04 Jun

what i’ve learnt from using a time tracking app

I spend a ridiculous amount of time dealing with email.

I always knew this. Everyone spends too much time on email, right?

But earlier this semester I asked my students to track their time spent on social media for a week and I decided to track my time too. I started using RescueTime to track how I spend my time generally, not just on social media. It’s been enlightening.

I’m not going to show you how many hours I logged last month (because it’s actually a bit embarrassing and it’s also not accurate because I don’t have RescueTime on my other computer) but I am going to show you the percentage breakdown of my time on my primary laptop for May. Here it is.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 4.54.44 PM

See that 32% for communication and scheduling? That is basically time spent in Outlook.

The 10% social networking is almost exclusively teaching related (posting announcements on course Google+ sites, responding to questions on Google+), and is basically the same as email except that I’m talking to a bunch of people at once.

There have been weeks since I started using RescueTime that I clocked more than 30 hours on email, and it’s pretty much always around the 20 hour mark.

Perhaps this would be okay if the time I was putting in meant I was living my inbox zero dreams, but the reality is I’m about to bunker down for the night to process a massive email backlog and I have to do this every couple of weeks. I try to stay on top of my email, but it’s an uphill battle.

The other thing I’ve learnt is that I don’t spend enough time writing – something else that I already knew, but it’s interesting to see the extent of the problem. Only 13% of my time last month was spent on design and composition, which is where writing sits. And it’s also where time I spend in PowerPoint is logged, and I use PowerPoint quite a lot to prepare lecture slides. Which means my writing time is basically non existent.

I need to do something to change the way I spend my time. I’m just not sure what! But knowing the extent of the problem is definitely a motivator to fix it.

Anyway, I know I’m not alone in the struggle to balance the time I spend on communication with the other aspects of my job. So I wanted to write this post as an encouragement to try time tracking tools, because even if you think you know how you use your time, seeing a graphic breakdown is pretty powerful.

#blogjune 3/30

08 Jun

outsource all the things

Since everyone is crazy busy these days, I thought I’d write some posts about some of the things I do to save time and be more efficient. I’m calling them productivity ninja tips, and I’ll be cross posting some of them on my teaching and learning blog, too. Today’s post is about outsourcing.

Public domain image courtesy Pascal via flickr

Public domain image courtesy Pascal via flickr

So let’s get started with outsourcing. I’m rather fond of outsourcing.

I try to increase my efficiency by outsourcing as many of the things that don’t need to be done by me – i.e. that don’t require me to use my brain or be physically present – as I possibly can. Sometimes these are things I really want to do (like making the kids’ birthday party invites) but that I know I will obsess over and spend way too much time on.

I also outsource the shit jobs I don’t want to do.

Here are some of the things I outsource, why I outsource them, and what you can expect to pay for these services.


I have a cleaner and I will never, ever not have a cleaner, even if I have to give up buying coffee to fund it. There is nothing better than coming home from work to a clean house. So good. Having a cleaner costs $30 an hour and it takes three hours to clean our four bedroom house once a fortnight. This includes a lot of dusting because we have a lot of ‘stuff’ around the house. The dusting is important because I have bad allergies. We do very little in between, and she manages to squeeze in things like cleaning the fans, doing the skirting boards and cornices, and cleaning the oven at intervals.


I outsource transcription of research interviews. Have you ever transcribed an hour of audio? Me neither, and I don’t plan on ever trying. I am so slow at transcription that it makes absolutely no sense for me to spend my time doing it. I know some researchers find it’s important for them to transcribe their own interviews to really feel like they’re across the data. I’m fortunate to have a good memory and that, combined with written reflections I make straight after each interview, means that transcripts are really all I need. And I can always go back to the audio if I need to. I recently used Interim Business Solutions to transcribe a chunk of my thesis that I dictated while driving from Brisbane to Toowoomba. They did a great job and turned it around super fast. Transcription prices vary depending on a variety of factors like audio quality, number of speakers, and turn around time. You generally pay per audio minute.

