Your Ideal Work Day

A few years ago, get a life phd asked readers to think about what their ideal day would look like.

My ideal work day definitely does NOT include teaching or ANY emails from students.  It does, however, include research and friends.

I was at this conference when I realized I was having my ideal work day.  No students.  No student emails.  I talked to colleagues about research:  theirs, mine.  I got inspired to learn about a new statistical technique.

I saw good friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I ate good food.  I had time for a nap in the middle.

I met a new research collaborator and we talked about what research we do and could share.
I could choose what was most interesting to go hear talks about.  Setting my own schedule is awesome.
That is an ideal work day.


I think mine would start off with me checking my email to find a desk accept.  :)  Or an R&R from a top 2 journal.  Follow it up with a request to do something relatively trivial using my expertise for a large sum of money (like reading a proposal or giving a discussion).

These ideal day exercises aren’t so useful to me because my fantasy scenarios mainly depend on things that are outside of my control (last week was not an ideal week– the summer started with two conference rejections and a journal rejection, also our unscoopable paper that coauthor sat on for two years got scooped), and because I’m pretty happy with my life as it is and trying to optimize instead of satisfice just makes me grumpy.  It may not be a perfect life, but spending time and mental energy trying to make it better tends to make it worse and take time and energy away from things that actually help my life improve.  I remember the morning that I first heard about the willpower research on only being able to make a limited number of decisions each day, I was completely useless because I’d second guess making any decision instead of just making it, thus adding to my mental load.

Now, if I were miserable or unhappy, then the amount of time thinking about what makes me happy would be totally worth it.  A little bit of introspection might be able to make big short-term changes.  Fortunately for me, that’s not where I am right now (rejections aside).  We will see what the future brings.

What’s your ideal work day?

17 Responses to “Your Ideal Work Day”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    My ideal work day is filled with extensive conversations with my students and post-docs about their awesome research projects.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    I think the conference/friends/nap scenario above comes pretty close. But for me, my own most favorite days are the ones where I’ve had the big idea already and all that it needs is to write it up. In math, “write it up” is something that can take days or weeks or (especially for my students) months. So when I know exactly where I’m going AND I don’t have teaching/administration stuff, THEN I can just spend the day trying to get all my ideas into figures, graphs, and words.

    And that’s bliss. I would work 15 hours/day if I could get my husband to take care of the kids on days like those. (And I need 8 hours of sleep and an hour to eat, so for me that means eat, math, sleep. That’s all).

  3. zenmoo Says:

    My ideal day would include a design review meeting to productively discuss a project that is actually heading to construction, a site visit out of the office to see something in planning, a lunch date with my husband and a couple of hours worth of thinking about options to solve a new problem.

  4. Thisbe Says:

    On an ideal workday all my patients are reasonably well-trained and none of them try to hurt me or my staff (or at least, none of them succeed). Some of them have problems that are interesting to me but that I can figure out how to treat. None of the pet owners are overtly hostile OR trying to form an inappropriate emotional bond with me. I am busy enough to be fully engaged all day but not so busy that I am writing medical records for two hours after I stop seeing patients.

    This actually happens for me somewhat frequently, which is great.

  5. gwinne Says:

    This is interesting. My most productive days don’t involve much human contact; it’s me and a computer, steady flow of tea, and a walk somewhere in the middle. But I also like working with students. And colleagues, in the right context. Mixing it up over the course of the week, as I do now, is a good thing.

  6. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My favorite days are ones where I start working by 7:00 p.m. and am done by 2:00. If only I could start that early every day!
    I also prefer the days when I am not required to talk to anyone other than my husband and kids in person or on the phone.

  7. Debbie M Says:

    I wake up, I don’t have to go to work for some reason (holiday, vacation) and I still get paid. Oh, that’s not what you meant.

    (Disclosure–I’m staff, not faculty.)

    At my current job, I can’t yet imagine and ideal day. I guess making progress on a project and also getting good news (like the petitions are worthy of approving, the faculty do want to offer the flags and will fill out the flag proposal, etc.). And I don’t get hungry until it’s time to eat.

