How to Work Less

Every few years, I install an app where I track everything work-related that I do. Then I see how many hours a week I do anything that can be interpreted as work.

The result is always the same. I work between 21 and 26 hours a week. It was so when I was in my first year as a professor, and it remained the same now that I’m department chair.

My definition of work is very generous. It includes teaching, grading, research, chair work, emails, reading, writing, meetings, translation, watching educational videos, and even painting. Talking to students, talking to colleagues, public speaking, everything.

The reason why I manage to do all this in such a short time is deep focus. Deep focus is a semi-hypnotic state where you go deep inside, and everything gets done extremely fast. Except for talking with colleagues but those I simply avoid as much as I can.

To find out how prepared you are for deep work, I suggest the following exercise. Do nothing for as long as you can and observe how long you lasted and what you felt in the process. By doing nothing, I mean exactly that. Don’t use technology, listen to music, talk to people, etc. Just be alone with your thoughts. Did you last 15 minutes? An hour? Two? If you did 5 hours, I’ve got nothing to teach you about deep work.

It’s very important to track what you felt. Once you try the activity and figure out the feelings you experienced, I’ll tell you what they meant and how to proceed.

My Autobiography

You’re writing your autobiography. What’s your opening sentence?

This new blogging app gives writing prompts. This was today’s. My answer is, I’d start my autobiography with the words “Mine is a life plagued by ear infections.”

I think I have an ear infection. Again. This will be the second one in less than a year.

And that’s the reason I won’t write an autobiography because who wants to read about repetitive ear infections?