I am not sure why, but, many times, when I argue that professors should work 40 hours a week, I get push back. Perhaps this is because some people are happy working over 40 hours a week, and understand their flexible work schedules to mean that they are free to work night and day. That’s fine by me.
What is not fine by me is that young scholars are made to feel as if working 50, 60, and 70 hours a week is how things should be, and never even consider the possibility that an academic's job can be done in 40 hours. In my view, a 40 hour week is plenty. And, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Just ask the folks who fought for the 8-hour work day.
If you feel as if a 40-hour work week cramps your style, that’s fine. This post is not for you. This post is for those academics who want their life back, who don’t want work to be their life, and who want to believe that it is possible to get their work done in 40 hours a week so that they can use the rest of the time to nourish their soul, feed their bodies, spend with their families, dance tango, or play video games.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but I just want to put it out there that I have been an academic since 1999, and have pretty much always taken evenings and weekends off from work. The exception is my first year of grad school. I began graduate study in August of 1999 and spent the first year reading and writing whenever I got the chance, aside from the five trips abroad I took that first year to Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. However, I came back to my second year of graduate school pregnant with twins, and, by force, spent a lot less time hitting the books. My husband spent the day taking care of our twin babies, so there was no way I was getting away with studying on the evenings and weekends.
When I got my first tenure-track job in 2005, my schedule stayed pretty much the same: I worked from 8am to 5pm, with a break for lunch. What has changed while on the tenure track is that I had to become much more efficient with my time to get it all done within the 40-hour work-week. And, I have had to stand my ground a few times when colleagues have suggested we have meetings on Saturdays.
So, how do I do it? On Tuesday, I actually kept track, as I do from time to time. The thing to note here is that I actually worked 8 hours, but did not do it neatly between 9am and 5pm. Instead, I worked from 6:30 to 7am, 8am to 11:30am and then from 1:30 to 2:30 and from 3pm to 5pm. Oops. That’s actually 7 hours. Unless you count the last half hour of social media, then it’s 7.5.
6am: woke up. had coffee. checked email.
6:30am: prepped my files to begin working for the day.
7am: got my three kids ready for school. had breakfast.
8am: Wrote for one pomodoro (25 minutes) on my book on deportees.
8:30am: Twitter, FB, planning.
9am: one pomodoro (25 minutes) responding to revisions on textbook.
9:30: social media stuff.
10am: one pomodoro revising textbook.
10:30am: another pomodoro applying for Human Subjects approval.
11:00am: another pomodoro finishing Human Subjects application. (5 pomodoros of writing!)
11:30: shower, get dressed, take a walk
12:30: have lunch with my husband.
1:30: read book for deportee project
2:30: walk to campus and get a new key for my office
3:00: check email, FB, Twitter.
3:30: more email. office cleaning.
4pm: Met with student to go over revisions to paper.
4:15pm: Reviewed book proposal for colleague.
4:30: Wrote a speaking proposal in response to an invitation to give a lecture.
4:50-5:05: some speed grading.
5:05: Social media
5:30: went for a walk
6:30: dinner, kids, more social media (not work-related).
8:30: kids to bed.
9-11pm: Read “Love and Capital” while kids were in bed reading as well.
So, what did I do in that 7 hour work day?
- read a book
- responded to about 20 emails and processed another 50
- graded 15 short student essays
- met with a student
- wrote a speaking proposal
- responded to a colleague’s book proposal
- revised a chapter of a book-in-progress
- wrote and submitted a human subjects application
- pulled together data for a chapter of another book-in-progress.
For me, at the end of a productive day like that, I felt completely wiped out. There was no way I was going to be able to get in another 30 minutes, much less two to three hours of work. Thus, over the years, I have learned to stop working once I feel tired. That is why I stopped at 11:30am, took a long break, and then stopped again at 5pm. Admittedly, instead of reading Love and Capital at 9pm, I could have read something more directly related to my work. And, I do sometimes read for class at night. But, I at least try to stop working at 5pm.
Perhaps those people who work for 50, 60, or 70 hours a week have more stamina than I do. Perhaps I am more efficient and get done in 40 what others might do in 60. I really don’t know. But, I do want to put it out there that this system of working 8 hours a day (more or less) for five days a week works for this productive academic.