It’s been a while since I’ve posted. As I told someone the other day, it’s partly because I feel that many of the things I want to post about, I want to post about anonymously.
But I’ve also been busy. So busy, in fact, that I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while now: track my time to see how I’m spending it. I was not able to find any (good) time tracking software — I’m open for suggestions — so I’m just using a google spreadsheet to track my time. I record my time in 15-minute increments, but not as any exact science: I try to estimate the time I spent when I finish a task, or I reconstruct the time I spent on various tasks every hour or two.
One advantage I’m already noticing is that, by forcing myself to be more accountable for my time, I’m more efficient. If I see that I’m spending more than 15 minutes going through email, I force myself to switch to something else.
I’ve only been doing it for a week now, so it’s too early to draw any conclusions about my usage of time. (I’m planning to provide some statistics after a few months.) I’ll be interested to see the fraction of time I spend on various tasks, especially to see whether my feeling that I’m being overloaded by non-research activities is correct. I’m also curious how much time I spend on any one project: haven’t you always wanted to know how many hours went into a particular paper?
The most interesting thing I’ve noticed so far, though, is how many things I’m juggling at any one time. Over the past week, at various times, I worked on 10 different research projects. These were in various stages of maturity: from initial discussions on a project; to writing the first version of a paper on some newer results; to rewriting a paper for resubmission to a conference; to responding to referee comments for the final journal version of a paper. Still, it’s a lot of context switching. (And that doesn’t include teaching, or being on the faculty-hiring and graduate-admissions committees, or writing grants, or all the various other things one must attend to during the week.) I don’t know if working on that many research projects at once is typical — I guess it must be for people supervising a large group — but I find it to be a bit overwhelming. It is also depressing to see how quickly one’s time gets chipped away.
Is it better for people in industry? I have no direct experience, but my sense is that people in industry are able to focus on fewer things at a time. Maybe it makes sense to leave Harvard for Google after all…