Sunday, November 27, 2016

About scheduling and productivity

A student has just asked me how I organize my time. I get this question quite often, so let me share some tips, in case you're interested.

The key to being reasonably productive is to discover what kind of person you are. We are born with certain personality traits that we can't really modify much. Some people are able do three or four different things a day. I tried. I failed. I am a one-main-task-a-day person.

This means that, ideally, I try to assign one core activity to each day of the week. If I'm writing, I mostly just write. If I'm doing university-related things —lecturing, grading, preparing for classes, meetings— I mostly do that.

My current week looks like this:
MONDAY: Preparing for classes or writing
TUESDAY: Teaching and meetings
THURSDAY: Teaching and meetings
FRIDAY: Consulting/traveling or writing
SATURDAY: Freelancing or writing
SUNDAY: Family day
I usually begin work at 9 a.m. and stop either at 3 p.m. or at 5 p.m., depending on the day. Every hour or two —this is flexible, I must admit— I allow myself some goofing around in social media. This is when you may see me tweeting.

If there's an activity that needs to fit into one specific day —say a phone call with a colleague, a meeting, or filling out some paperwork on Wednesday, when I should be writing— I treat it as a pause, like if I were on social media.

If this secondary activity takes longer than 15 minutes, I make up the extra time extending my work day. I do the same if I get carried away on Twitter, something that recently has happened too often.

I try to reserve at least two or three hours a day to reading. I read two print newspapers and then my RSS and Twitter feeds during breakfast. This usually takes one hour or a bit more. I read books in the late afternoon or evening.


  1. Dear Alberto,
    Would you be comfortable mentioning time spent with family outside of your Sunday "family days"? It's been really hard for me to find (academic) role models who spend non-negligible time with kids, at least before tenure. I wish more people spoke out about it. I'm left feeling like an awful academic for having a family *and* like an awful parent for being in grad school.

    My schedule sounds pretty similar to yours, but still seems like "never enough" compared to other grad students. 8h at work + 3h reading at home + 1h exercise + commute time + personal time just to recharge + sleep = not much left for the important people in one's life.

    1. I spend at least 1 hour with the kids a day, and a bit more on Friday and Saturday (movies and board games.) By the way, that feeling of awfulness will never go away no matter how you tweak your schedule.

    2. I forgot to mention that something that helps a lot in my case is that I stay at home quite a bit

  2. Dear Alberto, do we ever stop feeling like a fraud? I'm a professor here in Brazil with tenure and all, but I feel like I don't deserve it, like I got this by pure luck, that I haven't read one tenth of what people think I have. I feel like a big big con artist about to be uncovered and shamed. DO you think it might mean I'm in the wrong field?

    1. Unfortunately, that won’t change, either.

      I feel like a fraud every single day. After finishing every single one my books I started getting some criticism. All of it was mild, polite, and very constructive, but it made me feel insecure about what I know and what I still need to learn anyway. Studying a subject increases the certainty some people feel. I'm not like that, and my hunch is that you aren't, either. In my case, the more I read, write, or practice my craft of visualization and infographics design, the less sure I am of what I truly can claim to know.

      The key, I believe, is to remember that whatever it is that we teach or do —design, writing, etc.,— nothing is ever a finalized product, but part of a process. It’s just a little pebble on a road that never ends —but that stops being built when we die. If we're fortunate, others that’ll come after us will go on paving it.