Do the Math: Part 2

Last week, I talked about “doing the math” (and by extension time management) here at The Big Thing. This powerpoint contained a slide that got my attention.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 8.30.56 PM

I use Google Calendar to schedule meetings and appointments, but not writing time, teaching time, etc. I don’t compartmentalize my day that way–although maybe I should. My novel writing students and I were talking about time–how there’s never enough time to work on novels–so I showed them the picture and said, “C’mon. Let’s log in how we spend our time for one week.”

I went first.

How do I spend my time? I was already asking myself that question a lot because my P&T document and materials were due this past Friday.

FYI: “P&T” stands for Promotion and Tenure. It’s basically a résumé, and the supporting materials (i.e. evidence) is organized however your institution prefers: binders, folders, hanging-file crates. (Here is an example of a P&T vita I found on the Ohio State English Department’s website, for example). For P&T, I divide my job as a university professor into three categories and account for my activity in three categories:

  1. Scholarship: publication, grants, readings, public appearances, the “writer me”
  2. Teaching: in class, in office hours, grading, thesis supervision, class prep, the “teacher me”
  3. Service: committee work (in my area, my department, my college, and my university), service to my profession, mentoring students, the “citizen me”

You can click on this calendar to see it more closely. And find out when I take showers.

How I spent my time last week. Roughly.
How I spent my time last week. Roughly.

Key to My Activity Calendar

White = Scholarship: I’m working on a novel, and I wanted to get all the pages I’ve written over the last two years compiled into one document to share with my husband and my P&T committee. I wrote about 2000 new words last week as I pulled it all together, plus made lots of tweaks to all 294 pages. Also, I carved out time for the keynote address I’m delivering this Thursday at the 2013 Indiana College English Association conference.

Green = Teaching: I’m teaching three courses this semester, three separate preps, one graduate course and two undergrad. I taught two books this past week (A Visit from the Goon Squad and the last third of Julianna Baggott’s Pure). I’ve read them before, but I needed to refresh my memory. My undergrads take a quiz every time they read something for class, which I must grade. I also graded and gave feedback on six student blog posts and 10 four-page writing assignments. I met with students during office hours, etc.

Red = Service: I spent a lot of time on the P&T document and materials. I’m also on the College Curriculum Committee (CCC) which meets on Mondays, and we had a CW area meeting this week, too. I also spent some time writing letters of recommendation for former students.

Blue = Communication: The truth is that, if I’m using my computer, I’m usually checking email and social media at least once an hour, if not more. In a sense, I’m communicating all the time. Emails. Social Media. Posting to my blogs or replying to comments on those posts. But this category denotes time in which I’m not multitasking, but rather spending dedicated time taking care of communication.

[Last week, I read this great post, “Ten Email Commandments,” which made me realize (among other things) that I use my various inboxes as “to-do” lists, which explains why, when you send me a message on FB asking me to do something, I often forget that you asked me, because FB messages aren’t visible like email messages are.]

Yellow = Personal time. It’s kind of sad when you have to count “showering” and “eating dinner” as “personal time,” but it’s true.


Gulp. I worked 72 hours last week.

I have avoided adding up this figure for days. Ever since I made the calendar, I have avoided tallying it all up. I didn’t want to confront the fact that I worked 72 hours last week.  My husband just came into the room, and I said, I worked 72 hours last week! And he said, “Uh-huh.” He’s not surprised.

That time was divided thusly:

  • Scholarship = about 16 hours
  • Teaching = about 24 hours
  • Service = about 21 hours
  • Communication = about 11 hours

Suggested Reading

As I worked on my activity calendar this week, these articles were published about how we spend our time in academia and/or online. How appropriate!


I don’t want to hear oh how dedicated I must be, blah blah blah. Because the truth is that while I was working on my novel this week, and prepping for classes, and reading course proposals for CCC, I was also letting myself get sucked into checking messages and reading stuff on the internet. I mean, MY GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN LAST WEEK. People were lighting themselves on fire. I found time to tweet at my congressman every hour for an entire day. I found time to order pictures of my new nephew and text my mom about my dad’s birthday.

By sharing my week with you, I’m not trying to set myself up as some kind of ideal.  In fact, I’m sort of horrified about this. I’m full of questions.

Was it necessary to have worked that many hours?

