As a graduate student, I don't punch a clock or fill out a time card. Although I have a faculty advisor, I don't have a boss - no one is keeping count of my hours. Most of my work time is spent doing a variety of tasks related to research or teaching, and these often change from week to week. I love the freedom and diversity of the academic life, but the lack of structure means that at the end of the week I'm often unsure of how exactly I spent my time. I like to get a good nights' sleep, so that certainly helps... but for the other 15 or so hours in my day, what exactly am I doing? This question intrigues me and for the past several months I've been thinking I should keep a log of my happenings to see how my days are spent.
So I finally did it back in April. I created a word doc dedicated to the cause, and updated it every time I changed tasks Monday through Friday. I also kept a quick count of how much time I spent working on the weekend. It wasn't the most ordinary week with canceled meetings and a weekend visit to my hometown. But really, is any week "ordinary"? So I figured I'd just go ahead and do it while I was motivated.
What did I find? Well, first, I confirmed what I already knew - a lot of my time goes into getting a good nights' sleep. Monday through Friday I slept an average of 8.5 hours each night, and I think that is actually on the shorter side (I prefer a solid 9-9.5, don't judge me). But when I was awake, I found that I spent about 36 hours working (including 90 minutes over the weekend) which accounts for about 1/3 of my day. I also found that I actually waste less time surfing the internet and watching tv than I thought I did. Only 11% of time was spent on entertainment and socializing, and large chunks of that were spent on what I like to think of as healthy activities: reading before bed (45 to 60 minutes most nights) and socializing (about 30 minutes a day). The rest were spent on the necessities - buying food, making food, eating food, (you get the picture), and exercise. I don't live in Berkeley so I did have an hour and 15 minute commute each way three days of the week, but 25 minutes are spent walking (I put them into the exercise category) and I typically work the other 50 while I'm on the train, so I included that into my work time.
To be honest, when I started calculating these numbers, I was feeling a little embarrassed that I only worked 36 hours. I think many of my fellow graduate students work well over 40 hours per week, and I'd hate to be giving a bad name to graduate students everywhere! But then I thought of a few reasons to feel better about my level of productivity. First, most graduate students and professors teach at least one class each semester, but this semester I am not teaching. For graduate students at Berkeley, teaching typically consists of leading three small weekly sections (50 minutes each), attending lecture twice a week (an hour and a half each time), holding office hours (2 hours each week), answering email queries from stressed out students, prepping for sections, and grading tests and papers. This 10-20 hour per week job is expected to be done on top of research, so that adds quite a bit to the weekly work tally (though I'm sure the research slides a bit when the teaching load is high). Second, although the US abides by a 40 hour plus work week, I don't think people spend every minute that they are at work actually working. If the number of status updates I see on Facebook are any indication, people are spending quite a bit of their work time doing non-work activities. And finally, for those of us who spend a bit of time each day doing non-work activities at work, recent research suggests that being allowed to do some leisure browsing may actually boost productivity (likely because it gives your brain a much needed break - we can't just work work work without burning out).
But on to the question that I was more interested in - what exactly does "working" entail for someone like me? Some days I feel like I'm answering emails non-stop... is that really where most of my time goes? Turns out the answer is no. I only spent about 5% of my 36 hours answering emails. The majority of my time (46%) was spent prepping and analyzing data, and integrating my results. This work was focused on two projects - putting together the results from several different studies I'd run in the previous couple of years, and analyzing the data from a new experiment for which I had just finished collecting data. The second biggest chunk of time (28%) was spent writing and editing. During the week I recorded, I was writing two papers, revising one paper, and editing a paper for a student. Everything else I did (emails, meetings, keeping track of ongoing experiments, and miscellaneous work such as reading over a grant review or looking up literature citations) was a rather small chunk of time. In all, more than 90% of what I do involves sitting at my computer. No wonder why I feel like I spend more time with it than with my husband!
You might notice that there is no category for classes. I took most of my classes my first and second years of graduate school, and have only sporadically taken a class here or there since then. I do attend two colloqiua each week which count as classes, but for some reason this week they were both canceled.
I feel like I should conclude this post with some cogent and meaningful statement linking my findings back to psychology, but really I just did this because I was curious to see what I did from day to day, and I am posting about it because I like to share unnecessary info about myself with others. I did find recording my activities to be illuminating and am glad I did it. Though now I am left wondering how similar my experience of a typical week is to others.
Graduate students - how many hours per week do you spend working? Is your work activity break down similar to mine? For those of you who have more typical 9-5 jobs, how many of those hours do you think you spend actually working?
Coker, B. (2011). Freedom to surf: the positive effects of workplace Internet leisure browsing New Technology, Work and Employment, 26 (3), 238-247 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-005X.2011.00272.x