Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Evolution of What I Call Work: A Google Calendar Memoir

“I never do real work anymore,” a fellow professor used to complain to me.

“People have to be ready to work,” someone once told me about startup hiring.

For better or for worse, conversations often revolve around it. What do you do for work? How did you come to do the work you do? How much do you work? Are you working on anything interesting? Oh, please don’t ask me what I do for work. Excuse me, I have to go do some work.

Work has also been a major subject of conversation as I have been recruiting. Many of the people I talk to are at a life crossroads, deciding what work identity to take on next. They ask what it was like for me--to be a PhD student, to be a professor, and then to start a company. The questions range from the philosophical (“are you glad you did it?”) to the logistical (“how often did you exercise?”).

In these conversations I often struggle, as work means such wildly different things to different people. This is all well and good when people are trying to find common ground at a cocktail party, but it can be problematic when people are using metrics taken in different contexts to make important life decisions. The nature of my work has completely transformed between when I was an undergraduate and now--and that is something important to acknowledge when people are asking questions, especially ones around “how much.”

This post, then, is an attempt to establish context about what I mean when I talk about work. In 2007, I started using Google Calendar not just for scheduling, but also for documenting what I did with my time. What this means is that I’m able to give you a rough overview of how I spent most of my days from 2007 until now. I show representative time blocks from representative weeks, chosen to give you the most accurate picture of my life without overwhelming you with data. What’s important is not so much the precise number of hours, but the evolution of the content of those hours over the years. Here we go.

Late Undergrad/PhD: Back When I Used to do "Real Work"

Fall 2007, first semester of my senior year of college.
Here I show a week from fall of my senior year of college. Before I continue, I should explain how I’ve chosen to display my week. I’ve divided up my time into three categories: work, recovery, and life upkeep. From college until fairly recently, I did not consider meetings or talks to be work: my labeling of “work” on these calendars reflects this early misconception. I chose 7am to 10pm on weekdays only not because work only happened during these periods of time, but because they are the most representative and well-documented. I like to keep late nights and weekends unstructured.

This was one of my easier semesters: I was taking three courses (computational linguistics, randomized algorithms, and an art class) and working on an honors thesis. I had just handed over leadership of the Harvard College Engineering Society, which I had help start my freshman year. I was not TAing that semester. All this gave me the freedom to spend a lot of time working on two things I was excited about: my senior thesis and projects for my studio art class. This is a representative week from late undergrad and when work was going well during my PhD: relatively little structured time and lots of time to produce output.

Mid-PhD: I Learn to Make Good Use of Recovery Time

Fall 2012, mid-PhD.
When work was not going as well, the previous schedule turned out to be completely wrong. Here is a week from fall of 2012, when I was in between the first and second major projects of my PhD thesis and was coming off a three-month sprint of an internship. I was tired and lost, so I spent my time making progress in ways outside of my main output-producing work. During this week, my periods of work are heavily broken up and interspersed with meetings. Some are research meetings: with my advisor, with existing collaborators, and with potential collaborators. Some of the meetings were outside of research: Tuesday afternoon I had a “Positivity@MIT” that I organized to combat bias on campus; Thursday evening I had a Graduate Women at MIT social. (I had started Graduate Women at MIT with a couple of fellow students in 2009.) Around this time, I also became more deliberate about working on my writing skills, often scheduling at least one evening a week to write (as I do the Wednesday of this week). I did not see most of these activities as “work” at the time, but they turned out to be valuable work, both towards recovery and towards building my career.

Learning to Find Time for "Real Work" as an Assistant Professor

Spring 2017, second semester as an Assistant Professor at CMU.
It turns out that scheduling lots of meetings during the recovery periods of my PhD prepared me for being a professor, which mostly consists of meetings and very little time for what I would call “work.” Here is a week from the spring of my first year at Carnegie Mellon. That week I had two visitors I hosted for talks, one on Monday and one on Friday. I taught Tuesday and Thursdays. That week I was working on producing a video with fellow computer scientist James Mickens about my research, so I blocked on Wednesday morning to work with him on that. (It turns out James has very high artistic standards, so I worked on the video for most of that weekend too. You know your life is not so bad when you tell people you’ve been losing sleep looking for the right clips of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” for your research talk video.) Here, I’m doing much less of the output-producing work I consider to be “real work” and spending much more time enabling others to do that kind of work, with what I hope will be higher impact.

Starting a Company: Even More Meetings

Fall 2018, a few months into starting my company.
People say that being a professor is like running a small business. This has proven to be somewhat true as I’ve been setting up my actual company. The main difference is that there is even less of what I would call actual work. Here I show a particularly meeting-intensive (but not particularly anomalous) week from this past fall. During this week, I went up to the city from Palo Alto/Menlo Park three times (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday). Some of it was for recruiting, some of it was for meetings with potential customers, and some of it was for networking (coffees or meals with people I had been introduced to; actual networking events). That Friday, two of the remote part-time people I work with were in town, so I spent most of Friday through the weekend working with them. This week was during a period of heavy recruiting, so I had many recruiting/interview calls. The work that week consisted mostly of emails to schedule and follow up with meetings. I was also developing the ideas for our initial product, both in terms of use cases and the underlying technology. Most of my work now involves meetings that potentially enable other people to work.

