New schedules

I am the proud father of a 2.5 year-old boy and a 1-year old girl. I decided to create a schedule that would allow me to have frequent, predictable time with them. Here is what my family and me came up with:

  1. Gone are summer vacations. I have a European-style six weeks of vacation each year. These are days where I miss work for any reason. The idea behind this is that if I use the summer to plan for the upcoming school year, I will be able to smooth out my workload. I have all of my quizzes, clicker slides, and problem lists completely done for this semester (well, almost). This means that I can concentrate on things like meeting with students and grading during the semester. And I should be able to get home at a reasonable hour every day. (Also, I am requiring myself to take six weeks of vacation per year; if I have a lot of days off at the end of the summer, I am just not going to come in to work).
  2. My daily schedule for the summer: I leave home at 8 am and I get home at 4:30 pm. During the school year, I leave at 7:45 am and return at 4:45 pm. This includes both commuting time and my personal exercise time; I have been—and plan to continue—running to school 3-4 days per week to be efficient with my time (and money).
  3. For at least one full hour before I go to work each day, I take care of both of the kids in the morning. This is time for my wife to exercise, garden, or just be alone.
  4. I do one hour of research per day.

We are one-and-a-half weeks into the semester, and it seems doable so far. One casualty in all of this is my time online: I think that I will be cutting back. I am hoping to post an entry here exactly once per week.

As always, I would love feedback on how this could be improved!

20 Responses to “New schedules”

  1. danaernst Says:

    Good for you! My schedule is a little more freeform, but I’ve tried to accomplish something similar.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Do you have any tips? I am always looking for good ideas to steal.

      • danaernst Says:

        I’m looking for ideas, too! One thing that has been working for me this year, but I’m not comfortable with is to spend more time with my office door closed. I’m naturally a door open kind of guy and I want to students and colleagues to pop in regularly. The only problem is that they do! I love this, but in the end, the less work I get done at work, the more I have to do at home, which translates to less time focused on family.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        Hi Dana,

        I like that idea, and I might take it one step further: I think that maybe I should go to the library/coffee shop/wherever else whenever possible. The problem is that I often need my computer, and it is not a laptop. But this would allow me to not feel compelled to answer the door/guilty for not opening it when someone knocks.

        Thanks! Bret

  2. Kim Nicholas Says:

    Bret, you are the model of reason and moderation! Lagom as we say in Swedish. Good job. 🙂

    I have a totally different tack, involving much less moderation, that works for me in my child-free state. I follow advice given by a very highly published friend at McGill: Figure out your syllabus in advance, but don’t write your lectures until the night before, because if you do, lecture prep will expand to fill all available time and you will never get any research done. Of course this presumes R1 gung-ho-ness is the goal. However it also lets me go hog wild and take my 6+ weeks of vacation, which I am enjoying immensely! 🙂

    One tip that I think applies widely, and involves more moderation. I do research (which must consist of writing, brainstorming, or data analysis- actually producing stuff, no reading, no clicking on links) for at least 45 minutes a day, first thing (before checking email), from home (before getting slammed with students, meetings, crises, etc.). It feels good to have that accomplished even when the rest of the day inevitably goes to hell. And you can get a lot of research done in small consistent chunks. See the very valuable and readable “Advice for new faculty” by Boice (useful for all stages, I read it in grad school, and should re-read it 2 years into a TT job!).

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Kim!

      I have done the “wait until the last minute approach” when I was primarily lecturing, and that worked well for me then. However, since moving to primarily Peer Instruction and IBL, I find that I develop the materials too slowly to wait until the last minute. (On the other hand, these materials are more durable than my lecture notes, which I always lose. So I hope to come out ahead in the long run).

      Mange takk!

  3. Aaron Says:

    I hope you have some time for yourself built into there. I know running to work is some of that, but we all need to have time at home or office to do the other things that come up. I wish you well in this adventure. Aaron

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Aaron!