Are those hours completely misleading since I was online most of the time? If I spent 11 hours doing pure “communication,” plus I was online a great deal during the rest of the time, how much time did I spend online?

Is this a situation of my own making, or is it a situation all academics are facing these days: a work week that bleeds into our evenings and weekends? Why is it bleeding? Is it our fault, or is it the job’s fault?

If this was 1993, not 2013, and all other circumstances were the same, would I still have “worked” 72 hours this week?

Do you count the time you spend writing as part of your work week? If not, why don’t you? Because you absolutely should–although, yes, I know, it’s especially hard from the middle of the semester onward.

Stay tuned, dear readers, until next week. I have more to say. [This post was actually twice as long, so I turned it into two. ]

Why don’t you keep an activity log this week too? The more the merrier. Or the more depressed.

Higher Ed


  1. James Hanna says:

    As an adjunct I’ve been thinking a lot about my future prospects, as well as my present situation, and how much I work for how little. But I love it. I’m finally doing what I’ve dreamt of doing for so long—reading, writing, editing, teaching. I’m grateful for my opportunities, but, still, I wanted to work smarter and to prove to myself (and potentially others!) that I’m putting in the hours of a full-timer for part-time pay.

    That’s when I found your “Do The Math” post. I had just started a spreadsheet cataloguing my hours, but your breakdown of “Research” “Teaching” and “Service” left me wondering what activities exactly go into each category.

    Obviously, I thought, my thesis writing goes into Research, since as a creative writer my literary production will be judged by fiction I publish. My teaching time seemed pretty obvious, too: class prep, for-class reading, the actual teaching, grading.

    Then I have my editing. It’s something I’m paid for (thank goodness!), but is that my service? Or is that more research?

    In the end, just keeping track of my work is what matters. And I, too, have wondered about how the distractions inherent in our most fundamental tool, the computer, wind up tying us down just as much as liberating us. Maybe we’ll always find distractions if that’s the kind of thinker/worker we are. Or maybe that’s just an excuse to let me click my Twitter bookmark one more time….

    Thanks for this continued discussion, Cathy. You’re a tremendous model for us all.

    • Cathy Day says:

      What are you editing? And is it “in your load?” Or outside? The best person to ask is someone at your institution. Or: where do you list it on your department’s annual review document? One of the trickiest things about academic employment are the multitude of things which get lumped into “service.” Here, read this article. Thanks for writing!

  2. Lori says:

    Great post, Cathy. I’m scared to do my schedule. I’m either going to figure out how much time I spend internetting or get very very frustrating with all the dead zone time I spend sitting at a desk working toward someone else’s goals instead of my own. Or both. Probably both.

  3. April Line says:


    I read the first post in this series last Tuesday after I had a revelation that I COULD NOT let the work I am doing as an adjunct run my life. So your notes are affirmative and helpful. I love this post, too, and the links to other posts about life in academia. I read them all, which I never do. Thank you for being so generous with your intellectual resources and for sharing such lovely articles.

    I am not teaching writing this semester, I am teaching a class called First Year Experience (Freshman Seminar at some institutions) which makes it even less reasonable for it to run my life (I believe teaching writing makes us better writers). I gave myself a strict schedule with specific allotment of time that I am allowed to spend on teaching. I have been more productive + efficient, and I have begun giving less ambitious assignments.

    I don’t feel great about that, but I also don’t feel great about giving time that belongs to my (more lucrative currently) freelancing and my manuscript + graduate work to PCT for a song (the pay is grisly, but I love the work: lo the life of a writer).

    Thank you for your consistently lovely blog. I admire you.

    -April Line

    • Cathy Day says:

      Thank you for being honest about your workload. I feel like the necessity of “downsizing” our teaching time has been the elephant in the room for a long time. Parents and students need to realize that when a university scrimps on teaching staff, that institution is scrimping on the quality they can expect in the classroom. I do not judge adjuncts who must make these choices.

  4. This has been a great series, Cathy. If I read your chart right, you count reading as personal time? Seems to me it’s part of what you have to do for scholarship, or art in your case. Also, your total weekly writing is I imagine what a fairly productive writer would do over five to seven days. You must do it in long chunks, sometimes separated by days. I wonder if you find that a lot harder? I mean, so what, if it’s necessary. But I think for almost anyone it’s an extra hurdle in re-entering the work.

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