Changing Work-Life Balance and Calendar Time Management

Never mind. I do enjoy my work, but I’m afraid I’ve used it as an excuse to avoid the rest of my life.
Odo in «Star Trek DS9: His Way»

When I started my current job, I used a time tracking app. A simple, easy-to-use app on the smartphone (DueTime). Just press a button when you start working, press it again when you stop. You can export the data and process it with external apps.

After about two years, I had a look with R and … well, I was working a bit more than I should.

The red line is the number of hours I was contractually required to work, the blue line the number of hours I actually worked. And this was time in the office only. Not the evenings or weekends at home when I did prepare lectures or read papers or theses.

Given that I loved my work and felt like a fish in water, I did the natural thing: delete the app.

After all, why remind yourself that you work too much, if it really is not too much. Given that you like it.

But as time went on, and some stressors were poisoning the work environment (esp. the universities coercive Covid practices and having a lecture — that I had build up over six years — taken away with no consultation), I began to rethink the approach.

I love my work, but I agree with the quotation at the beginning of the posting — I’ve also used it as an excuse to avoid the rest of my life. While I did a couple of creative projects (incl. a 500+ pages script on methods and statistics in human-centered development/design), there are lots of other things I did not have time for.

And in sense, that’s a blessing in disguise. Given that I have no ties, I do have a certain degree of freedom. Sure, the freedom to fall into abject poverty if I have no work, but still, some degree of freedom.

But even with that (somewhat spoiled) love of work and that kind of freedom, it was time for a change. If only to find out (again) what else is fun.

The first step was to reduce the number of additional hours I work to (almost) the number of hours I am actually paid to work. Not an easy task in academia. But it is possible, given that many tasks are self-selected, and the experience of the last seven years provided me with enough expertise to do the tasks I have to do more efficiently. Some recent deadlines were closer than I liked when I did the tasks, but they worked out.

Much more difficult is leaving on time instead of continuing with the next task. Given that I start working at 7 am, I have to leave at 3 pm. Starts and ends two hours earlier than the usual 9 to 5 mode, but much more efficient if you want to work in the office in peace. But in order to remind myself — and prevent others from taking up my time after 3 pm — I block the calendar times with «Home» entries (usually from 3 to 8 pm). They show up as blocked if someone looks for a possible appointment.

Calendar with blocked appointments.

The calendar can also be used to get back time when there was an appointment after 3 pm. Simply change the entry on a following day (I go an hour early at most).

I still do work more than I probably should, but at least there is some accountability (to myself) now.

Combined with the promise to myself (so far, almost always kept) that I will not work on work outside of the office, I now have time for other things. So far, lots of time was spend on reading (Changing Habits to Read More Books) and changing my infrastructure (Switching from DEVONthink to Obsidian). But given that masks are no longer required on trains … yeah, time to use the time and restart photography as a hobby.