Getting It All Done
In science, there is a lot to be done. When you are an undergraduate, you had problem sets, lab reports, maybe even a capstone to complete. You were maintaining your grades while having some fun and doing some extracurricular activities. As a graduates student, you passed classes, TAed, performed novel research, became the world’s expert in your exact experiments, perhaps organized some science-related on-campus activities, attended conferences, made posters and talks, wrote papers and a thesis, and got a postdoc. As a postdoc, you juggled multiple projects, learned new techniques, wrote proposals for fellowships, mentored graduate students and undergraduates, perhaps juggled multiple mentors, wrote papers, edited papers, edited theses, attended conferences, networked, gave talks, wrote papers, applied to jobs, interviewed, got a job, and wrote papers.
Now, as a faculty member, your job tripled because in addition to doing all the stuff above, you are now having to manage other people (posts), get enough funds to support other people (write grants, see post), teach courses (perhaps some that you never took yourself, see post), work on service for the department and college (post), and take on larger and larger service roles for your scientific community. Each of these has a huge number responsibilities and components to it, and could be a job unto itself. So, how do you do everything?
I have had some posts about starting a new job here and here, but at the beginning, the job isn’t as much. It definitely ramps up over time. I have one post that is good for helping to organize yourself over a yearly time frame, but there is also something to be said for a monthly or weekly schedule that is conducive to getting everything done. One extra issue with academia, is that your schedule changes throughout the year depending on when you are teaching, what you are teaching, who is in your lab, and other what naught. I will give some examples of weekly schedules that worked well for me over the years, in a hopes that they will help you to organize your schedule, too.
Example 1 – 10am class for 1 hour. Several semesters, I taught at around 10am for about an hour three days per week. This time slot was pretty close to ideal, which is probably why they are so popular in the schedule. The students were awake, I had time for last minute prep before class, and I took the entire morning for “teaching.” Here is how I actually arranged my schedule. On the days I was teaching, I got in around 9am and did some last minute psyching up for class, making sure I had demos, and my computer was set up. I would print off and make copies of anything needed for class. I would go 15 minutes early to the classroom to set up projectors and demos and also talk to students as they came into the lecture hall. After teaching, I would go to the gym for an hour to get exercise and decompress after teaching. After the gym, I would shower and go to lunch. I would spend the afternoon working on leftover class stuff, like scanning and posting my notes or homework solution sets, office hours, and meeting with students. On the other days, I would try to take the entire day for writing grants and papers. In the evening the day before I would teach, I would spend a couple hours in the evening re-writing my lectures.
Example 2 – afternoon lab course. Other semesters, I taught afternoon lab courses two times per week for several hours in the afternoon. Lab classes take less preparation because there are not lectures to make up. I usually try to keep all the teaching stuff on the same day, so any preparation, photocopying, or equipment set-up that I might need to do would be done in the morning. Again, the other days are reserved for research. I would also try to go to the gym first thing in the morning on research days before going into work but after getting the kids to school. Sometimes working out was a great way to kick my brain into gear and get it working for the rest of the days on research days.
The key to all of these ideas is to give myself the time I need to do what I need to do. I block out full days for research and I do not allow committee meetings to be made on those days. The days I teach classes, I put other meetings and office hours, so that it is all on the same day. Although I have been failing recently, I also try to get to the gym 3 days per week. Also, I eat lunch with friends almost every single day, and I try to sleep 7-8 hours per night.
Also, none of this includes any family stuff, which happens outside of 9-5. But, here is the key, by giving myself time for stuff like rest and the gym, I have some slack that I can take up with family stuff happens. The week when the baby has a fever and he has to stay home, I cut out gym and some other stuff so that I can still get the important stuff done take the time I need to be with the baby at home. (My spouse and I split days off with sick baby, and negotiate which days/times we can be home. We often don’t schedule important, non-rearrageable meetings at the same time not he same days, so we can do this. We have a joint-shared set of calendars.) If my time is already stretched to the breaking point, a sick kid or other family emergency will wipe me out. If I am giving up going to the gym for a week, so I can get more research done, it isn’t as bad.
So, what do you think? Do you have a way to arrange your time that enables you to get it all done? Post or comment. You can receive an email every time I post by pushing the +Follow button.