Measuring Podcasts and Other Things

Most days since December 21, 2019, I started the day by opening up a note on my phone and writing down the number of podcast episodes in my “unplayed” playlist. I started doing this because I had 180 podcast episodes to listen to, and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get back to that number. I needed to declare bankruptcy on some of them, and I figured I could easily set a goal to make sure that no matter what, I got 5 episodes off the list a day to not fall too far behind. I subscribe to about 50 shows, give or take, and that number went up quite a bit this year as I added pandemic podcasts. Most of these shows are weekly, but some have 2-3 episodes a week, or as many as 5 (though they are short in that case). So on an average week I would have 70 episodes–not hard to end up with 180 on the list. This year some podcasts stopped recording for awhile in March and April as they reconfigured, but then in many cases had even more shows as they added “quarantine” episodes that continued on and on. (The best show to come out as quarantine content has been Stay F. Homekins).

Meanwhile, as my March posts indicated, I was very worried about how I would get any work done. I had no idea in March when I wrote that last post how bad it would get and how hard it would be as I ended up having to unexpectedly solo parent while working full time in another city between July and and October, which corresponded with some of the larger projects I’ve had to do in a long time. I also measure my work time pretty thoroughly using RescueTime, so I have all the data for that. I decided to see how many “very productive” hours I ended up working each week through the same period. “Very productive” means “harder” or more focused work in that I’m not in a meeting or Outlook or something that is work, but perhaps merely “productive” or “neutral”. The news was so much better than I had pictured in my head–I actually got on average a couple of very productive hours per day, which again has many meetings and emails not counted.

I often listen to podcasts while I do that type of work, so I wondered if there would be any connection. There is not, I don’t think, but on both sides I think I got a little sense of sometimes measuring something doesn’t really help, and sometime you’re doing better than you think.


Low Expectations

That this isn’t what I planned has finally sunk in, as I suppose it has for everyone. I can’t say that I have found pleasure in this new, unexpected, routine. But I think I finally admitted that I have to lower my expectations. This is a fraught and nearly impossible concept for me. Just saying “low expectations” makes me mentally point out all the ways I am not doing as much as other people and need to to do more. My job is easy to do remotely. My kids are handling this situation well enough. I have a house with three floors and a backyard. But I find my to do list absolutely daunting, and find myself completely exhausted, despite doing very little.

I’m going to leave this here, because I just discovered that our campus data center doesn’t have power so we have no library services available online BECAUSE OF COURSE.


How am I Coping? Am I Coping?

I had everything planned. I was supposed to work remotely for a month while I accompanied one of my children for necessary medical travel that required some social distancing–a term that I didn’t even know existed until this week.

Then everything changed. We’ll need to go at some point for this necessary visit, but we don’t know when, and it was canceled with less than twelve hours notice. But basically, my scenario that I had planned for over the course of a year became everyone’s scenario.

The “funny” thing is that I faced a similar problem last year for the first round of this medical travel, when I had less than three weeks notice that I would have to work remotely for a month including flipping my class online. “I sort of know what to do, and can tell everyone else” I thought last week, even though I know that’s not true. I can tell you what went fine in my very specific situation, and what went badly, and it will be different for everyone. Plus then the on-going logistical puzzle got ahead of me, as it did for everyone. But here are a few ideas, that may or may not be helpful.

My class was on human computer interaction for digital humanists, so it truly couldn’t have been better for switching to be online. Everyone in the class knew how to use the appropriate technology (and were all very proficient in a number of platforms), and we could spend time talking about the experience and affordances of being online as legitimate class content. We had readings to discuss, but did it via Zoom, and continued our normal reflection essays and responses in Sakai. It wasn’t a crisis, so everyone could be in their own homes or come to the building to be on Zoom. I also managed to arrange one in person day (it was a nightmare of logistics) for our final presentations, but would have done those remotely otherwise.

The main thing that was a real problem was that we were supposed to have spent much class time the last week of class doing development and design time in class with a sort of pair programming method. I never quite worked out how to replicate that experience remotely, though I am sure it would have been possible. Instead I just spent a lot of time emailing answers to questions that would certainly have been easier if we were staring at the same screen. I think Zoom breakout rooms would have been the way to go, but it was too hard to figure out given my constraints at the time.

Now, let’s talk work. Last year because I didn’t have time to plan I ended up trying to do all my work that I already had lined up (it was a lot) while being a solo parent and remote worker. I decided that was unsustainable and meant I would simultaneously feel that I was always working and never working. As the last two days of full time work and full time parenting have indicated, this is still true. But now everyone is remote! And a full time parent! And all my go-to coping strategies are gone! (My coping strategies all involve being in large groups of people).

But I am still trying to more or less stick to my plan, and more importantly try to put the focused work on the focused times I have, and put more of the work that can be done in fits and starts while I am being a sort-of present parent. This means I am not even attempting a “normal” schedule, and I never intended to do so even when I thought I would be on my own with this whole remote work thing. I’m trying to track the allocations of time to the projects I want to work on the most during this time, and just keep a running of total of hours. If we assume a workday is something like 7.5 hours, I can aim for a certain number of hours per project, and complete that whenever I can. It will probably be a lot of very early mornings or very late nights. I made a pivot table. It felt like the right thing to do. I’m not really ok with the fact that the necessary medical travel is postponed, and I keep hoping that they will suddenly decide it can happen sooner. They won’t, though I hoped too optimistically for that in a version of this plan I created at first. This schedule takes me out to April 15, which is the day I was supposed to be returning to Chicago. Since schools will be closed until at least April 21, I will have to extend it, but presumably my priorities will be somewhat different by then, so I’ll revisit it at this point. I’m also giving myself 2 days off “for Passover”, though what that even means I don’t know.

Here are my results after two days. I am not counting time I spend answering emails, so it’s actually been a bit more time than this, but given that one of these days I was the only adult in the house, I think this is going somewhere.

Project Hours Budgeted Percentage Hours Spent
Meetings 15 11% 3.5
eCommons Daily Work 5 4% 0.15
Daily Technical/Content Needs 25 19% 4.25
Subject Specialist Work 5 4% 0.25
Drupal 8 Migration Planning 15 11%
Digital Platforms Testing and Planning 15 11%
Primo VE Migration Planning and Prep 20 15%
Library Journal Collection Development Article 10 7%
Development Catchup 10 7%
Privacy in Libraries Article Draft 15 11%
135 100% 8.15

We’ll see how this works! It’s not like anyone is going to ask to see my timesheet or whatever. I’m super fortunate in that regard. But it’s important to me to know that I am keeping focused on big projects that will still happen. Life in September won’t be the same as March. I have given up on certainty, but I know that much.