At the beginning of November, I wanted to get my act together. I invented the time diet where I tracked how I spent my time. Here are my mixed results:
1. Strict dieting can really help get your act together: On the first few days of the time diet, I was keenly aware of how focused I could be when I knew I was “on the clock.” I installed Toggl on my phone and my computer and diligently tracked my time. I shamed myself into staying focused and tried not to jump from task to task. I was really amazed that with dedicated attention, I was able to make some progress on one project and it didn’t take as much time as I thought it would. So often, I procrastinate starting a new project because I think it will be time consuming. In reality, a short block of sustained attention would help me make progress.
2. Tracking time does not guarantee maintaining productive momentum: While I found time tracking to help with getting work accomplished, I was not necessarily as successful maintaining the momentum I got going. The nature of my job requires me to wear multiple hats at the same time and to work through interruptions. So while I might be tearing through one task, it is easy to get sidetracked by something else. It is not easy to put clean little boundaries around the work that I do, and keeping track of the time spent got muddy.
3. Cheating: diet :: bear: woods. Dieters may cheat. A time diet is no exception. If I was on my own doing a task for “work,” I would try not to check “personal” email or social media channels because that was technically cheating. I would feel shameful every time I even thought about quickly pulling up my personal email if I was supposed to be “working.” It was eye-opening to see how often I interrupted my own work.
4. Sustaining a diet in the face of stress or chaos is extremely hard: Starting a diet or some other new practice is easy to put off when it feels like it might be hard to sustain. There will always be a reason to delay going to the gym or eating well or getting up early. I thought getting started on a time diet would be better at the beginning of the month because I knew the middle and end of the month would be madness. Plus Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo) was kicking off so it made sense to reclaim some misappropriated time. Between a serious pileup of work and our recent move, let’s just say that the whole time tracking commitment completely fell apart some time in the middle of the month.
5. Even if your diet falls apart, you can still learn something: One unintended outcome of time tracking is that started to be aware of how much time I was giving to others at work. As a result, I was sacrificing time to get some important work tasks finished. And then those work tasks came home with me, crowding out my home stuff. I felt a little squeezed for head space and perspective. I have written before that sometimes when there is a lot of work to do, you have to put your head down and dig out–swallow your frog. I can’t tell you how many nights I told the husband that I couldn’t unpack because I had to grade. Let’s face it, unpacking and grading are both pretty rough. But by prioritizing my least favorite task first, I was making progress on the stuff that had to get done.
As a season of excess is happening, I know an end of semester pile-up looms large. Rather than binge working and yo-yo time dieting, I’m hoping to take my own advice and get out of my own way.