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

02 Jul

switching gears

Today’s the day! I am officially on annual leave for two weeks. I am, however, working today to catch up on some stuff. And if I’m honest, I will probably work tomorrow too… And I will probably work for half of Thursday. But this is okay with me, because what I’m doing by working for these first few days of my leave is switching gears, progressively. When you’re driving, you don’t drop straight from fifth into second. I guess that’s what I’m doing here too.

The whole point of working over these few days is to make sure I can actually have a proper break for, starting in a few days time, knowing that loose ends are tied up and I don’t even have to check my email. And most importantly, I’m working these few day so that when I finish annual leave, I can start my sabbatical with a completely clean slate.

Getting into a position where I can actually see the possibility of a clean slate on the very near horizon has taken a lot of effort. Late last year when found out my sabbatical application was approved, I started saying no. To everything. I started handing stuff over and clearing the decks. It’s really taken me six months to get to a point where I can go on sabbatical without taking any work-work with me. As long as I get through these last few things in the first few days of my leave, that is. It has taken an enormous effort and lots of planning to get to the point where very soon, I will have only one (very big) thing on my to do list: my PhD.

Now that I’m almost at this point where my to do list just says PhD, I am very scared. I know I’m very luck to have the opportunity to go on sabbatical. I probably wouldn’t be able to finish my PhD without it, and if I did manage to pull it off, I would definitely be using my entire six year candidacy. I’m lucky, and I know it.

But the concept of having just one thing on my to do list scares the hell out of me. I have a very short attention span, and I’m used to juggling many, many balls. I’m worried I won’t be able to focus on the same body of work every day for more than six months.

But I can forget about that for now, because I still do have a few work-work jobs on the to do list to get through before I can officially switch gears all the way down to neutral.

The first thing I have to do is de-Kate something rather large. You know how when you started something, and you’ve been working on it for a long time, it just turns into your thing? I have a few of those, but one big one in particular. So right now I’m working on de-Kate-ing it. It is going to take a fair bit more time and thinking. I hoped to have it done by tonight, but my day got derailed with a couple of things.

I am also tying up some loose ends from the Sixth New Librarians’ Symposium, which happened all the way back in February. This includes finishing up the final report to the ALIA Board of Directors, preparing the website for migration, and getting all the files that were created through the planning process organised and sent off to ALIA. It also includes preparing the session recordings for editing and uploading, so stay tuned for that!

I am just about to write some end of semester messages on my course sites from Semester 1 – a little thing, but still on the list.

I need to redirect some email.

I am going to write a summary of information that appeared recently on a discussion list, which I offered to do for my colleagues, but never quite got done. Ooops.

And I have a journal article to edit.

I have a 1pm conference call on Thursday, and if I really get my stat on from now til then, I will be able to properly be on holidays from then.

I already put my out of office on, and I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to basically say “I’m away, and then I’m back, but I’m not really back, and I won’t really be back til next year”. Who gets to do that?!

27 Jun

debunking the myths about working from home

When I tell people I work from home most days, they say one of two things:

Oh, you’re so lucky!

or

Oh, I’d never get any work done.

The first one is true, at least in part. The second couldn’t be any further from the truth (most days).

I’m so lucky!

Let’s start with luck.

I’m lucky to work from home because it saves me a lot of commuting time.

This is the number one reason I work from home. All the other benefits of working from home are great, but it’s the time I save that made me make a shift from spending a majority of time in the office to a majority of time at home.

The single biggest time saver is forgoing my commute, which takes anywhere between two and four hours a day, depending on what time I’m going to and from the office. If I have a 9am meeting, I have to give myself two hours to get to work. I left the office at 3.30pm the other day to ‘beat the traffic’ and it took me two hours to get home.

Downsides:

  • No commute means I’m not in the office, and sometimes it is actually nice to be in the office.
  • No commute means no time to decompress. I can’t sing out my shit day in a concert on the way home, or take out my rage by banging out drum and base beats on the steering wheel. I just get up from my desk, push in my chair, and walk into the kitchen.
  • No commute means I work stupidly long days, because I can.

