It's been an absurdly long time since the last post in this series (which I didn't even write). So it's time to get these posts back in gear.
Recently, Marcus highlighted a blog post by Mike Labossiere where Mike advised readers not to try to become a university professor. One of the reasons he gives for holding this view is the finding that professors work (on average) about 61 hours per week. The study from which this data originates has its limitations. This statistic is derived from the reports of 30 faculty members at Boise State University collected over the course of 166 days. Even so, it is a rather staggering number, and I know faculty and graduate students alike who claim to routinely work 60-70 hours per week.
I had one semester early in my graduate career where my average work hours probably averaged more than 60 per week. Although I survived the experience, I never want to repeat it. Once the semester concluded, I made a concerted effort to limit the amount of work I did each week. This has not always been easy: the temptation to work 60+ hours per week can be a strong one. Even as a graduate student, there is a seemingly endless list of things that one could be doing at any given time - an additional piece of teaching material to prepare, an old term paper to revise, a dissertation prospectus to write, or a pertinent article waiting to be read.
But in my experience, it's just bad to work 60+ hours per week. It's a recipe for fatigue, dissatisfaction, and (often) burnout. So I think it's worth having some rules in place that limit the extent to which one works in a given week. Elsewhere, Marcus has mentioned two such rules:
- Do not work after 6:00 pm.
- Do not work on weekends.
In the comments of the same post, Rachel proposed similar set of rules:
- Do not work after 4:00 pm.
- Do not work on weekends.
- Take vacations from time to time.
- Do not work more than 35 hours per week.
My own rules overlap a bit with theirs:
- Refrain from working for at least 1 full day per week.
- Take at least 2 vacations per year that are longer than 2 weeks.
- Do no more than 6 hours of focused work per day.
- Sleep for 8 hours every night.
I have not found a way to consistently purge weekend work from my week, but rule #1 at least grants one day off every week. (This day is usually Saturday.) Rule #2 is pretty straightforward, and I've touched on the importance of vacations in an earlier post in this series. Rules #3 and #4 require a little explanation.
Rule #3 is designed to limit the amount of intense work that I do per day. By "focused" work, I have the following things in mind: reading difficult philosophical work, writing papers, grading papers, teaching classes, and anything else that requires my sustained, focused attention to be done well. I can really only do these tasks for a maximum of about 6 hours per day before the quality of my work starts to plummet. This does not mean that I only work 6 hours per day: tasks that require less cognitive energy (e.g., replying to emails, reading blogs, updating the Blackboard site for my course) are not covered by this rule.
The main function of Rule #4 is to ensure that I can follow Rules #1-3 and still meet all of my commitments. I cannot conduct proper research, write well, or teach well when I am tired. Even one evening of 6 hours of sleep will ultimately derail me the next day because I will tire earlier than usual: I may only be able to get 4 hours of focused work done that day. Thus, of all the rules I listed, this is the one I am least likely to break.
Of course, this is just a small sampling of some general rules that a few of us have adopted to try to avoid the 61-hour work week. What other rules do you all follow to limit your weekly work hours to a manageable number?