day in the life · job notes

A day at the office: uptime and productivity

Last week, I wrote about how very much work I get done–peacefully! in comfy pants! snuggling the animals!–when I work at home. I made some noises about how it was certainly important to be on campus, and that I was on campus an awful lot, but I did some complaining, really, about how working on campus compares unfavorably to working at home.

That was a little disingenuous, especially the part where I talked about getting interrupted for impromptu 20 minute meetings. The fact of the matter is, it’s usually me interrupting other people for impromptu 20 minute meetings. Or chit-chat. And, if we’re being perfectly honest, that ‘work’ is incredibly valuable to me, and I actually think we should all do more of it.

So this post is about the amazing work that gets done on my days in the office. I can break this into three main categories: chance meetings with colleagues; chance meetings with students; and stuff in my office. I’m leaving out the stuff that needs to get done: the scheduled meetings, the teaching. Everybody goes to campus for those things. I’m trying to think about reasons to stay on campus beyond those times, or go in when there’s nothing compelling it.

Chance meetings with colleagues: There really is something to be said for the wisdom of the hallway. Since January, I’ve had chance encounters with colleagues that resulted in me:

  • learning salient facts about our grad program rules
  • figuring out why I’m stalling on developing my online course
  • getting the skinny, off-the-record, on a big initiative on campus
  • giving advice to someone on a classroom management issue
  • informing someone about new copyright rules and making her life easier
  • generally gossiping about our department, the profession, the institution in ways that make me feel connected and informed.
This is all very valuable. These encounters were all very informal and unplanned, but incredibly useful to me in pragmatic as well as psychological ways: I have more information now, and I also feel part of a community in ways I don’t when I’m on sabbatical, say. I also feel like a good department citizen when I can help someone out with a bit of information or advice of my own.
Chance meetings with students: Some students just don’t come to office hours–they teach or take class during that time, they don’t come to campus that day, they just don’t think to make the effort. These students are often roaming the halls, or in shared office spaces that front onto the main hallway. When I’m out bringing a form to the office or picking up my printing or grabbing a coffee, I often see these students. And I can initiate an interaction that’s useful to both of us–did you find that book? do you need help rewriting that proposal? hey, don’t you owe me a chapter? Sometimes the students wander past my open office door and just drop in. I like that. We get things done that might not otherwise get done. Again, because these are informal, unscheduled interactions, they’re often perceived as lower stakes by the students, and thus make it easier for me to reach out to everyone in a class. I mostly run into graduate students this way, but I do encounter undergrads as well, particularly the undergrads who don’t understand that most profs don’t work in their campus offices, and who thus just take a flyer on dropping by. I’m glad when they do.
Stuff in my office: At home, my work gear is contained to one decorative rattan basket that tucks under my Ikea Poang chair. At the office, I’ve got probably about 50 linear feet of shelving, chock full of books and gear, and three filing cabinets with all my teaching notes, all my receipts, all my article printouts. I’ve got a printer and two network printers. The forms for travel claims are there. Letterhead. A photocopier. My mail. I also really use the floor of my office, to spread out the pages of a baggy draft, or to make giant piles of sorted research materials, or to collate student papers, or to organize the readings for one class for the entire term. The door locks. I can leave it in half-done disarray if I’m working on something big. Or I can keep it monastically tidy, an oasis with no dishwasher, no dog that needs walking, a Work Zone. (Also, my office has a humongous south-facing window that looks out over a bunch of trees. That’s nice, too. Don’t dismiss the importance of daylight and green stuff.)
So. There’s a lot to be said for working in the office. I guess what makes the office or the house better or worse, finally, is the sense of agency I feel in where my time gets spent: it’s about how scheduled I am, ultimately, not really about where I am working. 
This week, for example, I have exactly zero days where I can work at home, and it’s making me angry and itchy: Monday is 3 hour grad class; Tuesday is two back to back meetings in my department that ran a little longer than three hours; Wednesday is one meeting, one recruiting event, one student visit; Thursday is office hours and a faculty association meeting; Friday is a job candidate visit. At least on a couple of those days, I have the morning I can keep to myself where I want to work and what I want to do, but most of those days are just bouncing from obligation to obligation. And that, at the end of the day, is the hard part.

2 thoughts on “A day at the office: uptime and productivity

  1. And when you're in your office you provide benefits to your colleagues, students and to the admin staff that keep the place running day-to-day. So you're right to feel like a good citizen of the academy for showing up and having your door open. Students are going to be dropping in on somebody if they can. If there are only ever one or two open office doors in a department, one or two professors are going to be inundated, and they'll stop coming in too—which will leave the department admin staff trying to explain to wandering undergrads how to try to hunt down professors. Having a community in a department is good for everyone. Good on ya.


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