Over at Study Hacks Cal has a project to overhaul 3 undergraduate students’ academic productivity.  He outlines in today’s article the first 2 steps of the process; doing a time audit and setting up a student work-day.  I want to dive into these a bit more because they are even MORE important for a graduate student and (eventually) scholar/academic.

Unlike Cal’s example, our day tends to be pretty open.  Potentially a class or two, maybe a meeting with an adviser, perhaps a job to pay the bills.  All in all, however, our Hard Landscape is pretty clear.  Here’s mine:

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/hard_landscape1.jpg” border=”0″ width=”700″>

2 classes, 4 days per week of work at a different location, that’s it.  And that is more than most graduate students.  Because of this, I have created an academic work day that is my soft landscape:

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/soft_landscape.jpg” border=”0″ width=”700″>

(I love goggle calendar – I have this on two different calendars so that they are color coded and I can see things more clearly.)

A few notes about this:

  1. My workouts are on there – otherwise I won’t do them.  They also impact my sleep schedule 4 days a week (in that I get up early to beat the heat).  I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but it is.
  2. Meals are on there as well – at least dinner is.  I don’t schedule lunch since I eat it at whichever desk I am at, but I do schedule dinner because I want to have a chance to eat with my husband
  3. Commuting is on there.  My job is a 30-45 minute commute from home (depending on traffic) and a 30 minute commute from school.  I allow for that time, including time for traffic jams.’
  4. Showering after a workout is on there, since that takes time.  It’s too easy to think it will take 10 minutes when in fact it takes 30.
  5. Empty space – I stop working after dinner both Friday and Saturday so that I can spend time with my husband, as well as leaving myself a chunk of time Sunday afternoon for shopping and other such things.  I also block out time to take my dogs to the dog park because they love it.  This works better for me than an entire day off (which is what Cal recommends); I find that my work is very intense and the spreading it out over both Saturday and Sunday is more productive for me. 
  6. Pre-class review – I try to leave myself a bit of time before class to go over the material and refresh my memory.  I schedule that in to.  If I hit really awful traffic I will lose that time but I’m not late for class.
  7. Sleep – I have a 3rd calendar that specifically lays out my sleep schedule, when I can sleep in and when I can’t.  This may sound neurotic, but sleep is key to productivity and for me that means I need to schedule it.  I need 8 hours a day and sometimes a bit more then that.  So I book it in.

So, my work day goes from 7am on bike days, 8am most other days, through 9pm.  At which time I get up from my desk and go spend an hour or two on the sofa, talking to my husband, reading magazines, watching TV, and otherwise relaxing.  I try to be in bed by 11.

It looks insane, but keep in mind that the tan stuff is all soft – if I need to change the order of things, I can.  If I have a deadline and need to skip the dog park or work through a blank time frame, I can.

Changes I want to make in the near future are getting the wake-up time the same every day (6:30), including weekends, and trying to get in a 3rd trip to the gym for weights.  Better still would be doing weights at home, but we need more equipment and I need to actually make a habit of doing that.

Nonetheless, the point is that this kind of schedule will help you figure out where your energy needs to go at any given time without stress, IF you make the schedule complete.  Commuting time, cleaning up after a workout, meals, etc are all necessary for making it work.  If I leave those things out I find myself stressed and late.  By working this schedule I get everything done and can focus my energy on the job at hand without worrying about how I’ll fit it all in.