Friday, March 30, 2012

What�s the matter with a forty-hour work week for academics?

I am not sure why, but, many times, when I argue that professors should work 40 hours a week, I get push back. Perhaps this is because some people are happy working over 40 hours a week, and understand their flexible work schedules to mean that they are free to work night and day. That�s fine by me.

What is not fine by me is that young scholars are made to feel as if working 50, 60, and 70 hours a week is how things should be, and never even consider the possibility that an academic's job can be done in 40 hours. In my view, a 40 hour week is plenty. And, I�m not the only one who thinks this way. Just ask the folks who fought for the 8-hour work day.

Stakende arbeiders / Striking workers

If you feel as if a 40-hour work week cramps your style, that�s fine. This post is not for you. This post is for those academics who want their life back, who don�t want work to be their life, and who want to believe that it is possible to get their work done in 40 hours a week so that they can use the rest of the time to nourish their soul, feed their bodies, spend with their families, dance tango, or play video games.

Of course, I can�t speak for everyone, but I just want to put it out there that I have been an academic since 1999, and have pretty much always taken evenings and weekends off from work. The exception is my first year of grad school. I began graduate study in August of 1999 and spent the first year reading and writing whenever I got the chance, aside from the five trips abroad I took that first year to Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. However, I came back to my second year of graduate school pregnant with twins, and, by force, spent a lot less time hitting the books. My husband spent the day taking care of our twin babies, so there was no way I was getting away with studying on the evenings and weekends.

When I got my first tenure-track job in 2005, my schedule stayed pretty much the same: I worked from 8am to 5pm, with a break for lunch. What has changed while on the tenure track is that I had to become much more efficient with my time to get it all done within the 40-hour work-week. And, I have had to stand my ground a few times when colleagues have suggested we have meetings on Saturdays.

So, how do I do it? On Tuesday, I actually kept track, as I do from time to time. The thing to note here is that I actually worked 8 hours, but did not do it neatly between 9am and 5pm. Instead, I worked from 6:30 to 7am, 8am to 11:30am and then from 1:30 to 2:30 and from 3pm to 5pm. Oops. That�s actually 7 hours. Unless you count the last half hour of social media, then it�s 7.5.

6am: woke up. had coffee. checked email.
6:30am: prepped my files to begin working for the day.
7am: got my three kids ready for school. had breakfast.
8am: Wrote for one pomodoro (25 minutes) on my book on deportees.
8:30am: Twitter, FB, planning.
9am: one pomodoro (25 minutes) responding to revisions on textbook.
9:30: social media stuff.
10am: one pomodoro revising textbook.
10:30am: another pomodoro applying for Human Subjects approval.
11:00am: another pomodoro finishing Human Subjects application. (5 pomodoros of writing!)
11:30: shower, get dressed, take a walk
12:30: have lunch with my husband.
1:30: read book for deportee project
2:30: walk to campus and get a new key for my office
3:00: check email, FB, Twitter.
3:30: more email. office cleaning.
4pm: Met with student to go over revisions to paper.
4:15pm: Reviewed book proposal for colleague.
4:30: Wrote a speaking proposal in response to an invitation to give a lecture.
4:50-5:05: some speed grading.
5:05: Social media
5:30: went for a walk
6:30: dinner, kids, more social media (not work-related).
8:30: kids to bed.
9-11pm: Read �Love and Capital� while kids were in bed reading as well.
11pm: Sleep

So, what did I do in that 7 hour work day?
- read a book
- responded to about 20 emails and processed another 50
- graded 15 short student essays
- met with a student
- wrote a speaking proposal
- responded to a colleague�s book proposal
- revised a chapter of a book-in-progress
- wrote and submitted a human subjects application
- pulled together data for a chapter of another book-in-progress.

For me, at the end of a productive day like that, I felt completely wiped out. There was no way I was going to be able to get in another 30 minutes, much less two to three hours of work. Thus, over the years, I have learned to stop working once I feel tired. That is why I stopped at 11:30am, took a long break, and then stopped again at 5pm. Admittedly, instead of reading Love and Capital at 9pm, I could have read something more directly related to my work. And, I do sometimes read for class at night. But, I at least try to stop working at 5pm.

Perhaps those people who work for 50, 60, or 70 hours a week have more stamina than I do. Perhaps I am more efficient and get done in 40 what others might do in 60. I really don�t know. But, I do want to put it out there that this system of working 8 hours a day (more or less) for five days a week works for this productive academic.

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