What I do with my time

I am not a very productive person. I also do not work long hours. However, I sometimes give the impression that I am productive. I have been asked to explain how I do it. Maybe the best answer is to explain what I do on a daily basis.

We are Wednesday. Here is what kept me busy this week:

  • Every night I spend an hour playing video games with my two sons. We finished Xenoblade a few days ago. It took 95 hours to finish the game, so about 95 days. We are playing Oblivion right now.
  • This week I spent an afternoon grading papers.
  • I spent probably an afternoon preparing a new homework question for my database course.
  • I spent almost an entire day reading a Ph.D. thesis and writing up a report.
  • I spent a morning running some benchmarks on an AMD processor. It involved some minor C programming.
  • I am writing this blog post and I wrote another one earlier this week. I often spend 3 hours blogging a week. Sometimes less, sometimes more. I also read comments, here and on social networks and I try to react.
  • I am part of some federal committee offering equipment grants. It took me a few hours to fill out a form this week.
  • I have been asked to be on the tenure review committee for the business school as an external. I have reviewed 4 or 5 files, looked up research papers, read the corresponding c.v.s and written up some notes.
  • I made bread twice this week. I make all the bread our family eats.
  • I spent a few hours working on furniture. I am building my own furniture for our living room as well as a few custom things for the house.
  • I spent a few hours on Google+ arguing with people like Greg Linden.
  • I spent a few hours exchanging emails with various people including graduate students.
  • Because I chair a certificate program, I had to answer a few questions from students. This afternoon, I wrote a long email to help the program coordinators. We are going to build some kind of FAQ for students.
  • I was asked whether my graduate data warehouse course would be offered next term. I explained to the chair of the IT M.Sc. program that it would be offered but that students can’t register right now.
  • Because there is much demand for this upcoming graduate data warehousing course, I prepared a long email with supporting documents to help move this along. I will be offering three graduate courses next term. And yes, I do all the grading myself. I am currently offering two though most of my teaching time is used up by the undergraduate database course that I am offering for the first time this term.
  • I spent a few hours this week arguing with a database student that, well, it is not ok if he is weak in mathematics. He needs to build up his expertise.
  • Someone submitted a problem to me about transcoding UTF-8 to UTF-16. We exchanged a few emails and I proposed a data structure along with a reference paper. This may eventually become a blog post.
  • I spent some time worrying that I am still without news about a paper I submitted 9 months ago to a journal.
  • I sometimes supervise Ph.D. students in the cognitive computer science program. The program is being reviewed right now. I spent my morning on Monday at a meeting with external experts.
  • Tomorrow, I have two administrative meetings occupying the full day.
  • I reviewed a report and some code from a Ph.D. student I co-supervise.
  • I picked up my kids from school yesterday and today. My wife did it Monday and she will do it again tomorrow.
  • I watched a dozen videos on YouTube. I have this amazing (but cheap) TV that can display YouTube videos. I really liked Using Social Media To Cover For Lack Of Original Thought.

I would qualify the current week as busy, but not extraordinarily so. It would be a much more relaxed week if I did not have a full day of meetings tomorrow.

Some things that I have not done:

  • I have not checked that this blog post has good spelling and grammar.
  • Before going to sleep, I watch a TV show or read books on my iPad. These days, I am watching Once upon a time. However, I do not watch broadcast TV.
  • I owe a couple M.Sc. students a meeting. I promised to email them last week, but I have not yet done so.
  • I have delayed a few meetings that were supposed to happen this week.
  • I was planning to do some follow-up work this week on a couple of research projects, but it looks doubtful that I will have any time at all. I constantly worry that I am just keeping busy instead of doing the important work.
  • I am trying to read The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing, but I am not making much progress. (This is not a joke.)
  • I used to spent a lot of time following blogs. I do not have much time for this anymore.
  • I am also not attending strip clubs or doing threesomes. I do not have a mistress.
  • Unlike one of my friends, I do not run a farm.
  • I do not travel.
  • I am not active in politics.
  • Other than swearing, I have no religious activity.
  • I do not have a side business. I do not consult.
  • I do not workout. (I compensate by drinking coffee.)
  • I do not clean up my office.
  • I do not shop for clothes.
  • Though I shower every day, I do not spend any time at all trying to look nice. I pick my clothes randomly in the morning. I am sometimes astonished how business-like some of my colleagues look.

Conclusion: I do not know what to conclude, but I am interested in how what I do differs from what other people do.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

10 thoughts on “What I do with my time”

  1. Bloody hell. You make me feel incredibly lazy and unproductive.

    I’m scared to actually document what I did this week because of how little it will include and how many hours got squandered on Quora and reading a detective novel.

  2. You certainly appear to have done a lot. I think some people are naturally good (or maybe just lucky) at picking the right things to do, i.e. those tasks that move you forwards in the direction of your goals. You may not even have a clear picture of what those goals are. You sub-conscience does all the work.

    “I constantly worry that I am just keeping busy instead of doing the important work.”

    Here here. Sometimes I don’t even know what the “important work” is any more. It’s just a general sense of spinning my wheels. It’s a terrible affliction.

  3. I like your openness about your workdays. Your blogpost let me rethink my own workdays, which are so similar to yours. One should think so looking at our basic job descriptions. But your post shows nicely the difference between prototypical knowledge (the job description) and experience (individual workdays). It reduces my guilt about the long list of not (yet) done things.

  4. I liked the idea of the article, and the execution. However, it sure seems like you kept busy. It’s hard to tell I suppose just by reading a list.

    This article led me to some of the other posts. Well done! And thanks for posting these.

  5. @Robert

    Being productive has to do with what you produce. What have I produced last week? I kept busy for sure, but do I have to show for it?

    Multiply this sort of week by 52 and a year has gone by and I have nothing to show for it except some white hair.

  6. You’re answer belies how you filter the word productive. 😉

    I’m reading that you feel production must be lasting, with “something to show for it” a year hence. But I suspect your students would view you grading their papers as quite a productive use of your time, as would the readers of the report you wrote on the PhD thesis, your sons view of your time spent playing with them, etc.

    FWIW, my own view of productivity is largely identical to your own (or at least what I’m projecting your definition to be :), and hence I often struggle with identical frustration. Since I spend time in management I have little time left over for the kind of technical work I find interesting. I always assumed college profs had ample time to pursue their own interests, but have read a few blog posts that killed off that romantic image.

    The good news: your blog post is less ephemeral than some of the other stuff you spent time on last week.

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