Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Focus on This

A great article on distractions and our ability to focus on tasks is in the NY Times. This is a probably I am constantly battling.

To balance work, family, and my ridiculous commute, I must be highly efficient in how I use my time. Each task will be completed effectively and efficiently if I dedicate 100% of my attention to that task. But... emails filter in, and so do instant messages. And I feel the immediate need to answer all of them, which pulls me away from the task at hand. If I don't watch myself, a whole morning can go by and I won't be able to tell you what I did.

The article follows a technophile family. The family is so absorbed in their gadgets that they hardly talk to each other. It has infiltrated their ability to work, too. I realize this is an extreme case, but the story struck me because this behavior is familiar to me.

If I am to do this job from 8-5 (and a little more at night), then I must treat that time as sacred. Surfing the internet is just throwing away time that could be spent doing hobbies (cooking, gardening) or hanging out with the family. With moderate success, I check my email a few times a day (morning, lunch, afternoon, evening). I limit internet to news sites and literature search engines. I have specific goals for the day, and I complete them. It's rigid and boring, but I have time outside work to enjoy life.

Other faculty will work 14 hours a day, and I just can't fathom how they handle it. Surely they aren't really working during all of that time?! Perhaps they are actively working 9 hours, and being distracted for 5? In graduate school, I found that the people who worked all the time were also playing video games in the lab... Just a thought. I'll try to get off the internet now. It's a bit distracting.


Genomic Repairman said...

I'm down to checking my work email 4 times a day at work (when I get there, before lunch, midafternoon, and before I leave) and it has made my time way more efficient. Thanks for the tip.

prodigal academic said...

This is my experience as well--most people that "work" 70-80 hours a week spend a fair bit of that time goofing off. There are 168 hrs/week. If you are working 80, that leaves 88 for everything else. Assuming 6 hrs sleeping/day, that leaves just 46 hours/week for commuting and life maintenance.

When I was finishing up my PhD, I actually was working 70+ hrs/week. During that time, I stopped reading my snail mail, forgot to pay bills, didn't reply to any non-urgent emails, stopped cooking (no time to shop or clean up after), stopped cleaning my apartment, stopped doing laundry, etc. That I had food and laundry was mostly due to my then-fiance (now husband) going to my apartment to do my laundry and bringing me food at the lab.

And you certainly can't beat the Internet as a procrastination tool (shown here, actual size)!

Anonymous said...

I'm tenure track at an R1 school. In order to stay efficient, I have to turn off all alerts (email, incoming calls, text). I check them about 4 times during the work day. To keep my hours sane (9 am - 6 pm Mon-Fri, plus ~ 10 hrs/wk scattered across evenings and weekends at home), I work through lunches, come in with a list of things to complete, and am ruthless about saying no to committee work and other tasks that will not directly help me get tenure. To keep my "free" time fun and sane, I pay for a gardener, housekeeper, dry-cleaner/laundry service, and get a portion of my meals delivered. It all costs money, but it's so worth the sanity.

Jenny F. Scientist, PhD said...

My old advisor worked 14 hours a day. For real. The whole time. Of course, his stay-at-home-for-40-years wife cooked dinner, bought clothes, booked travel...