Category Archives: Productivity

Time Tracking and the Reality of Self Care

Everyone likes to talk about the importance of self care. I did a podcast episode on it last fall. I think where we are in the discourse on this is that what we call self care for some people we call indulgence for others, and this is tied to class and race. For some reason pedicures seem to be the thing people talk about the most. That isn’t at all appealing to me, and speaking of class and race problems, pedicures are also a gold standard for those.

What I call “self care” is usually a not all that fun thing to do. Getting exercise or going out to professional networking events aren’t necessarily fun, but you rarely regret having done it. Self care is about creating an appealing life for yourself, but with the recognition that creating long-term happiness requires a lot of day-to-day unhappiness and sacrifice. The reality of this struck me about six weeks ago when I did a 168 hours time tracking project, as described by Laura Vanderkam. She’s a prolific writer and has four kids, so she knows about making use of time. I read her book I Know How She Does It last summer and expected to disagree with it. I’d been a devotee of Cal Newport and Deep Work for some time, but the ideals of that book are hard for me to work right now, and I was spending a lot of time feeling bad about myself because of that. Basically the two are saying the same thing: figure out what you need/want to happen, and make the time to do it. But I Know How She Does It is about looking at the entire tapestry of your life and figuring out where things go, and not feeling bad about how it looks. You can work a lot, spend a lot of time with your kids, and sleep a lot, but it takes some thought to see how things are going and what needs to happen to improve it.

The way she has people does this is to fill out a spreadsheet with your entire week in 15 minute increments, and then track how much time you spend on each thing. For instance, the week of March 28 I got approximately 7.8 hours of sleep on average per night. Not bad! I spend about 4.5 hours a day on average with my kids, though with a lot more of that on the weekends, and some at 3 in the morning. On the other hand, I only spent 4.5 hours total the whole week doing what I would characterize as truly relaxing. My other non-work time was (that week) doing an 8K race, going out for a pre-race dinner, doing yoga, attending a book group, pumping milk (4.25 hours), shopping, podcast recording, and many other things. It was a weird week, but showed me I could get a lot done in a week that made an interesting life. I did this for another week as well, and got similar results, but managed to not fill out the whole thing. It was a good exercise to make sure that I was thinking about what way I was using the next 15 minutes.

And that, right there, is the crux. You can’t do everything. If you want to work out for 15 minutes, you can’t spend that 15 minutes cleaning. If you want to read for 15 minutes, you can’t write during that same time. You can listen to an audiobook while cleaning, or write while commuting by train, etc. But mostly, you have to pick what to do. Looking at that tapestry of a week you have to figure out what to sacrifice to make something else happen. And with kids or other care taking responsibilities, you often don’t get to pick–your plans can change in a moment. I meant to write this post weeks ago, but kept postponing because other things came up. Today I am procrastinating on another project, so I decided to spend my 15 minutes writing. I’ve sacrificed another opportunity, but in acknowledging that I can also acknowledge that what you do shapes your life, and you should choose when you can.

November Writing Plan

Well, it’s that time of year again, when the internet explodes with mustaches and writing. I actually can’t remember what the mustache thing is about. Cancer? I am sure I will remember by the end of the month.

Now, it looks like I’ve not been writing at all in months, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been doing lots of writing, just for other venues. But I need to remember that I can work on some not well understood or fleshed out ideas on my blog. I think that’s the point of Digital Writing Month. I personally am choosing Academic Writing Month, since basically all the writing I want to do is for traditional academic venues, such as double blind peer reviewed print journals, books, and so on. This is unusual for me, but strangely not terrifying.