Transcription is not just good for research either. A little while back, I paid to have someone transcribe all of the mini lecture videos I have made for my teaching. This meant I had scripts to work from and allowed me to easily edit and update the content without starting from scratch. I think it cost me about $700 to get all my mini lectures transcribed for two units. I’ve since used and updated the scripts twice.


kate2 (1)This post was actually prompted by the job I’m currently outsourcing: creation of avatars for the participants in my PhD study. This one has a back story. Do you know about Fiverr? The principle of Fiverr is that you pay a fiver for everything. I LOVE Fiverr. I also love a particular artist on there who has done quite a bit of work for me. For Christmas, I got avatars made for my team, based on photos I sent her and ideas I gave her for what I wanted them to wear and be holding in their pics. That’s me, over to the left there, complete with lifelike tiny waist and great pins. Thank you, Anastasiia! I found her via Corin, who had an awesome avatar drawn and posted it on Instagram. Fortunately I caught her before she got really busy and increased her prices (every cent of which she deserves, btw), so I managed to get 14 characters drawn at a ridiculous price. Her current rate is still extremely reasonable, with a photo likeness avatar costing $45.

JacquiRight, so that’s the back story, and now onto the current job. My research is heavily grounded in my participants’ narratives and it’s incredibly important to me that I retain their individual presences in the narrative I’ve built around the data. I’m introducing the participants by presenting a social media profile for each person, and Anastasiia is drawing an avatar for each participant. These are cartoons without photo likeness, because obviously I can’t show my participants’ faces, even in cartoon format. I’ve given the artist a brief that includes something that makes me think of the particular participant. At right: the participant I’m calling Jacqui (pseudonym).

My only concern with services like Fiverr is sometimes the prices are really low and I’m uncomfortable paying them. It feels exploitative. For this latest batch, I’ve insisted on paying more than I was quoted. She did the first four, and I asked for some changes, so I have insisted on paying more again for the remaining avatars to make up for the extra work.

Etsy is a great source for getting custom work done, too, like kids’ birthday party invites. I’m definitely capable of doing this work myself, but I tend to spend way too much time on it because it’s fun and I’m a perfectionist. In previous years, I’ve picked a design, supplied a photo and asked for customisations, and you get back a good looking file for $25. This year, I bought a whole bunch of graphic elements on Etsy and then made the invites myself. The graphic elements I bought cost about $15 or $20 in total and included cartoon character versions of our favourite Star Wars and Frozen people, as well as backgrounds.

Web work

I’ve also used Fiverr to get a basic stylesheet created when I didn’t have time to build it myself. My students wanted one for an assignment. It wasn’t part of the assignment, but they wanted to be able to see what their HTML looked like styled, and I can’t justify spending hours on something that isn’t actually part of the assignment. I can, however, justify paying someone else to make one. It wasn’t perfect and I had to do some editing, but for $5 (or the $15 I insisted on paying because $5 is ridiculous) it was pretty damn good. $15 is still crazy cheap but I feel okay about it because I had basically no design parameters and was happy for them to reuse something existing.

Freelancer is another great option for getting a whole bunch of stuff done, though I’m tending to go for Fiverr more these days. When I put a job on Freelancer I find the process of choosing an offer really overwhelming. I’ve used Freelancer mostly to get WordPress themes edited when I want to tweak a theme a bit but don’t have time to mess around. My last Freelancer job involved some CSS and PHP work on a WordPress theme – probably about an hour of work – and cost about $50, which is pretty damn good.

There’s also a guy I’ve had help me with moving websites around, who I’m about to contact again about another job. I found this guy because he makes a WordPress plugin for preparing sites to move servers and he’s done a few jobs for me (including moving a conference website). Again, I’m capable of doing this myself, but I’m slow and it’s more efficient to pay someone. The last move he did for me was a reasonably complex move involving a stack of email accounts moves too and it cost me €80.


