Reconceptualising productivity

The Slow Academic, who is one of my academic superheroes primarily due to the name of her blog, recently posted about a conference she attended where the presenter inserted “thinking time” into her weekly timetable. Another article, this one on the Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses scheduling blocks of time for “deep work.”

I am not interested in chaining myself (any more than I already am) to my agenda. I wish I could unschedule my time. Now I appreciate living a life (and having a job) where I am (mostly) the one in charge of deciding what I do when. I often take an hour out of my work day to exercice, I work in cafés or at home, in the train or my office, I volunteer at my son’s school once every couple of weeks. My work time is split into teaching and the work that surrounds teaching (preparing, evaluating, meeting with students, and thinking); service and admin tasks (mostly meeting others in person or virtually, and doing follow-up work and communication between meetings and thinking); and research, which at the moment involves reading and writing (deep work), but also can include meeting with people, travelling to international conferences, and yes, thinking. This is one of the things I love about my job, and hopefully this variety and the constant evolution of courses and research and service commitments will make me want to stick with this job for the long haul.

Personally, my strategy is not to schedule more (to include thinking and other “slow” or “unproductive” tasks into my agenda), but to schedule less. To be loose with my time, to include more time than I think tasks will take in the schedule, and to be kind to myself when I just can’t concentrate on the task I had planned. To understand that some days what I had planned to take 6 hours will get done in 1, on other days it takes all day just to do something I thought would take 15 minutes, and on some days, my brain refuses to go into the deep thought place it needs to be, so I do less taxing work tasks like responding to emails, reviewing other people’s work, and doing the laundry. I only work evening and weekends when deadlines are dire, and I try my best to prevent this from happening. I manage to “produce” enough, but I judge my “productivity” on what I contribute. Did I make a new colleague feel welcome today? Did the article I published or the paper I presented make others think and question what they thought they knew? Did it inspire them? Did what I said at the meeting make a positive contribution, to the task at hand or more generally to some aspect of the field of Education?

Do you have any other ways to measure contribution on a daily or yearly basis? How do you handle scheduling your time?

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About joannelehrer

I am a PhD student attempting to critically engage with narrative research in early childhood education. My doctoral project focuses on family-educator and family-teacher relationships during the transition to kindergarten in marginalized communities. I created this blog to document the journey, and to reach out to others in the vague hope of creating an opportunity for exchange with other students or academics...kind of like a virtual message in a bottle.

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