I’m lucky to work from home because I save lots of little bits of time.

These little time savings might sound petty, but they add up quickly. I’d say I save about an hour or two a day on these little time savers.

  • I don’t need to put makeup on or blow dry and straighten my hair if I’m working at home. That’s a half an hour saving.
  • There are less interruptions at home (on weekdays at least – weekends are a bit different). When my niece and nephew were living here, people often asked me how I could get any work done with a couple of three year olds in the house. The reality, though, is that I’ve worked from home for as long as they can remember, and they actually interrupt me less than the adults do.
  • There are no hallway conversations when you aren’t in the hallways. I save a lot of time by missing all the incidental conversations that happen in an open plan office.
  • Meetings are more efficient on Skype. For one-on-one or small group meetings, Skype is a big time saver. You don’t have to factor in time to get from your desk to wherever the meeting is, and no one ever bothers with all the niceties you get in face-to-face meetings.
  • If I ever ironed anything, I’d also save time on that too, because yoga pants (my work at home uniform) don’t need ironing.

Downsides:

  • I rarely have to bother with my appearance and never putting any effort in invariably impacts on how you feel about yourself.
  • I miss out on hallway conversations. I like the people I work with and I value my interactions with them. We run a great ‘virtual office’, but I still miss out on serendipitous encounters. It’s the encounters with the people I don’t work closely with that I miss – my immediate team is highly connected online.

I’m lucky to work from home because I save a lot of money by commuting less.

Parking costs me at best $25 a day and at worst $70. Last year I spent $2000 to rent a car park for 6 months, and it was bliss. For a whole six months, I didn’t sit in morning traffic stressing about making it in time for the early bird parking. Now there’s a new car park at work right next to my building that has reasonably priced parking (for the city at least), but it’s still $40 a day.

Then there’s petrol, which, if I had to go to work five days a week, would cost me well over $200 a fortnight.

Downsides:

  • Ummmm… Yeah. I can’t think of any either.

I’m lucky to work from home because I save money by not buying lunch and coffee.

There’s a bunch of temptations on campus, including the irresistible Guzman y Gomez and delicious Campos coffee. And we won’t talk about the pineapple lollies at the corner store. When I’m on campus, I spend at least $20 a day on coffee and lunch without even thinking about it.

Downsides:

  • At home, I forget to have lunch or I skip it because I don’t want to ‘waste time’ making it (because you never prepare lunch the night before when you’re working at home).
  • I drink waaaaay too much coffee because my Nespresso machine makes delicious coffee, fast. And relatively cheaply.

I’m lucky to work from home because I do good work here.

I think best when I’m wearing yoga pants, a hoody and my slippers. Have you ever tried to write a thesis chapter in heels and a suit jacket? I don’t recommend it. When I’m comfortable I’m more creative, more productive, and smarter. It’s true. Hoodies make you smarter.

Music helps me focus, but not if it’s pumping into my ears via headphones. I need music to be around me, not inside my head. I can work longer and concentrate better if I’ve got music playing, particularly when I’m doing repetitive or bitsy work, like marking. But firing up my sound dock in an open plan office is really not an option.

Downsides:

  • I find it hard to do good thinky work when I’m in the office because I’m used to the conditions at home.
  • The only shoes that come close to the comfort of slippers are Birkenstocks, so I’ve traded in my Jimmy Choo flats for a million pairs of the German sandals.

I’ll never get anything done!

Now we’ve got luck covered, let’s move on to the idea that you don’t get anything done when you work from home.

I get heaps done because housework is really not that tempting.

People tell me they think they’d be distracted by dirty washing, floors that need vacuuming, and pantries that need rearranging. Fortunately for me, I don’t do the washing, I have a cleaner to look after the floors, and PhD procrastination has already taken care of my pantry. And my spice drawer. And my fabric stash. And my stationery supplies.

Most days, my work is infinitely more interesting than the dishes. Strange, but true. In fact, I rarely do even tiny domestic jobs like washing my breakfast and lunch dishes until the evening. I generally wash my coffee cup and the Nespresso milk jug because I’ll invariably want more coffee, but that’s it. I don’t do this stuff because if I’m going to waste work time, I’d rather waste it doing something fun.