      I do and I don’t. I have been sneaking out of bed after my son falls asleep, and this gives me maybe 1.5 hours per night for reading and internet fun. However, I probably should be sleeping more than I am, too, so I don’t get time every day.

      Thanks for looking out for me!

  4. Joss Ives Says:

    Hi Bret. I am very slowly working toward something similar to your plan. My biggest problem with planning super far ahead (detailed course planning in the summer) has turned out to be two-fold. First, I spend way too much comparing and contrasting my options for every single quiz question, homework question, etc when I don’t have those immediate deadlines that result from trying to do it during the school year. Thus my time spent course planning in the summer tends to be more inefficient from a getting stuff done perspective. But perhaps it results in less revisions for future versions of the course, I’m not sure. Second, I tend to teach new courses with great frequency and I often need to see how the materials I have prepared fare once they come into contact with students. So it is very hard to prepare very far ahead in those courses (beyond just sketching things out) because I will inevitably be revising materials based on the feedback (student and my observations) I receive.

    I do have a colleague who has everything ready to roll for the entire term before the first day of classes and I have to admit to being very envious of his in-term workload that results.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Joss,

      I agree about the danger of inefficiency—deadlines are a great help in this respect. I didn’t have a problem this summer, though, since I knew that I had limited time. I had four classes to prep, a research student, and my own research.

      Plus, even if the time were inefficient, it is still time saved from the school year. This allows me to give my kids some predictability of when they see me over the school year.

      This isn’t the best plan in the world, and I am not sure for how long I will do it. But it works for me, for now. Bret

      • Joss Ives Says:

        Make no mistake, I love your plan. And I strive to do something similar myself. This coming summer I plan to severely restrict my research time (similar to your 1h/day) in an effort to get more course planning done.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        HI Joss,

        I did not take offense. I also think that it is interesting about the differences between our two situations: you are working to restrict your research time down to roughly 1 hour per day, I am looking to _increase_ my research time to roughly 1 hour per day. I guess that is a big difference between colleges and universities. Bret

      • danaernst Says:

        Related to the time spent on research…for me, it takes a while to get really going. Typically, I’m not very productive on research unless I have at least a 4-hour block of time. Unfortunately, these blocks of time do not occur very often. My current approach is to reserve a block of time one day a week to do nothing but work on research. In the past, this has worked well for me. Unfortunately, in my new position, I’ve had a lot of extra little things to do for the first few weeks that I haven’t been able to utilize this time properly. Although, I see this being less of a problem starting next week. One of my goals is to learn to be more productive (on research and writing) in small bursts.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        Hi Dana,

        I am definitely with you—there are a lot of “start-up” costs to me getting going on research. If I were smart, I would try to both have a block of time AND do a little bit every day.

        In fact, maybe I should do that. I could definitely try to do an hour each day, but do 3-4 hours once per week. I am glad I have a blog! Thanks for the idea! Bret

      • danaernst Says:

        Perhaps we should instigate a method of accountability. We could tell each other when our block of time is and the other could make the other person feel guilty if they aren’t working on research;) I’m half joking, but maybe there’s a legitimate idea there.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        I don’t think that it should be a joke at all. I already put a block from noon to 3 pm each week on either Wednesday or Thursday (we have a weird system where the schedule repeats itself roughly biweekly, rather than weekly).

        Are you starting this semester, or are you waiting until you are used to the new job? Bret

      • danaernst Says:

        My block of time is from 8-12:30 on Tuesdays and perhaps 2-4 on the same day. The plan is to start this next week. If I can stick with it, I should be pretty productive.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        I’m going to start tomorrow with my block. And you can expect an email from me every Wednesday morning asking whether you were good. Bret

      • Joss Ives Says:

        Hey Bret. Amazingly, we have no expectations of research as part of our job descriptions, but it is what I like to do to stay productive in the summer. The problem is that I get way too sucked in and then don’t take care of the prep. Oops 😦

  5. Kidney Stones « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] I wasn’t. I credit my newest plan. I had prepared so much in the summer that missing three days was just a bump in the road. I […]

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