Time Management, or A Day in the Life

In comments to the Sagan post, Niall asked about how I spend my time. This is about to change, as today is the last day of my class for the fall term, then we have an extended break, but it's probably interesting in a life-in-academia way to put up my schedule at the moment:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday

  • 06:00 - Alarm goes off. Wake up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head. Release dog, start breakfast prep.
  • 06:30 - Wake SteelyKid, take her downstairs, give her breakfast. The usual division of labor is that I get the food, then carry her upstairs to go to the bathroom (because she's tired...) and pick out her clothes. Then Kate nags her to actually eat her food, while I walk Emmy.
  • 07:30 - SteelyKid's school bus comes, I take The Pip to day care.
  • 07:45 - After dropping The Pip off, I go to Starbucks to try to get a little writing/ blogging/ editing done.
  • 09:30 - Go to my office on campus. Generally, the plan for this time is to do class prep, grading, etc. The reality is this is when I get stuck doing paperwork and dealing with whatever nonsense administrative crisis has cropped up. A fair bit of blog-reading in this time, some paper-chasing
  • 11:15 - Head to the gym, health and schedule permitting.
  • 12:50 - Not always, but there are a lot of meetings held at this time, because there are no regular classes. Even if there isn't a meeting, I try to be back to my office to do my actual class prep. Lunch at my desk, usually.
  • 13:50 - Class. Teaching Quantum Optics this term, which is fun, though I've been too distracted to do a really good job. Which I kind of regret.
  • 15:00 - More administrative fire-fighting, sometimes class prep/grading. Meet with students who need something.
  • 16:30 - Leave campus to run errands, start dinner, etc.
  • 17:30 - Day care pick-up.
  • 18:00 - Home for dinner, then dog walking. Maybe a little computer time while the kids watch tv.
  • 19:30 - Bedtime. We alternate nights, so what happens next depends on which one I have. If it's my night with SteelyKid, I read her three bedtime stories, and we may read her nightly books from kindergarten (if we didn't do them earlier). Then I do dishes and make the kids' lunches for the next day. If it's my night with The Pip, I generally end up spending about an hour getting him to sleep.
  • 21:00 - Social media catch-up, grading, class prep, leftover administrative nonsense.
  • 23:00 - Pass out.


I didn't teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays this term, so I haven't needed to be on campus those days, except for the nearly inevitable lunch meetings/ colloquium. The early-morning schedule is the same as MWF, but the "hide in Starbucks and write" portion extends to noon. Then most of the time, I go over to campus until about 2, then the afternoon is spent errand-running (grocery shopping, shopping for kid stuff, occasional home maintenance, etc.). Sometimes a nap.

The late afternoon/evening schedule is the same as MWF, from about 16:30 on.


  • 07:00 - Get up, becase I have lost the ability to sleep in. Collect The Pip, go downstairs to watch cartoons on tv.
  • 07:30 - Wake SteelyKid, bring her downstairs for breakfast/ tv. Feed and walk Emmy. Social media time.
  • 09:30 - Take kids to SoccerTots (Kate stays home to revel in peace and quiet). About a half-hour drive.
  • 10:00 - SoccerTots. SteelyKid goes to the five-year-old class by herself, The Pip and I go to the little-kid class, which requires more active parental participation.
  • 11:00 - Collect SteelyKid from her class, get lunch, usually at the Five Guys in the Colonie mall.
  • 12:00 - Head home, with The Pip usually falling asleep in the car.

The afternoon/evening schedule is highly variable. The Pip will nap until 14:30 or 15:00, give or take, and depending on how I'm feeling, I'll either nap with him, or get him to sleep then try to get a bit of work done, or take SteelyKid off to do something fun. We've had some recent success with play-dates in this time block, and may look to do more of that-- SteelyKid is old enough now that when one of her friends comes over, they can entertain themselves with relatively little parental participation.

We try to hold to the same dinner/bedtime schedule on weekends, depending on what else we decided to do.


Early morning is the same as Saturday, then:

  • 10:00 - Take kids to the Schenectady Greenmarket (Kate stays home to revel in peace and quiet). When it's outside, this also generally involves a trip to the Open Door bookstore, because it's right there. When it's the indor market, we usually just hang out and listen to music for a while.
  • 11:00 - Lunch with kids at Panera.
  • 12:00 - Grocery shopping with kids.
  • 13:00 - Home, nap with Pip.
  • 14:30 - Regular babysitter comes over to play with SteelyKid. Generally, I go to campus or Starbucks to try to get some work done, the exact destination depending on what sort of work is most badly overdue.
  • 17:00 - Babysitter leaves, come home to make dinner, then baths and bedtime.

