Sometimes you're going to overrun and stay too late or start too late. That's very different, though, from not knowing if you're spending too long because you don't have a defined schedule in the first place. It's only catastrophic if you catastrophize it, and without a schedule you would probably have spent more time goofing off anyway.

So many of the great working-class educational movements in Britain were founded and run by people who worked 16-hour days in factories, in horrible conditions. But they were just so driven to make their lives about living, not just about working. If they could do it, we can do it.
posted by tel3path at 2:39 AM on February 21, 2015 [32 favorites]

I don't know if this is possible for you, budget-wise, but my phd supervisor once told me the best thing they ever did for themselves when they had a couple of super busy years and small kids at home, was to use their own money to hire some extra TAs and RAs.

They paid a grad student to teach two sections of their class, and a couple of undergrads to do some easy research tasks (data entry, lit searches, reference checking, formatting of journal articles). They said it cost them basically every spare dollar they had, and they skimped a bit on things like eating out, travel, and so on that year. But it bought them a bunch more time, and a lot more productivity.

Later they discovered that if you want to do this, our university made it possible for you to have some of your salary deducted pre-tax and put in a research expenses account that can only be accessed for eg conference travel, hiring RAs and TAs and other work expenses. But it saves you a little bit over paying it out of post-tax income. Your university may have a similar scheme.
posted by lollusc at 4:27 AM on February 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

I find that regular exercise is key to having enough energy and focus. Even if you think you don't have time to exercise you should try to work it into your daily schedule, preferably first thing in the morning before you have time to talk yourself out of it. Think 45-60 minutes, walk, do a yoga/pilates/dance/whatever exercise you like dvd/youtube.

And yes, splurge on healthy takeout or frozen meals.
posted by mareli at 4:52 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're lucky in that a lot of your work can be done in your home while you're doing other things.

1. Slow cooker. It's pretty easy to prepare a meal in the evening in one of those Slow Cooker liners. Then throw it into the crock pot in the morning on low. Dinner is ready when you get home. Make enough for multiple meals. Soup, Chili, Bo Ssam, whatever you enjoy.

2. Bagged salads. No prep veggies. The salad bar at the supermarket. Frozen veggies.

3. Take out that isn't crap. My Chinese place delivered steamed shrimp, rice and veggies along with my soup and dumplings. It makes a nice dinner. A grilled chicken salad with buffalo wing sauce and the dressing of your choice. Feels like eating crap, is actually not that terrible. Pasta and marinara sauce from the pizza joint. Chili and a baked potato from Wendy's. You don't have to be perfect, just better.

So that takes care of healthier eating.

Do your laundry while you're grading, prepping or writing. It's good to get up and move around every 45 minutes or so.

Get the cleaning products that make it super easy to clean. Clorox now makes these scrubbers. I threw one in the shower and now I just wipe/scrub the whole thing while I'm showering! It's a minute or so, but my shower sparkles! The wipes work on surfaces. Again, a minute or so and things stay clean. Or hire a cleaner.

As for TV. I honestly don't think it's so terrible. Get selective about it. If there's something you enjoy watching before you go to bed, make that your ritual. Perhaps it's a Simpsons, or Law and Order, or an episode of Frontline. Don't mindlessly channel surf, make it a point to catch up. Re-watch Mad Men or The Wire, or Rom-Coms off of Netflix.

Another thing to do is to re-read your favorite books. Mine are Jane Eyre, all of Jane Austen, Dorothy L Sayers's Peter Wimsey, and Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse. It's like comfort food for your brain.

Now for exercise, Perhaps you can add extra steps to your day. Take the stairs at work, or just walk up and down a few flights before or after class. Short bursts of intense activity are just as effective as a formal workout.

Plan a vacation for when this is all over. Make those thoughts your happy place. When you're stressed or exhausted, think about the reward at the end of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is Dr. Mr. Jadepearl

This is the life we chose, the life we lead.

10 hours a day / 6 days a week is only slightly above the 8 hour a day workweek that is common among the non-faculty among us. Add in an hour of commuting each day, consider the developing world, and really this is not atypical for working-age humans even in the 21st century. Somehow everyone manages. Time is remorseless. If it has to get done, it gets done. (If it doesn't get done, it didn't "have to" get done)

The key to all of this is adopting a Getting Things Done (GTD) work habit, and not letting small things accumulate. Touch it, touch it once, and don't touch it again.

If you are only weeks away from your tenure packet, there are no papers to write that will affect this outcome, so defer your research until after tenure package submission - or leave it to your graduate students.

On your teaching, if you have taught the course before, you know what you are doing. Wash, rinse, repeat. If it is a new course, make it more student-led. Education is about learning not teaching.