And so, the plan:

  • Finish my portion of the final draft for a column DUE TOMORROW that will be published in Reference User Services Quarterly. I expect this will take 5 Pomodoros minimum, and obviously is VERY TIME SENSITIVE. (Caps for my own benefit). Update 11/2: Turned in, and done in 5 Pomodoros plus a bit of extra time.
  • Write a Call for Proposals for an internal researchy project. This I promised to deliver by the end of last week. Oops. This will take probably 1 Pomodoro if I get my act together. Update 11/2: Done, but did without benefit of Pomodoroing in until 25 minutes.
  • Write ACRL 2013 Cyber Shed proposal, due November 9. 2 Pomodoros, let’s say. Update 11/9: Done with 1 Pomodoro and one bout of checking Twitter incessantly. Also may do a poster proposal for another project, which is probably an additional 2 Pomodoros.Update 11/9: Wishful thinking knows no bounds
  • Book review for the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, due November 15. This will be challenging since it’s a strange hybrid sort of book. So while it’s probably doable in 3 Pomodoros, this is probably underestimating the time I will spend staring in horror at the blank page. Update 11/14: 3 was about right, though I only tracked one. Turned out to be pretty easy to write, and turned in a day early.
  • Revisions for a provisionally accepted article for Information Technology in Libraries that peer reviewers had some good suggestions for that are also challenging to follow. However, they are right and the article won’t be good unless I follow them. This really needs to be done as soon as possible, and will take I have no idea how long. Let’s say 10-15 Pomodoros.
  • Abstract for a paper the Media in Transition conference, which is due on a rolling basis starting in early November. I had an amazingly brilliant idea in the shower one day, which I immediately wrote up whilst in my bathrobe. I would think I could do this in 3 Pomodoros, assuming the idea is still brilliant.
  • Write a solid (and hopefully complete) draft of an article that an editor from a journal asked for based on a conference presentation from very early 2011. This should be about 1500 words I think, and should be doable in 5 Pomodoros if I really get into it. This is a co-written project as well.
  • Write a rough draft of  a mysterious book project that will be something like 25,000 words. I will say more once I feel less weird about this. 1 billion Pomodoros? Ok, this one I will just whale on day by day until it is looking like something. Will base this one on word count alone.
  • Oh yeah, I have an ACRL Tech Connect post due as usual near the end of November. 2000 words, got to get this one done soon. Let’s say 10 Pomodoros.

In terms of strategy I write best in the very early morning, or very quiet late afternoons when the office is empty. Until November 12 it will generally be empty in my office after 2:30, so will aim to get lots of this done then. Weekends are doable if I have a deadline to force me to work. It was also pointed out to me that I have to take some vacation days soon or lose them (but I took a vacation in June! How could this be happening already!) so that might be a good strategy.

That’s the plan! I was sick in bed for nearly 2 days this week, so lots of other stuff to catch up on that has nothing to do with writing. Plus all the other currents of life that keep me trying to keep calm and… well, you know the rest.

GTD with Google Docs

I meant to write this post about three years ago after I first set this up. But I never did! I mentioned that I use a Google Docs presentation for tracking projects (in the Getting Thing Done sense) on Twitter last week, but pretty much left it at that. Today I got a request to share this presentation, so I thought I would give a little context for it.

Getting Things Done requires a list of projects of various types. The basic set up is described in Getting Things Done, and really expanded upon in Making Things Work. I won’t go into it all here, as there are many better explanations available online. The question left unanswered by everyone is what is the best solution for me, personally? That is because the internet isn’t psychic, silly. You need to ask a librarian for that.

I like Remember the Milk for my daily tasks, but it’s not so good at the weekly review portion of Getting Things Done. I mean it probably could be, but I get too distracted by all the tasks and lists. So I created this presentation to just focus on one section at a time. I’ve edited out most of my more personal information, but left some of the things to get an idea of what I think about. The Personal Workflow Model is the best of all possible worlds scenario. Yes, I should follow that, but I rarely do to the letter. Still, it’s helpful to think about.

Let me know what you think!

Getting Things Done Method Lists

Works Cited

Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Penguin, 2002.
Allen, David. Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life. Viking, 2008.