I have recently started planning and recording my time in 30 min blocks for every day.
It’s partly a response to being very busy with teaching, and partly out of a sense that I wasn’t getting what I wanted to do done.
On recommendation, I read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which addresses the importance of setting aside the time you need each day to do the work that matters most, and it made me realise how easy it is to slip into work that isn’t really what I want to be doing. What matters to me are excellent teaching and research: being the fastest finger on the email – I realise – comes fairly low down my list of priorities.
Along with planning my time in blocks, this involves setting general goals. I’m writing at least 500 words a day and I cannot recommend it strongly enough to you. I’m also spending at least one hour each day doing some research for my current project, mostly going through and organising the primary sources I already have.
I’m pretty much hitting those goals.
What has really shocked me is another goal I’ve made, which I am regularly failing to hit. I wanted to read for two hours every day, whether it was reading for my teaching priorities (which I most of what I do at the moment) or my research. I am rarely hitting this. On a good day, I manage an hour. I am regularly reading scholarship less than 5 hours a week.
(This does not include the odd 15 minutes of light reading before bed, and I refuse to extend either my goals or my work to the weekend. The diary and planning work for me, not the other way around.)
But I wonder what I would have guessed if you had asked me before I started keeping a record to guess how much I was reading. More than 10 hours a week, I suspect.
And – while I think academics sometimes fetishise reading, which quickly becomes a bottomless pit – it is also sobering to realise that the thing I perhaps most associated with my career before I actually did it just reading books is the thing I have the least time for.