Downsides:

  • My family don’t understand why I can’t do the washing while I work. Or rather, they profess to understanding, but then I occasionally hear them muttering about my being home all day and not doing the dishes.

I get heaps done because I have more time.

I’ve already talked about how working from home saves me time. You might think I’m spending that extra time sleeping late and watching daytime TV, but the reality is, I spend pretty much every minute of it working. If I go into the office, it’s difficult to put in more than an eight hour day because I’ve got a commute at either end. There’s a finite amount of time in the day and something has to give. If I’m at home, I can put in ten hours, 12 in peak times, and still get to bed a decent time. Most days, I knock off for a bit around 6pm, try to sort out something for dinner, and then put in another couple of hours in front of the TV, with half an eye on whatever’s on. In short, staying home means I can work longer hours and get more done.

Downsides

  • The work day rarely ends before bed time, or to be more accurate, until I fall asleep (cause you can still process email in bed!).

I get heaps done because the conditions are perfect.

My wifi is fast. I’ve got more HD screen space than you could ever imagine needing. My stationery stash is well stocked. I get to control the temperature. My chair is super comfy. I have a huge amount of desk space. My sound dock is within reach. I’ve got several pin boards. I’ve got an awesome colour laser printer.

My home office is perfectly set up.

Downsides:

  • I’m a creature of habit and my on campus workspace is not set up the same way, so this means I feel a bit out of sorts in my office work space. This could have something to do with the fact we’ve been in transit for quite some time, but now I have my own desk things might change.
  • I don’t control the conditions at work (like temperature, light level, noise), and that can impact on my productivity.

I get heaps done because I can have a nap if I need it.

I start work early (starting with email in bed from about 7am – terrible habit – and then moving to my desk by 8am) and I finish work late (and I don’t mean 5.30-late, I mean 9pm-late). So sometimes, I am dead tired in the middle of the day. Instead of staring at my computer screen and wishing the day would end (which is what I would do if I was in the office), I have a nap. Having little kids around has taught me to sleep in 45 minute sleep cycles and to get to sleep fast. A 45 minute nap can give me literally hours more productive work time in the day.

I used to torture myself about having naps and ‘making up the time’. Then one day I realised just how much I was working, so I stopped worrying about it.

Most people have lunch breaks. I have naps. I stopped beating myself up about it because the reality is I still work fifty million hours a week even if I have a daily nap (which I don’t do all that much these days, seeing I get more sleep now the kids are older).

Downsides:

  • There are none. Everybody should nap. We should all have sleep pods built into our cubicles.

I get heaps done because when you’re always in your office, you tend to work all the time.

People tell me they wouldn’t get anything done if they worked at home. But what these people don’t realise is that when you work from home, you never leave ‘the office’. Not at the end of the work day. Not at the end of the work week. And not when you’re on leave. The reality for me is that I’m tempted to work all the time. If I want to take a weekend off, I have to plan an itinerary in advance, because if I don’t have plans and I’m sitting around idly, I’ll invariably end up working.

Downsides:

  • I work. All. The. Time.

But you know what? I really love what I do, and it is very rare that I wish I worked less.

30 posts in June: 21/30

PS. Tomorrow, I’m going to post my top tips for making working from home work for you.

16 Jun

my name is kate, and i procrastinate

Did you get that the title was meant to be rapped? No? It’s okay, I was concerned* this may happen.

I try not to work on Sundays, or at least to only do bits of work like answer email or respond to students on Facebook and Twitter. At least, that’s the plan, but the reality is I do tend to schedule tasks for Sundays more often than not.

Today I had two big things on my to do list, but I haven’t done either of them, and here’s why.

This post is essentially a reflection on my day of procrastination. [Aside: I just realised this blog post is another act of procrastination.]

