Compared to most folks, we work weird jobs. Now, that’s true for lots of reasons, but one of them is the bizarre relationship we have with time. On the one hand, we are usually blessed with a flexibility in our professional schedule that our friends and loved ones who work 9 to 5 would kill for.
On the other hand, we are constantly complaining about being overworked. And that’s not an unreasonable complaint — late-night lesson preps, weekend grading binges, committee meetings that are never scheduled at convenient times… The issue of work/life balance is a constant in academia, it seems, and the goal envisioned in this discussion is one few people seem to achieve… unless, of course, in the estimation of some of us, that lucky sot is obviously letting something slide.
So when I started reading Trish Roberts-Miller’s piece in Inside Higher Ed this morning, I had to clean up the coffee I spit out. Her claim — that yes, we academics can manage the average pace of a 9 to 5 schedule — is at once audacious and uncomfortably on point for those of us who revel in how “busy” we always are. (Please bear in mind that this article is not being shared by one who has mastered this discipline! I am digesting this food for thought myself, and considering how to implement her advice to tame my own crazy work rhythms.) It might not be a bad idea to try timing our work like lawyers to see where our productivity waxes and wanes, so that one day we can work more like bankers and rest and play like real people.
Recently, I told a group of graduate students that it’s possible to finish a dissertation and have a happy scholarly career while working 9 to 5. I think they were cheered and shocked, and I only later realized there might have been a lot of confusion. It’s hard to talk about working hours and academics partially because we have what others have called a culture (perhaps even cult) of “busyness,” partially because of the collapse of the 40-hour work week, and partially because academic work is a gas that will expand to fill all the time available.
So here is an attempt to clarify.