Author Topic: Optimizing worktime  (Read 2395 times)

Snow

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Optimizing worktime
« on: August 14, 2017, 03:23:59 AM »
I couldn't find a thread that covered this, so apologies if this has already been posted somewhere.

For those of us who still work/or when you worked, what was some of your strategies for optimizing your time?

I currently have a job where I get a flat monthly pay regardless of the hours (as long as I do my job, of course). This leads to a lot of people feeling the need to be "on" all the time. But I would rather maximize my work output while at work, so I can properly relax when I am home and not feel a need to check up on emails/read journals/write etc. If I want to, that's fine of course, but I want to get to the point where I feel I am so efficient that I don't need to do this, and can spend my evenings on other hobbies (I might never get there, what with there always being one more thing to read, but I can try).

I try to work efficiently. But sometimes a journal does take an hour to read, and sometimes you have to delete half a page of writing that took hours to research and cite properly. And sometimes LaTeX just doesn't want to play and you spend half the day on the web figuring out where it went wrong and how to make it work again. All this adds up and some weeks just feel like there's more backtracking than forward motion.

So far, my strategies for this has been to be at work 8-4 every day (though usually I come earlier and leave later than that), regardless and have a home-office set up for if I want to get an hour of work in on a lazy Saturday morning.

I try to check my work mails only once per hour during working hours, but I get a bit antsy and worried that people think I'm not keeping updated (despite there being days when I spend all day in the lab and can only check my mail in the morning, at lunch and before I leave).

I write to-do lists with tasks and smaller sub-tasks, to keep motivated and see progress.

I generally try to get up from my chair if it's a pure office day a few times a day. For instance, if I am going to the restroom, I go to one on a different floor to give myself a tiny bit more of a walk/blood flow.

Any and all tips for getting that job done as efficiently as possible when you're largely independent and have to create your own deadlines would be largely appreciated!
« Last Edit: August 14, 2017, 03:58:52 AM by Snow »

extremedefense

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2017, 06:05:13 AM »
I would recommend you read the 4 hour work week, it answers most of your questions.

GuitarStv

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2017, 07:19:56 AM »
The answer to this depends on the corporate culture of a place.  Most businesses I've worked for care less about your real productivity than your apparent productivity . . . Long hours in the office, not answering emails/messages, acting stressed all the time, these are the ways that you'll get ahead.  In this type of environment it is better to play the game than actually work efficiently (despite the platitudes and empty words that will come up at meetings).  You will actually find yourself punished for efficiency at this sort of place.

There are some (few and far between) places that will actually measure your productivity against goals set.  At this type of place you might end up working a couple 60 hr weeks and then take a couple 20 hr weeks.  In this type of environment there is real benefit to working efficiently (and if you're like me, you'll be much happier overall).

Snow

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2017, 08:21:00 AM »
The answer to this depends on the corporate culture of a place.  Most businesses I've worked for care less about your real productivity than your apparent productivity . . . Long hours in the office, not answering emails/messages, acting stressed all the time, these are the ways that you'll get ahead.  In this type of environment it is better to play the game than actually work efficiently (despite the platitudes and empty words that will come up at meetings).  You will actually find yourself punished for efficiency at this sort of place.

There are some (few and far between) places that will actually measure your productivity against goals set.  At this type of place you might end up working a couple 60 hr weeks and then take a couple 20 hr weeks.  In this type of environment there is real benefit to working efficiently (and if you're like me, you'll be much happier overall).

Yes, my environment/job is the second kind, which I didn't explain too well. That is why I wish to get better at maximizing my productivity. If I can spew out drafts to my supervisor at half the time, he'd be ecstatic. I'd get ahead (I wish), and when my mandatory teaching schedule starts up in a month or so, I hope to be able keep the steam and still produce, even though classes will be laying a heavy load on my schedule. I also need to get the lab work done (which needs planning, booking, purchasing and all other things I am sure people are very familiar with in advance), managing a difficult student that the department forced on my supervisor because he is new, etc etc etc.

From what I hear from the other PhD students, my supervisor is giving me a much larger than average amount of freedom and responsibility. I don't want to make a mess of that chance and really show that I am worth the trust.

ETA: Of course, it might just be because I think I might be his first PhD student, so he's not used to managing them. But still. Good for me, if I can pull it off!
« Last Edit: August 14, 2017, 08:44:16 AM by Snow »

milliemchi

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2017, 03:33:48 PM »
You may think academia is an environment where output is measured by goals, but that's variable. The first lab I was in, a student finished all his courses and his thesis in 3 years. I think the adviser was nearing retirement and didn't care one way or another. Then I went to my second lab, and I saw the guy who spent the most effort of us all held back. After five years (which is the standard in the department for graduating), he had a few papers, one of them in Science magazine, and his two advisers said "you're not ready, you need to do one more project", so he had to stay a couple more years. I think they just kept him for labor. Of course, after that, he was done with academia and went to industry.