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

This morning I cleaned up my office and moved stuff around. This was absolutely necessary as everything was dusty because the cleaner is too scared to dust in here (I think). The first time she came I pretty much nailed the office door shut because I was in the middle of making about a million fabric crowns for the twins’ birthday party so the floor was covered in cotton and it was only going to get worse. I think she kind of thinks this room is off limits, even though I keep telling her to feel free to clean in here. I moved my enormous printer (twice) and then put it back where it was in the beginning. I sorted a whole stack of medical claims (a year’s worth of dietician, physio and exercise physiology receipts). Frustratingly, I had already sorted these once before, but the piles had been swept into a washing basket one day when the cleaner was coming (I’m seeing a theme here…) and all that lovely organisation got lost. Then I pinned a bunch of stuff on my non-cork board. I tried to get the printer working wirelessly via my new router. I wound up iDevice connectors and headsets and clipped them with bulldog clips and tucked them away in a little plastic dish. If I wasn’t still in a fair bit of pain courtesy of a bulging disk, I would have crawled under the desks to organise what I like to call Cord World. (Hey that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to buy cable management boxes… See, it’s a slippery slope.) I rewrote all the post its on my desk in my notebook. I looked online for iPod adaptors for Bose sound docks because mine are missing and my iPod has been propped up for six months on the little plastic dish that is now the receptacle for my headset. [Update: headset no longer has a home because I couldn’t find anything else suitable to prop the iPod up with.]

That’s some intense procrastination, I know. But it doesn’t end there.

I had a nap (which I really, really needed so I don’t think it counts). It was a good nap. The longest I’ve been able to pull off for ages. Two whole blissful hours in which I could procrastinate without having to *do* anything and in which I didn’t feel guilty for procrastinating, given I was unconscious.

I also bought some fabric, which involved checking prices in a couple of places (sounds simple, but add in a layer of currency conversion and you have a time sink), figuring out postage costs, and having an internal debate about buying it from the US when I discovered it via an update from a local small business. I actually procrastinated about the act of procrastinating through buying fabric. The fabric was in my shopping cart for three hours while I thought about whether I should get it and where I should get it from.

Then I brushed my teeth again because I ate cake (twice) and drank Coke (a lot) so they felt like they were covered in sugar.

When that was done, I thought I might be ready to work, so in preparation, I archived the files from the batch of marking I finished earlier in the week. Then I organised and renamed all the files I’m supposed to be marking today and prepared the criteria sheets.

Then I thought to myself, “This is so ridiculous that I need to write a blog post about it”. So I wrote this post.

Because here’s the thing: Today I missed out on going for a walk, playing at the park and having fish and chips for lunch because I needed to work. And now it’s after 5pm and I still have a whole day’s worth of work to do. Which means I now have to miss dinner at my sister’s place in aide of getting some work done.

This is absolutely the stupidest thing. It’s Sunday. I didn’t get any work done, but neither did I get to have fun. Well, the nap was pretty good and looking at fabric is pretty fun. But I missed all the family stuff. Because I procrastinated the whole day away. Who does that? And more to the point, how is that I do not have enough insight into myself to judge my mood and decide whether it’s going to be conducive to working or not? I should have purposefully had a day off, instead of faffing around and wasting it.

I decided this was a life changing revelation (although really, I’ve had this revelation before, and still I faff). I decided I absolutely had to tell the world that it is just silly to procrastinate about work on a Sunday. It’s just a great big waste of a day you could spend with the people you love, doing things you love doing.

So I wrote this post, hit publish, and got stuck straight into my marking.

Hahahahaha gotcha!

Actually, I decided I really needed to have a shower right-now-right-this-minute, and of course, I needed to have it before I could do even one tiny little dot of work. So I stopped writing this post, had a shower, came back to my desk, and started working.

Did I get you again?

Of course I didn’t start working! I had to entirely rewrite this post. And then I changed the title. And then I thought, “Oh, I wonder if people will read it as a rap? Maybe I should record myself reading it as a rap and post the recording?”.

So now I’m looking at my schedule for the week to see where I’m going to fit the work I didn’t do today, and that in all honesty, I am highly unlikely to do tonight.

Moral of the story? Work, or don’t work. But do it with intent.

30 posts in June: 13/30