Being Busy Isn’t the Same as Being Productive

Tracking my time allows me to discover what I waste my time on and ultimately manage my productivity. This is of particularly importance to me as I work on my dissertation. I felt I was working towards my completion goal, but I was actually spending a lot of time “doing” and feeling busy with tasks that worked around my dissertation and not on my dissertation.

Being busy isn’t the same as being productive; therefore, I had to put my energies into finishing my dissertation and not into being busy with my dissertation.

I solved my problem very easily. I track my time, but the time sheet didn’t have enough detail. First, I added more categories to my time sheet so I could accurately track time I spend working about my topic.

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Balancing Teaching and Dissertation Writing

DeadlineEarly last week I was successfully following my work schedule, which includes re-shooting about 30 videos for the online course I’ll teach in fall, revising my dissertation introduction chapter, and writing the first draft of the lit review chapter.

Then I received a phone call that changed my work schedule.

A week earlier I had applied to teach another online course. My application was successful and I now have 27 more videos to shoot.

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Dissertation Writing isn’t an 8 Hour a Day Job

To Do List

Before I began my PhD journey, I had a to do list of unrelated things I wanted to complete either before I graduated or shortly thereafter. Looking back on that list as I enter my third year in the program, I realize that I  accomplished only one goal: continue to teach. The other goals were pushed aside by real and self-imposed deadlines … and life.

Teaching, particularly a very interactive online course, takes up a large amount of time, both in prep work (on average it takes me about one hour to script, shoot, and edit one minute of video) and during the semester (student meetings, synchronous classes, and marking).

I try to front load as much as I can into the LMS prior to the semester because I need to free up time to mentor students through an undergrad research project, work on my dissertation, and also work at the university as a writing tutor.

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Tracking Time Saves Time Revisited

New time sheetAs the end of the year draws near I update, review, and reflect on my many projects. One mini-project (I always have a number of these on the go) is keeping track of my projects. This is done, if you recall, with a time tracking spreadsheet.

The time sheet is now six months old and, yes, I am using it every time I sit down to work on a project.  It serves its purpose well because I review where my time is spent both weekly and monthly.

I believe it has helped me become much more aware of my time and how to spend it more productively. For example, I aim to work seven hours per day for a 35-hour workweek. It does not matter to me if this includes weekends, or if I achieve my goal in four days. I may find that by mid-week I have not averaged enough hours per days to meet my goal if I continue to work at the same pace. This, then, spurs me on to put more hours in for that given week.

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Tracking Time Saves Time

Photo by Janet Symmons

Distillery District clock
Toronto, Ontario
Photo by Janet Symmons

Time is something we all wish we had more of, and yet we let so much of it slip away from us.

This became very apparent to me as I made my annual cross-country summer trip. I had time to reflect on my progress towards completing my dissertation. With nine days and nights to reflect, it soon became obvious that my PhD progress was far below my expectations.

I needed a solution to get me back on track.

I needed to know what I spending my time on and quickly saw the similarities between creating a money budget and a time budget.

I felt I was spending hours sitting at my computer, but I was churning out papers quick enough, my lit review had holes in it, one proposal was incomplete, and a job application was also sitting on my desktop. Why couldn’t get all this done?

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