Last summer I accomplished less than I hoped to accomplish. I want to do better this summer, so I am looking for opportunities to improve productivity. In the last post, I discussed my daily routine. This week, I’m sharing data about my weekly workflow.
1. Tracking Workflow
I use the Hours app to track my hours. Once I start working on something, I clock-in to that project. I clock-out and switch to other tasks throughout the day as needed. Clocking in and out is quick and easy, so I can even log the momentary work-related stuff I do outside of my typical 8-to-5 schedule.
I like the app. Whenever you start, switch, or end a task, the app gives auditory and visual feedback …it’s weirdly satisfying. Even more satisfying is seeing how much I accomplished at the end of the day.
What I like most is the fact that procrastination feels very different when I am tracking my time. It feels like I am being timed …cuz I am being timed! I find myself more worried about how long I’ve been procrastinating. So I usually procrastinate only for a few minutes at a time.
2. Workflow Data
Once I log hours, I can look at reports within the app or export the data for my own analysis and visualization. So far I have logged data for only three weeks, but I am already learning a few things. Check it out:
The first thing that stands out is just how much time I spend organizing. I spent two-thirds of my first week organizing! Why am I spending so much time organizing? Well, it turns out that I have a bad habit of letting my less time-sensitive to-do items pile up during the semester (e.g., emails, filing notes from talks, reading abstracts and grabbing citation info from new papers in my area, etc.). So when the semester ends, I have a backlog of to-dos.
My reward for working through the backlog is this: more time to work on the dissertation! As you can see above, I spent very little time on dissertation tasks in my first week, but I am gradually finding time more for those tasks. And I am LOVING it! I’m finally able to dedicate long chunks of time to my research. (You can check out an abstract of the dissertation on ResearchGate or Academia.edu).
The other thing that stands out to me is how much time I spend on service and blogging.
First, I am not sure that I can do less service. Nor should I. I want to repay what I receive in terms of reviewer comments, conference experiences, etc. And I’ve received plenty from others’ service, so there’s plenty to repay.
Second, blogging. Every once in a while, I wonder if blogging is worth it, but I always decide to stick with it. Don’t get me wrong, blogging for blogging’s sake is probably not worth it. But blogging for the ancillary benefits might be worth it, especially when the benefits are cheap. For instance, if I already have to read something and write about it for work, then I might as well put some or all of it on the blog. The cost of doing this is usually very small, but the benefits can be large (e.g., the helpful comments on “Do most reflective people agree about ethics?“).
3. Course Correction
Now it’s time to think about what I should do differently.
So much organizing! I wonder if I spend too much time organizing. Here are two things I could do about it: (a) rework my Fall and Spring workflow so that I do not build up a backlog of organizational to-dos at the end of each semester, (b) stop organizing so much. A lot of my “organization” work is what some have called “shallow work” (Newport 2016). For instance, I am pretty fastidious about keeping electronic copies of stuff. My digital library has 8520 carefully named and topically tagged PDFs …each with a corresponding bibliography entry in my Zotero database (if you want to become a digital library fanatic, check out “Academic Tech: Digital Library“). All this organization can come in handy, but I am not sure whether the benefits outweigh the costs, especially the opportunity costs.
Efficiency. I recently read Algorithms To Live By (2016) and Deep Work (2016) — see John Danaher’s brief review for the key points of the latter book. One of the takeaways from these books is this: we could all have more time for more important and enriching work if were more efficient with our (and others’) time. There is a pretty helpful discussion of email etiquette/workflow in Deep Work and an interesting discussion of social efficiency in the final section of Algorithms to Live By, “Computational Kindness”. Since I have recently rediscovered the benefits of extended periods of research, I am feeling pretty motivated to be more efficient with my time.
I’ve shared plenty at this point. It’s time to hear from you. What works for you? What doesn’t? What do you in terms of organization? What has helped with your efficiency? What habits need to change? Consider this an open invitation for discussion, feedback, and advice.
Christian, B., & Griffiths, T. (2016). Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions. Henry Holt and Company.
Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York: Grand Central Publishing.