As a graduate student, I was never aware at how many different hats a professor must wear. Here is a list of the different roles I am currently playing:

  1. Calculus Instructor
  2. Linear Algebra Instructor
  3. Researcher
  4. Math Society co-advisor
  5. Putnam coach
  6. New Building Committee member
  7. Textbook author
  8. Thesis advisor to one student
  9. Reader of a senior thesis to another
  10. Major advisor to six students
  11. Group Theory Seminar organizer
  12. Chair of Committee on Math Education Curriculum
  13. Member of committee to hire new faculty member

I am probably forgetting some, but this is not unusual for a professor. On top of this, professors regularly give talks at different venues; this is sporadic, but it takes a considerable amount of time to prepare the talks.

I have been working on ways to do all of these jobs well, and to do all of these jobs in a stress-free way. Here is what I have come up with:

  1. I do a lot of what is suggested in Getting Things Done. This is been the single most effective thing for my productivity, particularly with the “stress-free” part.
  2. I have started heavily scheduling activities in my calendar. A typical day includes time for my classes, time for research, time for internet, and time to meet with students. I schedule three 30 minute internet sessions. I do not keep them well, but it has had the effect of limiting my time-wasting on the web.
  3. Jason Buell wrote about how Jerry Seinfeld would put an X on the calendar for every day that he wrote. Once he had a chain of X’s going, he wanted to keep writing so that he does not break the chain. I have started doing this with research; I have a chain of 9 right now.
  4. I have started running to and from school. I typically run every day except Wednesday, which is when I bike/drive in with clean clothing and fresh food for the next week. This allows me to run 9 miles each day, but the running only takes 40 minutes longer than driving would. So I get a 9 mile workout in only 40 minutes (note: I normally cannot run 9 miles in 40 minutes).
  5. I now wake up at 5 am. I work for two hours, take care of my son for 45 minutes when he wakes up at 7 am, and then run to work. I just started this today, but I got a lot done between 5 am and 7 am. This has the added bonus that my entire family now goes to bed at the same time. (I am normally a night owl, so this is a bit of a painful switch; however, I am less productive at night—I am a night owl because I have more fun at night—so working in the morning works well for me).

Tips and suggestions are always welcome in the comments.

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6 Responses to “Productivity”

  1. Ben N. Says:

    Hey Bret,

    Nice post! I hope that the new schedule is going well for you. I’ve also been trying the getting up at 5am to work for 2 hours idea over the past year. Not as part of my regular routine, but on more of an as-needed basis. You’re right that it sometimes does seem to be the only way to spend any time with the family at night and still go to bed at the same time.

    Hope the fall semester is starting out well for you! I look forward to hearing how it goes.


    • bretbenesh Says:

      The 5 am work schedule has been working well—so well, in fact, that I am toying with the idea of getting up at 4:30 instead. I got up at 3:30 today due to a crying baby, but then worked from 4-7 am before heading to work. It was quite productive.

      It is always great to hear from you, Ben.

  2. Erica Says:

    I never sat down to list the hats I wear, but I’m with you: I never knew how many hats a professor wore until I was one. Actually, I think I’m still learning this, come to think of it.

    Way to go with the 5 a.m.! I’m a morning person, but I don’t think I have the grit to pull that off.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Erica,

      You should list your duties here; I would be curious to see what they are.

      My new time to rise is 4:30 am. This is because I am starting to go to bed at 7:30 pm, and I do not think that I need more than 9 hours of sleep. (You may want to get used to that idea).

  3. Update « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] those are my excuses. I would like to add that my research took a hit, too. I had planned to do an hour of research each day this semester, and I started off with 41 successful days. Since then, I have been 8 for 27. Jerry Seinfeld was […]

  4. Semester Summary « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] outlined a plan at the beginning of the semester here, here, and here. Now, we reflect. (This is really a first stab at what I will present at the […]

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