Closing Thoughts

It turns out that I, too, don’t do very much of what I used to consider real work anymore, but I spend more of my time working. I thought I had maxed out on my capacity for work as an undergraduate. In some ways this was true, but as the nature of my work changed this turned out not to be true. What I remember my work life to be (for instance, similar to the first week I showed you throughout my PhD) is not always accurate. My capacity for output-producing work has probably diminished, but my capacity for meetings and total overall work has increased. My entire life is meetings now. I should spend less time in transit.

So there we have it. I’m quite voyeuristic about how other people spend their time, so I’d love to see yours.

With thanks to Kayvon Fatahalian, Aliza Aufrichtig, and Dean Hachamovitch for comments.


Simran Shah said...

Really got a useful blog to read today. Its very informative, keep posting more like this.
Free Trading tips

Mihail377 said...

In the healthcare business, nurses are finding that individuals who have pursued an RN-BSN diploma program tend to be times prepared to proceed from traditional patient care to distinct roles in the health care sector. You can read more at here

Serafim Rostiw said...

We are a reputable writing company of international experience with creation of different types of essays for students of all levels of education. We have a team of professional writers of all possible scientific areas. That is why our agency is always confident about our essays being of the top quality. The assignments we provide for our customers always contain relevant information and facts.

Due to a number of factors, the mental medicine is nowadays one of extremely popular scientific directions as long as scientists from all over the world explore the reasons for psychological problems, mental health argumentative essay, and the ways to overcome and treat them. People’s psychological peculiarities, behavior, and reactions to various factors and circumstances are under discussion and are carefully examined.

amsa leka said...

Thanks for your great and helpful presentation I like your good service. I always appreciate your post. That is very interesting I love reading and I am always searching for informative information like this.iot training institutes in chennai | industrial iot training chennai | iot course fees in chennai | iot certification courses in chennai

OLIVIA H said...

Our customers love it and we have had no technical issues since we done mobile service for 1 decades in this mobile industry.
Authorized iphone service center in Chennai | iphone service center in chennai | Mobile service center in chennai | Authorized iphone service center in Chennai | iphone service center in chennai

amsa leka said...

Nice blog..! I really loved reading through this article. Thanks for sharing such a
amazing post with us and keep blogging... best angularjs training institute in chennai | angularjs training in omr | angular 4 training in chennai | angularjs training in chennai


Công ty dịch thuật miền trung - MIDtrans có Giấy phép kinh doanh số 3101023866 cấp ngày 9/12/2016 là đơn vị chuyên cung cấp dịch vụ dịch thuật, phiên dịch dành các cá nhân, hệ thống thương hiệu Dịch thuật sài gòn 247 Dịch thuật chuyên nghiệp MIDtrans Vietnamese translation dịch thuật, phiên dịch sài gòn Dịch thuật Đà Nẵng Pro . Dịch thuật MIDtrans tự hào với đội ngũ lãnh đạo với niềm đam mê, khát khao vươn tầm cao trong lĩnh vực dịch thuật, đội ngũ nhân sự cống hiến và luôn sẵn sàng cháy hết mình. Chúng tôi phục vụ từ sự tậm tâm và cố gắng từ trái tim những người dịch giả.Tự hào là công ty cung cấp dịch thuật chuyên ngành hàng đầu với các đối tác lớn tại Việt nam trong các chuyên ngành hẹp như: y dược (bao gồm bệnh lý), xây dựng (kiến trúc), hóa chất, thủy nhiệt điện, ngân hàng, tài chính, kế toán Hotline: 0947688883. Rất hân hạnh được phục vụ quý khách

OLIVIA H said...

The learning approach is usually organized through blog studies. This gives you the opportunity to have a more practical approach and to be in contact with many different opinions.
Authorized iphone service center in Chennai | iphone service center in chennai | Mobile service center in chennai | Authorized iphone service center in Chennai | iphone service center in chennai | Authorized iphone service center in Chennai | iphone battery replacement

Asia Smith said...

Hi. Thanks for this article. Such a serious topic you mentioned above. I think everyone should read it and speak up towards their own experience. I myself work as a freelance writer and can help you with summary and response essays
of any complexity. I love my job for letting me write on the various topics. That is why, I am sure this job is a dream and I am feeling really great while working. Our writing service gathers the best articles and essays that belong to different specialties in one place. Not only students can find it helpful in their studies but also usual people who want to broaden their knowledge in specific topic or problem.

BrnInfotech said...

Useful Information, your blog is sharing unique information....
Thanks for sharing!!!
Iphone training institute in hyderabad
Mobile application training in hyd
Best iphone training in hyderabad
Iphone apps training in hyderabad

Unknown said...

Hi, the information given in this site was quite useful for me as a student, who wants to work and study, if someone of you have some problem concerning this issue and wants to improve the skill on this matter you can easily ask to resume professional writers in order to help you.

