A handful of people have asked me about my daily and weekly work routine. Some people just want to know what philosophers do all day. Others are looking for ways to impose structure on their work week. In this post, I will share four (probably predictable) steps that have increased my productivity and lowered my stress.
Step 1: Test Out Work Routines
Try each routine for a month or two to ensure that its effects are not a fluke.
For me the best routine tends to be Monday through Friday about 8am to about 5pm. Sometimes I need to do a bit of extra work on one night or weekend day.
Step 2: Don’t Work Where You Relax
If you can still go to the office, then work from the office. If you must work from home, then work in a space that you do not typically relax in (e.g., in bed, on the couch, etc.) This helps you focus on work while working and forget about work while unwinding.
Like some other professions, I have the freedom to work from home. But I find that I am significantly less productive and happy working from home—perhaps because it is easier to work when the thoughts and feelings I associate with being at home are not distracting my work-related thoughts and feelings.
Although I have thoughts about my research while at home, I don’t typically give them much time and energy. If something particularly important occurs to me, then I send it to my work email address (which I check only at the office). So if I get work done at home, then it is usually unintentional.
When I must work from home, I create a dedicated work space (e.g., a dedicated desk or section of the dining room table). Then I use this space only when working so as to create a sort of psychological and physical boundary between work and life within the home.
Step 3: Don’t Work Outside Of Your Routine
Don’t work outside of your routine, if possible. The point of a routine is to provide you with expected breaks for rest and recreation. If you begin to doubt that you will get rest and recreation (e.g., because you often work during the time you set aside for that), then you may begin to lose motivation or else find yourself working much more slowly (because there is no deadline to meet to ensure that you get to rest after that deadline).
Some people will not be able to apply all of these steps, given their situation. For example, I had multiple part-time jobs when I started grad school. I went to one job from 4am to 12pm, another job from 12pm to 5pm, and then seminar from 6pm to 9pm. On days off, I was frantically, reading, writing, coding, etc. Sleep was poor and short-lived. I struggled to keep up with the work. I could never make it to office hours to talk to a professor. I’ll never forget the relative ease that characterized my final year of my M.A., in which I had the privilege of an assistantship replete with a tuition waiver and—perhaps most importantly—control over my routine.