80-Hour Week

The most dedicated participants of the misery sweepstakes are insisting that college professors work 80 hours a week. Tanya Golash-Boza, an academic I really admire, wrote a very enlightening post on how to ensure that you never work more than the required 40 hours a week.

I also went through a time when I worked 80-hour weeks. In my first year on the tenure-track, I came to my office every day of the week (except Sundays, but that was only because the building is locked on Sundays) and stayed there from morning till late at night. Given that I published absolutely nothing that year and barely managed to squeeze in one low-quality conference talk, I’m now at a loss to determine what exactly I was accomplishing with all that busyness. I invested endless hours into preparing and over-preparing lectures and that, of course, took all the joy out of them. I fussed interminably over the most trivial service assignments. I pondered the all-important issue of what color ink to use in grading a particular assignment. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, but very little actual work.

It is understandable that people who are just beginning their academic careers would be anxious to make a good impression while being completely clueless as to how to get organized. Since that first year, I learned how to manage my time and now lead a very different existence. This is why I agree with Tanya in that profs who dedicate twice as many hours per week to work than what their contract requires them need to stop moaning and look at their time management skills more closely.

I taught 4 courses last semester and worked actively on my research, but at the same time, I led a very rich, stress-free life, spent a lot of time with my husband and pursuing my hobbies, and couldn’t even imagine needing anything close to 80 hours per week to fulfill my duties.

Rather than having fits over the suggestion that there is no need to be a perennially stressed out academic, people should read Tanya’s blog and listen to her helpful suggestions on how to get organized.

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6 comments on “80-Hour Week

  1. My experience is that the extra time things take, after you get over the shock of being FT the first year, is not something you can control. There are huge differences in how long it takes to do things in efficient and inefficient institutions, and also in the amount of autonomy you have in a practical sense. The more true autonomy, the more control of your time you can have.

  2. Z says it! Also, it does depend on your colleagues and how amenable they are to respecting other people’s time and needs, I think. I team-teach a lot and like all of us have admin duties involving other colleagues, and what really eats my time is the several hours of unpredictable activity each week taken up by dealing with their actions and their consequences. I know it’s probably the same for them, too, in response to my actions, though I try to avoid last minute crises (although you can only send SO many reminder emails, and I often end up the day the work is due begging the person for a critical item, even if you first asked for it months earlier). For me, control of my time and choice about when I do things within some part of my working day matters a lot; the time around diaried events like classes and meetings needs to be in my control for me to work effectively at the long-term stuff like research alongside the more immediate letters of rec, forms, university bureaucracy etc.. And when crises keep erupting, I lose that control, and therefore my ability to work intensely when I work and then NOT work outside the office.

    Yeah, I know, the fault is in me and my reactions to events.

    • I cannot imagine a career where none of this is present. This is a regular part of any working life and, as you say, one can always choose whether to allow such things to stress one out or not.

      People who don’t work and have no responsibilities whatsoever feel more stressed out than those in highly responsible positions. Every tiny decision gets blown up out of all proportion. I remember spending a whole day once driving myself nuts with the impossibly difficult decision of which soup to make. I ended up with no soup and a feeling that my life was horrible. :-) :-)

      • I’m not sure that your last paragraph is true. I don’t work very much, but I don’t feel stressed by small things. When I do appear in public in a very formal way, I do feel stressed by my awareness that I lack attention to detail. The very small things bother the living daylight out of me, and consequently it becomes very dark.

    • I don’t think the fault is necessariily in you and in your reactions. It depends a lot on how much institutional power and backing you really have. I have observed that the people who can handle interruptions well — deal with the crisis and then get right back to work — are people who have a lot of unquestioned and unquestionable authority. They do not have to stop and wonder whether their solution will fly or how to get it accepted, or how to effectively stand up to someone, and so on. If you are not in that kind of a position or do not have someone in that kind of a position backing you, every crisis takes more energy.

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