Productivity Challenge: What happens when I bill hours?

by Sarah Luna

Summer has traditionally been a difficult time for getting things done.  Between the fair weather, lack of structured classes, lack of evening activities, and the generally relaxed feeling in the air of a campus devoid of undergrads, I’ve found myself stuck in a sort of “slowness to start”. I’ve tried to combat this by scheduling daily 9am study sessions. But on days my study partner can’t make it (ie when I don’t have to be on campus) I say to myself: “I can work just as easily from home, right?”

Well, I can, but I usually don’t.

I couple of days ago, I found this blog post about time management for academics (or people with a lot of freedom in their schedules).  In it, Cal Newport talks about the importance of fixed-scheduled productivity:

Fix your ideal schedule, then work backwards to make everything fit — ruthlessly culling obligations, turning people down, becoming hard to reach, and shedding marginally useful tasks along the way.

I had tested some of these approaches last summer (such as only checking email once or twice a day) and during times of high stress and found them to be very effective at increasing my attention to my Most Important Tasks.

What I really enjoyed from this article was the example of how Jim Collins tracks the amount of time he spends on work.  His goal is to dedicate 50% of his time to creative work, 30% to teaching, and 20% to everything else. This isn’t some fluffy metric either. He uses a stopwatch to keep track.

I decided that this was just the approach for me. During summer weekdays, my ideal schedule is to get to campus at 9am, walk home around 5pm, and have my evenings be completely free. 

My time management goal is: 60% on dissertation-related work, 20% on other projects, 20% on everything else. 

I busted out the stopwatch today, too. I had had it with myself this morning. By the time I got out of bed and got ready to work, it was 11am.  There’s really no excuse for that.  I started time when I was doing something directly related to my dissertation and stopped it whenever I was distracted (either with other work or dumb things like Facebook).

Guess what? Out of the 5 hours that I’ve been sitting at my desk today, I’ve worked on my dissertation stuff for 144 minutes. 

So let’s see. Five hours is 300 minutes. 144/300 *100% = 48%.  Ok, that wasn’t as bad as I thought.

The Challenge

A couple of nights ago, my law school roommate told me that lawyers have to account for what they do every 6 minutes, and that she had to take a bunch of accounting classes in the fall to learn how to bill hours. And it got me thinking,what if I had to bill hours?

So here’s the challenge. From today until August 10th, I am going to time myself during the work day to track my habits and see where I can be more productive. Then I will “bill” myself for every hour spent working on my dissertation stuff.

20 hours = a double scoop ice cream cone from Purity (yes, I’m silly, but I love ice cream)

There are nine weeks left until Beach Week. 360 work week hours (assuming 40 hours/work week). If I stick to my 60-60-20 challenge, I will have worked 216 hours on my dissertation.

Life isn’t always that neat and clean. My goal is to reach 200 dissertation-hours by August 10th.

If you like my challenge and want to try it, tell me what you’re doing!