NettechIndia said...

Nice blog its so interactive and informative thank you for sharing this information
IOT training in mumbai
IOT course in mumbai
IOT training

Ainsley said...

Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit
your site.
iPhone Repair Shop Near Me

jenifer irene said...

Very nice blog, Thank you for providing good information.
aviation institute in Chennai
cabin crew training in Chennai
diploma in airport management course in Chennai
airport ground staff training courses in Chennai
Aviation Academy in Chennai
air hostess training in Chennai
airport management courses in Chennai
ground staff training in Chennai

Nina Athena said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic. This is really helpful and informative, as this gave me more insight to create more ideas and solutions for my plan. I would love to see more updates from you.

Melbourne SEO Services

NIIT Noida said...

Really Good blog post provided helpful information. I hope that you will post more updates like this
Campus Training Institute in Noida

Frank said...

Result that parity L is equal to L.

Result that P is equal to NP.

Helen said...

I am very grateful you did share your knowledge here. It is an exuberant post. Thank you so much for providing such a useful content.

P/s: Pls feel free to visit my place, if you care about sierra trading post coupon 45 off

manjuprabhu59 said...

Thanks for the excellent post with good technical skill and really helpful for us.
Apple iPhone Service Center in Chennai
Apple Service Center in Chennai

Tomas said...

Lovely blog. Thanks for sharing with us.This is so useful.

qbcustomerhelp said...

Quickbooks enterprise support Solve QuickBooks Enterprise problems using the QuickBooks Enterprise support team. Call our Quickbooks support team at +1 (833) 400-1001 and contact our certified QuickBooks specialist for assistance.

qbcustomerhelp said...

Quickbooks enterprise support number +1 (833) 400-1001 is available to solve QuickBooks Enterprise problems through QuickBooks Enterprise support. Call our Quickbooks support team at +1 (833) 400-1001 and contact our certified QuickBooks specialist for assistance.

qbcustomerhelp said...

Quickbooks enterprise support Phone number
Get 24-hour support for Enterprise Quickbooks by contacting the QuickBooks Enterprise support phone number. We are ready to solve QuickBooks Enterprise problems through a Certified QuickBooks Enterprise Support Group. Call our Quickbooks support team at +1 (833) 400-1001 and contact our certified QuickBooks specialist for assistance.

shivani said...

An overwhelming web journal I visit this blog, it's unfathomably amazing. Unusually, in this present blog's substance made inspiration driving truth and reasonable. The substance of data is enlightening
Oracle Fusion Financials Online Training
Oracle Fusion HCM Online Training
Oracle Fusion SCM Online Training

Bharat vyas said...

Professional Training Services

Optimizing Success offers Live chat sales training, live chat client care and customer service training, Business

Consulting Services, professional business development training, online sales training and roadmaps, workflow mapping

and digitization.

to get more -

poshe said...

Great Information! Its looking Nice. Safety is most important. Useful for me to develop my knowledge. Thank you!
NEBOSH Process Safety Management Certificate
Nebosh IGC in Chennai
Safety Courses in Chennai
Nebosh Courses In Chennai
Industrial Safety Diploma Course In Chennai

datasciencecourse said...

Great Information! It is looking Nice

data science certification course training

Best Ice Shaver said...

Enjoyed reading the article above, really explains everything in detail, the article is very interesting and effective. Thank you and good luck for the upcoming articles. Click here

Anonymous said...

Sage Tech Support Number +1-855-686-6166 Visiting the service focus to fix your issue may be a tedious procedure, their moderate services execution may make you aggravated. So it’s smarter to fix your bugs at home through remote help from exceedingly qualified experts by means of favored correspondence channels. Client Can Also sends their questions to SAGE 50 Customer Service through submits issue structure and find solutions with some support . User can likewise demand a Call once more from SAGE 50 Customer Support simply leaving their phone number, name and appropriate time and partners will connect with in one business day.

Spplimited said...

Nebosh Course and Fire and Safety Course in chennai. Spplimited is a professional Training Institute on providing qualified Nebosh and fire and safety training.
Our Services
Neosh and Safety Course Training in Chennai
Safety Course in Chennai
Nebosh Course in Chennai
Fire and Safety courses

Neeraj Kumawat said...

BA 1 Year Result

HPU BA Part 1 Result

BA Revaluation Result

BA 1st Year Revaluation Result 2019

BA 2nd Year Revaluation Result 2019

BA 3rd Year Revaluation Result 2019

unknown said...

Hiiii....Thanks for sharing Great information...Nice post....Keep move on....
Angular JS Training in Hyderabad

rudraveni said...

Great Information. Thank You Author, for sharing your valuable information about iot with us. People who are reading this blog can continue your knowledge which you gained with us and know how to apply this practically along with our IoT Training In Hyderabad

Alexa said...

Thank you for sharing us education, please kindly visit mine :D


Neha Khan said...

HP University BA part 2 Result

HP University BA part 3 Result