As I said, this is about to change, as fall term classes are ending. I'm going to shift into full-tome writing, so the hope is for every day to look like the Tuesday/Thursday schedule above, hopefully with less errand-running and shorter lunchtime visits to campus. We'll see if that works out. We'll resume something like the above in early January, though I'll have a lab to teach either Tuesday or Thursday.

There are also occasional departures from this-- some nights, I'll pick the kids up and go out to dinner with them-- through a weird quirk of psychology, I'm much happier dealing with them out in public than at home. If I'm home, my computer and all my work things are right there reminding me that I could be doing something useful, but five minutes after I start trying to do anything, the kids will suddenly demand my presence. It drives me nuts, and I end up getting snippy with the kids, then feeling guilty about that. When I'm out at a restaurant (chain place, mostly, where I'm not wrecking the ambiance by bringing in a couple of little kids), it's much easier to accept that nothing useful is getting done during that time, and I can be more chill.

In exchange, Kate will sometimes take them solo for dinner at home (she finds being out in public with them more stressful than being at home), while I go to the occasional evening event on campus, or just have a working dinner at a restaurant with my laptop. There are also a lot of weekends when we're on the road to visit grandparents or whatever, and a depressing number of weekdays when one kid or the other is sick and needs to stay home/ go to the doctor. The above is the base schedule for a typical week, though.

But, anyway, there's a glimpse of the glamorous life of a parent, associate professor, and not-entirely-happy-about-it department chair. Bet you wish you had my job, now.

And here, have a thematically appropriate song:

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I note the following with some interest(based mostly on the Monday schedule)

1) Your work day is typically broken up into shorter (1-2 hr) working segments. I have found this to be the case myself recently, though it's not what I am normally used to. Previously(and still preferably), I worked in 3-6 hours "mega blocks" of unbroken time -- concentrating solely on one task. I guess with multiple tasks to perform this is less feasible. I guess my real question here is: Is getting work done in smaller time sessions a skill that you can eventually pick up?


16:30 – Leave campus to run errands, start dinner, etc.

I am genuinely impressed by this, and I wish I has this discipline. I tend to work late in order to "get things finished", but I often wonder if this is really beneficial. I've grown to think that the true mark of a someone who is good at their job is that they can finish their work and then go home.

(That said, you do have a 2 hour period allocated from 21:00 to 23:00, so perhaps modern technology make it too easy for standards to slip!)

3) You've included social media/blogging as part of your working day. This came up in your recent posts too, but it's interesting to note how much time may need to be allocated to blogging etc relative to other tasks. Should blogging etc be regarded as part of a professor's job nowadays?

07:00 – Get up, becase I have lost the ability to sleep in.

I have heard this to be the case anecdotally from parents, and I suppose it has its benefits work-wise -- but to be honest the prospect of this is frankly terrifying.

1) I tend to get twitchy after more than two hours of doing the same thing, and need a change of pace and scenery. That's about the right size of a time block for me. If I'm reasonably efficient (which usually means closing the Twitter tab), I can get a decent chunk of a draft chapter done in that time, reaching a reasonable stopping point.

2) It's not so much a matter of personal discipline as a matter of necessity. If I don't get home and get stuff in motion toward getting dinner ready, we don't finish eating in time for the kids to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I'd like to be able to continue working on my stuff later, but I can't do that without wrecking the rest of the evening.

Also, in the two-hour window between 9 and 11 pm, I'm often not good for much. Especially if it was my night with The Pip, because I often doze off with him, and wake up groggy and out of sorts, making it difficult to get any real work done. That tends to be time for social media catch-up, and reading books for research or marking up draft chapters.

The inability to sleep in thing dates back long before the kids. Barring illness or late nights partying, I haven't been able to sleep past 8am since about 1997. It's a great trial to me.

The inability to sleep in thing dates back long before the kids. Barring illness or late nights partying, I haven’t been able to sleep past 8am since about 1997.

I have to add overnight observing/data-taking runs to the list of things that allow me to sleep past 8 AM, but otherwise I'm in a similar situation. And I've never had kids. I have an alarm clock, but I only set it when I need to get up earlier than 7 AM.

This becomes more of an annoyance when I travel to the west coast, where "8 AM" is actually 5 AM. Among the challenges I have had had to deal with is obtaining a full breakfast in San Francisco before 7 AM (I once had to make do with a Carl's Jr. hamburger--that situation involved an early morning flight from SFO). Usually, I''m only out there just long enough to get over the jet lag, if that.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Nov 2013 #permalink

Not much to say, except that I love the phrase "slip into full-tome writing" - it's going to be weighty book then.