    At my last job, it was getting through all the repetitive stuff for the day (such as course schedule or course inventory updates), helping to solve an interesting problem on coding a rule or an override in the degree audit system, making a suggestion that’s easy for the programmers to implement that improves the system, and having a meeting (all our meetings were good–productive and with some extra socializing–and some of them had snacks, too).

    In general, I like most of the day to be doing work by myself (which I am good at) with a little bit of the day either helping someone do something they need or want to do or, even better, actually working with someone as an equal to improve something. Also, mostly sitting inside is fine, but I also like getting up and walking some (such as to meetings, to ask someone a question, to get lunch, or to make a delivery).

    My favorite is when I come up with something awesome (or it seems that way to me) and it goes over well. In my current job, I’m still in the phase where my awesome ideas have mostly already been tried and found wanting (either the programmers don’t have time, the faculty disagree about what the goal is, or in general the people that we have to work with refuse to help). Well, I’m improving the documentation for my job, and so far that seems to be working out like I hoped–it’s appreciated and I’m getting more information on my job that’s helping me do it better.

  8. Liz Says:

    Definitely feeling the need for a sabbatical lately… as in, hello, burn-out! That’s what happens when you work your employees into the ground.

    Thinking about ideal, I most enjoy the days when I can do something helpful to improve our working conditions, relationships, or content production. I’ve been pretty successful at engineering a workday/week that includes *more* than just grinding on the same 15-20 page paper from start to finish. I lead/facilitate some meetings, created and run a mentoring/professional development program, spearhead other initiatives related to working conditions, professional development, etc. I need a bit of diversity to keep me engaged, so this is an improvement. Mostly individual time, but there’s also time spent connecting with others in meaningful, small bursts in order to plan Great Things.

    Does NOT include the boring, uninformative monthly unit meeting. Gag. I usually skip them (because I’m not in the office from which they are broadcast, so I’m ignored on the phone line anyway).

  9. NZ Muse Says:

    Optimise vs satisfice – well said. It’s so, so unlikely that I could ever hit 100% with the perfect job, house, location, family situation. I’m pretty happy with where I am now and the tradeoffs are frustrating at times but that’s just how things are.

  10. pvcccourses Says:

    Just yesterday I realized I was having an ideal work day:

    Started by writing and almost completing a scene in chapter 4 of my second novel. Then entered financial data in Quickbooks; corresponded with a former graduate student (just finished her Ph.D.) and a retired colleague, reminiscing about how the history department went to hell how many grad students were shafted (this one very nearly among them); read page proofs; watered the trees; took the dog to the vet; realized today I’ll have to let my business networking group know I won’t be there for the next five weeks because my summer course will conflict with the Thursday meeting time.

    No. I do not look forward to teaching that course. Teaching is not what I want to do with my life. On the other hand, the net on the piddling pay for one adjunct course will pay for the cleaning lady to come twice a month over an entire year. {sigh} Into each life…

    And into each WP blog, must intrude, I guess. This is Funny about Money, who is no longer allowed to sign in as anything other th an pvcccourses.

  11. Round and About | Funny About Money Says:

    […] At Grumpy Rumblings, take time to contemplate Nicoleandmaggie’s fantasy of the ideal work day! […]

  12. chacha1 Says:

    I guess my ideal work day is one in which …
    I get out of the house when I should, enabling me to arrive without screeching in at the last possible second of “on time”;
    I have just enough real work to justify my employment;
    There are no noisy gatherings;
    I don’t get a call from the docketing department;
    I’ve remembered to pack my breakfast and lunch; and
    I can concentrate sufficiently to write something on one of the book projects.

  13. The Shoe Drop’t | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] Something research-based, perhaps.  You may see some self-absorbed bloggy rambling (e.g., my ideal work day).  We are very lucky that my partner makes fat bank and is willing to support me while I figure […]

  14. My New Mantra | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] of the ideas about how to be a better working Me come from when I thought about my ideal workday.  (Awesome side note: in that post I said that at last year’s conference I had met a new […]

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