Getting realistic about time

One of my biggest professional challenges is estimating how much time it will take to complete tasks. This challenge is hugely amplified when it comes to projects that take more than a month or involve other people. Surprisingly, I never learned this project management skill as a lab/research coordinator. I think it’s primarily because the investigators I worked for didn’t really use project management approaches and the recognition that we as a team were over committed would not have changed anything. Typically, we all just worked longer hours to get the work done, or found a way to hire another RA. This no longer works for me, for a lot of reasons.

It’s time to quantify how much time is actually available to do deep work each week and semester. I hope that showing my math will make this process more real and perhaps help me stick to a realistic work schedule. Since I’ll be teaching an informatics course on overload in the spring, I’ll be devoting one evening and a few hours on weekends to that. I really don’t want to work at home more than that.

Weekly Time Budget

40 hours (An optimistic goal?)
– 8 hours for administrative meetings, tasks, email, & scheduling (sad, but true)
– 2 hours for planning, monitoring productivity, & reporting (both for Library Admin & myself)
– 16 hours for Research Data Services (workshops, consultations, outreach, events, content development, reading, projects, etc.)
– 8 hours for Research Metrics Services  (workshops, consultations, outreach, events, content development, reading, projects, etc.)
– 2 hours for collection development
– 4 hours for service activities

So, out of a 40-hour work week, it looks like I should budget 24 hours to get actual work done – you know, thinking, creating, developing, teaching, coordinating, etc. That’s kind of depressing, but feels fairly realistic as I glance back over my calendar for 2016. Since I’m actually trying to avoid the workload I’ve had this year, I cut back service to about half.

*This adds up to about 256 hours per semester for data services and 128 hours per semester for metrics services. Those numbers sound incredibly low, which means I’ve been inflating how much time I estimate is available to develop new content and events. No wonder I’m exhausted after a semester of 7 workshops, most of which were new or significantly revised, plus two conference presentations, putting the final touches on two publications, in addition to the unplanned stuff like consults, meeting with new librarians, etc. I think these might be the more salient numbers when it comes to developing my semester plan.

Getting things done is also about maintaining focus, which boils down to managing my energy. I tried to factor that into the baseline hours available for deep work, but will need to see what looks like from day-to-day. Only time will tell how accurate that is over the spring semester.
*Added later on 11/27/16

By Heather L. Coates

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