For reference, I am at an R1.
posted by jadepearl at 6:33 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Richard Hamming, a prominent computer scientist, gave a great talk on this topic, You and Your Research.

And Cal Newport, a young computer scientist and motivational speaker has a very good summary, How to Win a Nobel Prize: Notes from Richard Hamming’s Talk on Doing Great Research

One key point:
"What Bode was saying was this: ``Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode's remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this."
posted by at at 7:17 AM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Nthing that one day fully off per week is really important. It allows you to recharge, get some laundry done, reconnect with your friends, etc., and gives you some head space to think about what you need to do during the upcoming week.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2015

I've done this as an academic (where you are think-working all the time) and as a clinician (where I mostly work at the hospital). 80 hour work weeks are very difficult to sustain more than a few months in a row. 65 you can do indefinitely. Some things that helped me a lot:

* Make the most of the morning. Some people (including myself) get into a habit of a slow ramp up. I found that I am more efficient at getting out the door if everything is optimized the night before such that I would literally be out the door in 5 minutes; in the evening I am much faster at getting things ready than just after I have woken up. I "wake up" by biking or running while listening to a stimulating podcast. I won't check my email or any other internet until 10 or 11 (which is 4-5 hours into my work day) and instead just bang out todos. I don't think that early caffeine really helps one get going (but light food does); it's better as a T+2-3 hour buff.

* Make exercise hard to avoid. I am awake with time to bike. Getting there earlier by driving isn't that tempting. The harder ride is the way home, and then I am stuck. Taking the stairs instead of The Slowest Elevator in Creation is easy to make psychologically mandatory. There was another fellow who took the stairs at pretty much the same time as myself, and I convinced myself that he'd notice my waiting for the elevator.

* Mass produce and freeze or buy real food. Spend the money. On the weekend it isn't hard to get 3 casserole pans in the oven with 3 dishes in 3 hours. These aren't the complex dishes that I like making, but they're ok. Complement with easy fast things - frozen veg, nice bread toasted, salad in a bag with nice toppings like avocados, nuts, cherry tomatoes. Later I had a supportive spouse who made the whole keeping soul and body together thing easier.

* Eliminate non-restful rest time. Reading (non job subject matter) blogs and such is very entertaining, but you're better off sleeping or doing something non-cognitive that you have to do. I had to put in a 100% subject matter blackout 1 hr (preferably 1.5 hr) before bed. Do physical things like get ready, sweep, dishes. Oddly, showering doesn't fit well in there because I am so trained to think while in there.

* Know that you will need sleep catch-up once a week or so and build that into your expectations. Even on your day off, take the sleep but don't waste waking morning hours. That is the day to plan out the week, organize, and see if something is really not going to work out.

* Have a couple scheduled social times. Know that socializing outside of the schedule at work is a time vortex.

* Know the (rough) payoff to time spent ratio. Don't do or truly half ass those with bad ratios. If you have the cash, have a student assistant do low level tasks. Know when you are putting off rather than saving work. E.g. documenting the things that I'd done is required eventually and gets harder further on. Doing long thoughtful comments on a student's work is good, but low payoff. I can make it up to him / her later or do it faster face to face. Others are correct in the maddening payoff / time of making great lectures. Since you are so close come to grips with a) teaching right now does not really matter to your outcome as long as you already have the documentation and support b) lectures are not terribly effective at teaching anyway. I made students journal-club articles more sessions and present blinded critiques; they probably learned more that way anyway.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:35 AM on February 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

The first couple hours of your day should be devoted to your stuff - not teaching, not emails, not committee responsibilities - your work. Developing a writing habit and making yourself write with no distractions for 30-90 minutes first thing every workday is key.

My best time management strategy is twofold: find a schedule that works for you, and track your time using RescueTime or another productivity software. Those two things will really help.

Also this? I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done.
That just makes me die a little inside. Don't neglect the people or the things you love. It's not true that you have to neglect things - you just have to learn to manage time effectively. I don't work weekends. Well, I sort of sometimes work weekends, but typically I work only during the week, from 11am until 7pm and then again from 10pm until 2am, five days a week. I am about 85 to 90% "fully productive" during those 12 hours so I get about 54 hours of productive time a week and I refuse to do more even though I am an academic at a Research I. Life is too short to work the whole time. I use RescueTime to manage my time and turn OFF distracting websites by using the focus time button. This is clutch for me. And then I get to have the life I like (sleep in late, have a slow morning), spend time with my loved ones on weekends, and have hobbies that I do for an hour or two on weeknights. This schedule works for me. Find a schedule that works for you, stick to it, use a productivity software to make sure you're getting the most of your working hours.
posted by sockermom at 10:43 AM on February 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

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