Posted by: jonkatz | June 29, 2011

Where does the time go (Part II)

As I mentioned a while ago, over the past semester or so I began to track my time to see how I spend it. (I never managed to find good time-tracking software, but I didn’t spend a lot of time looking; if anyone has suggestions, I’d still be interested.)

Unfortunately, the final results are not very scientific. At the beginning of the experiment I tracked my time very carefully, making a record in my timesheet (to the nearest quarter hour) every time I switched tasks. I quickly changed to estimating how much time I spent on various tasks at the end of the day, or sometimes a day or two later. Perhaps the biggest source of error is that I only recorded the time I spent during weekdays “at work” and, for the most part, did not include time spent at nights or weekends working from home. Perhaps I’ll fix this going forward, especially if someone can recommend good software to use…

With the above caveats in mind, how did I send my time? Here’s what my records say:

  • I spent about 40% of my time on research, where this includes “actual” research (either with students/collaborators or on my own), writing up results, reading papers, and attending talks. This number is somewhat higher than I thought it would be, actually.
  • The time spent per paper varies widely. (Unfortunately, I feel the results here are really unscientific since have a lot of research hours accounted to “other”; presumably, some of that represents work that turned into a paper later on.) I did notice that the second-most time I spent on a paper this year was devoted to preparing a journal version of an old conference paper.
  • I spent 11% of my time on grant-related activities. I consider this abnormally high! I submitted a lot of grant proposals this year, something I’m planning to cut down on next year. Besides writing proposals, this category includes things like writing quarterly or annual reports, managing budgets, etc.
  • I spent roughly 9% of my time on teaching-related tasks. Note that over the course of an entire year this percentage will be lower, since besides class prep I don’t work on teaching at all over the summer.
  • I spent 6% of my time on non-research advising. This includes things related to proof-reading, serving on proposal and defense committees, offering feedback on student presentations, and writing recommendation letters. (Note that this category does not include time spent working with students on research; that time is included in the “research” category, above.)
  • I spent 8% of my time on other administrative tasks. The bulk of this was my work as part of the faculty hiring committee this year.
  • I spent 10% of my time on email, meetings, and “other”. I think this is actually an underestimate, considering that I have the bad habit (which I am hoping to change) of reading and responding to email almost constantly.
  • According to my records, I only spent 4% of my time reviewing papers. I think that is an underestimate, but I would also note that a lot of my committee work over the past 12 months was done before I began tracking my time in February.

One thing I’ve learned from tracking time like this is that my days tend to be very fragmented, with a lot of context switching involved. I suspect I’ll be more productive, and happier, if I can reduce the extent to which that happens.



  1. Inspired by your post, I googled ‘time tracking software’, found
    and tried 1daylater and Rachota. I like Rachota so far.

  2. Also, the question your readers all want to know is: what is the percentage of time on blog-reading?

  3. This leaves about 12% of your time for leisure and family. I wonder how many people toward the end of their lives lament “I only wish that I could have spent more time ‘at the office’ during my limited years on earth.

  4. Just to be clear, the numbers only reflect the percentages of my time spent at work, not the percentages of my time overall.

  5. Interesting. Where I work it’s impossible to get 40% time for research (a Brazilian University — not all are like this, but this one is).

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