I ‘outsource’ bill paying and finance management to my sister. Granted, she doesn’t get paid, but this is a division of labour thing. We trade off on other things.

What I don’t outsource

As far as work goes, I don’t outsource core business stuff that I should be doing myself or that I should be looking for my organisation to cover. I tend to outsource the things that are ‘extras’, or the things that are part of my broader professional life, like maintaining my personal professional websites. It’s just like delegating to one of my team, except it’s a broader team.

I know I’m lucky

This feels like a really middle class, self important post to write, but I think it’s actually important to fess up to how I manage competing priorities because it’s not easy and it has personal impact. Working the way I do and at the pace I do has a cost. That cost can be time, or it can be money, or it can be both. I am by no means flash for cash, but I’m even less flash for time. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that I can afford to outsource. But the thing is, I make trade offs. If I can claw back a few hours of writing time by paying $50 for some WordPress tweaks, that’s a good trade off for me. It’s about using my time for the things I’m really good at or that I need to do myself, or for the really important things like getting to school assembly when someone is student of the week. And I trade off on things like going away for holidays to fund some of my outsourcing. I’d rather get my house cleaned once a fortnight than go away for a week every year. For realz. Because the cleaning has a much bigger impact on my day to day.

Over to you!

I am currently looking for a designer to pretty up the diagrams for my thesis. If you have any suggestions, I’d be grateful to have them!

What do you outsource?

#blogjune 8/30

29 Oct

routines and rituals

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend who was finding it difficult to switch her brain off and go to sleep. I told her she needed to create a bedtime ritual to set up a series of signals to her brain that it was time to checkout of the day.

This morning, I’m feeling pretty rough after my own battle to sleep last night. It took me ages to get to sleep, and I woke up at 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep again. I’m an eight hours a night girl. If I don’t get my eight hours, my brain doesn’t work at full speed and I feel like I’ve got a hangover – queasy and vagued out. Last night I would have been lucky to get five hours.

And I realised this morning that I really should take my own advice, and create some rituals and routines for myself. I’ve blogged about the lack of routine that comes with working from home. Work tends to bleed all over the rest of your life and it’s tempting to stay up late to push through something when you’re on a roll, knowing you can sleep in the next day. Additionally, the fact you don’t have to blow dry your hair, put on makeup, construct an outfit, and drive to an office means the morning routine of getting up, getting ready having breakfast, and leaving home disappears.

This morning I stumbled on James Hayton’s blog The Painless PhD (found via this interesting article on The Conversation about how isolating the PhD process can be) and I read his post about how he wrote a PhD thesis in three months. Appealing post title, particularly because I’ve got roughly two and a half months to write mine! The post presents the 10 ‘secrets’ to taking a leaf our of Hayton’s leaf and writing your thesis fast. Tip number seven talks about the importance of routine.

So I feel like the universe is speaking to me right now about routines and rituals: a conversation last night; some self insight on the topic this morning; and a blog post coming across my path… They do say things happen in threes.

I did have a bit of a morning routine going on for a while at the beginning of my sabbatical, but I’ve let it slide. I am also utterly inconsistent about wrapping up my work at the end of the day – I tend to just keep going til I’m exhausted, starving, or just completely over it. And I blame Breaking Bad for wreaking havoc on my bed time routine – I’ve been glued to the TV for several weeks, watching all five seasons. (So close to the end. Such compelling viewing! I’ve gone from feeling sorry for / kinda liking Walter to absolutely despising him in a flash – like a switch flicked off at the beginning of season five… Anyway, I digress.) So this morning I’m taking 15 minutes to rethink how I do things.

I really want to nail this because I think having routines will help me to work more efficiently and manage my energy level, but I know it will take time to make these routines a habit. In particular, I know it will be difficult to make end of the day and bed time rituals stick because there is always that temptation to keep on working at knock off time, which can blow out the bed time ritual as well.

So I’m looking for things I could include in these rituals to send my brain signals that it’s time to get going, time to knock off, and time to check out. Any ideas?