In my current department, every PhD student has a thesis proposal that they have to defend in year two. It is written in the format of grant proposal. Three aims are listed hopefully building on one another, and the deliverables are one publication per aim. Once you achieve that, you get your PhD and you can go. That's performance measured against goals. If your department offers that, get a plan, so that your goals don't start drifiting because you are a high performer.

P.S. For those not in the know, tenures are got by publishing in Science, let alone PhDs.

asauer

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2017, 09:19:36 AM »
Several items here that helped me go from 60 hrs to 45 ish:
1. Know your priorities.  What do you need to stop doing or take off your plate?
2. Check email/ chat 2-3 times a day and have it CLOSED the rest of the time (if you're a help desk person or similar I know this is not realistic)
3.  Have a shut down routine at the end of the day. When it's done, it's done.
4. Block off a certain amount of time to get shit done (I block off 3 hours a day M,W,TH and 3.5 hrs on Tues/Fri).  I do not accept meetings except in the direst of circumstances during that time
5. Set aside 15-30 min of planning per week (I do mine on Friday afternoon- plan for the next week)
6. Take lunch- I can't tell you what a difference it's been to actually take a break during the day- makes me work better in the afternoons
7. Don't give out your personal cell number unless absolutely required by some policy or job description. Only my boss has my cell # and I've told him that I don't check my phone after 6.

Source books for tips:
1. Essentialism
2. Deep Work
3. Peak

Snow

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2017, 11:39:14 AM »
You may think academia is an environment where output is measured by goals, but that's variable. The first lab I was in, a student finished all his courses and his thesis in 3 years. I think the adviser was nearing retirement and didn't care one way or another. Then I went to my second lab, and I saw the guy who spent the most effort of us all held back. After five years (which is the standard in the department for graduating), he had a few papers, one of them in Science magazine, and his two advisers said "you're not ready, you need to do one more project", so he had to stay a couple more years. I think they just kept him for labor. Of course, after that, he was done with academia and went to industry.

I am lucky enough to be in an environment where output is encouraged. Plus, Norwegian PhDs are contracts of 3 or 4 years with very strict labor guidelines. i feel pretty safe that my department will not be able to keep me for my labor unless they give me a postdoc or technician position after my first contract. What I produce these next 3.5 years is very much up to me.

I know the above can come off as vapid corporate/career/manager speak, but if we're talking about academia, you know you're sacrificing time and money in order to get to do something you actually want to do all day. If not, you shouldn't be there. I know when I'm working on something I'm truly interested in and free to work on my own terms, I can easily go 20+ hours straight and make huge amounts of progress. If I'm forcing myself to do something dreadful and pointless, every bit of progress can be a fight some days. If you're in academia, you need to keep yourself in the former category as much as possible. As far as small specific details go, I think that stuff is fairly individual and easy if you just constantly think about optimizing everything you do. One little tweak here or there over time really adds up.

When it comes to LaTeX, Lyx is a huge help. Also, I made an AutoHotkey script that turns CapsLock into a Shift type modifier to autogenerate greek letters, commonly used symbols, features, etc. This combination makes LaTeX faster than handwriting half the time for me.

Thank you for that. I had never heard about Lyx and will decidedly check it out.

I am in the strange situation where I have a lot of motivation, but also feel largely overwhelmed. I always said that I didn't want to do a PhD, because most of them were industry-focused (and funded), but this one isn't. Our funding is independent and I pretty much have the freedom to pursue environmental pollution to my heart's desire.

That is also what terrifies me though. I have all this freedom and all this support. I have to narrow my focus, or I'll get lost. If that makes sense. If these next years are all I get (you never know), I have to spend them well, which is somewhat paralysing.

Several items here that helped me go from 60 hrs to 45 ish:
1. Know your priorities.  What do you need to stop doing or take off your plate?
2. Check email/ chat 2-3 times a day and have it CLOSED the rest of the time (if you're a help desk person or similar I know this is not realistic)
3.  Have a shut down routine at the end of the day. When it's done, it's done.
4. Block off a certain amount of time to get shit done (I block off 3 hours a day M,W,TH and 3.5 hrs on Tues/Fri).  I do not accept meetings except in the direst of circumstances during that time
5. Set aside 15-30 min of planning per week (I do mine on Friday afternoon- plan for the next week)
6. Take lunch- I can't tell you what a difference it's been to actually take a break during the day- makes me work better in the afternoons
7. Don't give out your personal cell number unless absolutely required by some policy or job description. Only my boss has my cell # and I've told him that I don't check my phone after 6.

Source books for tips:
1. Essentialism
2. Deep Work
3. Peak

This is a great list, thank you. I had not thought about just allocating a "meeting" with myself in the calendar and showing up as busy. I think that is a great idea.

I must admit, I am not good at taking proper lunches. I am quite the introvert, and tend to just stay at my desk and read while I eat. I suppose I should get better at that, but approaching people takes so much initiative.

Will check out the resources, thank you. And I'll give all the items on the list a try. Recently, I've had to realise that the forum has been a little too enticing, so I installed StayFocused on my browser. Even just as an incentive, it has been very efficient.

milliemchi

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2017, 11:45:02 AM »

Snow

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Re: Optimizing worktime
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2017, 01:00:17 PM »