Musings on my own little sweatshop

I have now officially crunched 143 logs for Mosaic: work totals, sleep totals, housework, exercise, TV, reading…. The reason this is significant is that 143 logs give me 1000 days (1001 to be exact). That was my target for data analysis. I think 1000 days gives me a pretty good picture of modern life.

(Side note: I actually have a lot more than 143 logs, but several were unusable for various reasons I’ll get around to writing about eventually. Also, still got a log you want to turn in? I am continuing to collect logs, because the more data I get the better. I especially love it when people are willing to talk about their lives for the book. People can be anonymous, but I also like real people with real names!)

I’ll have lots of analysis in the book but I’ll be writing about it here too. Here’s one big, personal insight that stuck out for me:

I work a lot.

I had some sense that I probably worked a fair amount. I never really think I do, both because I enjoy it, and because I track my time and am not prone to exaggeration. So the personal totals I see — 50 hours/week on a regular week, and more like 55-60 hours/week when not on vacation the past 2 months — don’t sound that high. In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, I saw yet another person refer to his “80-hour weeks” that required a life adjustment. I know, thanks to a study in the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review, that people claiming 80-hour workweeks are off by about 25 hours. So his stressful “before” is actually my current 55.

Looking at other people’s logs confirms this really is a lot. I can now see that people in fields I always thought of as featuring long hours — law, medicine, finance — are often working fewer hours than me. This is somewhat of a sobering thought, as I imagine many of them are earning more. A lot more. Hmm.

The work hour thing explains my volume of output. I’ve had a few people recently tell me they’re surprised at the sheer quantity of words I’ve been spewing into the universe. There is no secret to prolificity. I work a lot of hours and I spend a lot of those hours writing. I’m probably not that prolific on a words per minute basis.

Of course, working 55 hours/week still leaves time for the rest of life. I sleep about 52.5 hours/week, so that leaves about 60 hours/week for other things. I get my exercise, and I read, and I occasionally watch TV. And given that I quit my first shift at 5:15 most nights, and my kids don’t go to sleep until 9, there’s lots of kid time in there too.

But it is interesting to see the gap. I imagine that most people would think that “writer” is a more relaxed, family friendly life than, say, being a manager at a tech company. It may be more flexible — though plenty of people in “real” jobs have a lot of flexibility. I’m seeing that in Mosaic, too. What I do know is that work hours are often more about choice than a matter of job title.

15 thoughts on “Musings on my own little sweatshop

  1. I think autonomy over one’s schedule goes a long way in improving how one feels about how she spends (and even estimates) her work hours. Even if a Wall Street type is surfing the internet for some of those 80 hours and is not actually working, it probably still feels like working 80 hours if she physically has to be at the work site during that time (for meetings, appearances sake, whatever).

    I’ll be working from home after we move this summer and, even though I’ll actually be working more hours “away” from my son (and DC#2 in Nov), the thought of being able to take a quick break to have lunch with him or to nurse the baby rather than pump makes the idea seem way more manageable than picking up more hours at the office.

    1. @Chelsea – Working from home is nice, and nursing a baby beats pumping by a long shot. One thing on the hours — in my study, unless someone specifically labeled some chunk of their work time as personal and put “30 minutes surfing websites for personal enjoyment” or some such, or labeled something as a break, I generally counted time at the office as work. No one was at the office 80 hours.

    2. Yes, having autonomy and control over one’s own time and schedule is huge. In my previous job I didn’t work that much. I was in the office for about 32 hours a week, and working at home for an additional 8. Of those hours I only really worked 30-32 hours/week. The other 8-10 were wasted, because I was too dependent on my boss’ schedule. She tended to only have time for me in the margins of the day–around lunch, or just before leaving. I spent a lot of time waiting to talk to her, rescheduling appointments with her, making myself available to her just in case she needed me, squeezing in for 10 minutes here or there, and moving my schedule around so it fit better with hers. Sometimes after spending most of the day with one 1-hour meeting, some email to answer, a couple of minor fires to put out, and surfing the internet and chatting with colleagues for the rest of the day, I’d finally get the crucial information needed to complete an important task from my boss at 4:55 pm, have to leave the office at 5 pm to get home in time to relieve the sitter, and then actually do the work later that evening at home between 9 and 11 pm after the kids were in bed because it was due the next day at noon and I couldn’t count on the morning being free and uninterrupted enough to allow me to complete the work on time. So the total hours that I spent productively working that day were only about 4 (2 hours in the office and 2 at home). But I still found myself having to work at home in the evening, under deadline pressure. Days like that really wore me down and are the main reason I made a lateral career move. They were 4-hour days that felt like 12 due to the lack of autonomy and control.

      1. Yes! Lining up everything I need for an experiment- materials, equipment people- is time-consuming and a challenge to the schedule.

  2. There’s also the balance of different types of activities and those requiring human interaction and introversion/extroversion. Before I had kids, I needed more interaction at work, now that I have kids I find it much more exhausting to interact with people. During the summer I am more easily distracted, during the school year I work more hours because teaching and service are completely different than research.
    Interesting to note, some of what you do as work is what we do as a hobby and do not count as work at all.
    And now I need to get back to work reading about the motherhood penalty for realz…

    1. @nicoleandmaggie – I can’t imagine having to deal with other people all day. One of the things I like about starting my work day is the quiet! But obviously other people thrive on interaction — hence the introversion/extroversion split.

      1. For some time now, I’ve been pondering the idea that not all hours are created equal and that some people might need more rest from work hours than others. I self-diagnosed (ha!) myself as a non-shy Introvert after reading Quiet and realized that being aware of the hours in each day or week that require extroverted qualities require more of what you might label as leisure hours in your time logs for me to recover.

  3. Have you ever tried consciously cutting your hours, to see what it does to your output? The year I worked 35 hours/week (down from 40) as a contractor, no one noticed. I was getting the same work done in slightly less time. This was before I got really interested in time use, so I don’t really know what fluff I unconsciously cut, unfortunately.
    I think it is going to be really interesting to see how my time usage changes as I get my new business up and running. I’ll be tracking hours for the consulting part of the business (so that I can issue invoices!) and have decided to track other work activities, too, so that I can see what things get the biggest return on time invested. I may track some of the stuff on the edge of work and leisure, too (i.e., blogging- which I class as a hobby but which has generated several money generated opportunities).

    1. @Cloud- I’ve had my hours cut unintentionally many times, because of childcare disruptions, lots of kid events and the like. I get less done in those weeks than during the weeks I work closer to my preferred number of hours.

      But yes, some of what I do as work many other people do as a hobby. So that would naturally lead to hours being higher.

      1. I’ve always used “do I have to do this to make the money my family needs to eat, etc.” as the gauge of work vs. a hobby that has the potential to make money. I think I’ll need a new measure soon, because that one loses its power once I’m contracting and no longer have a fixed number of hours expected of me every week. It will be interesting to see how my thoughts on this evolve.

        1. @Cloud- I’ve explored this thought a little bit (I think I wrote a post on “what is work” at some point). For me, a massive amount of what I do is coming up with ideas of things to write about. So if I’m reading a random magazine that I might pull an idea from, is that work? I generally don’t count it as such but by another definition it could be. I review a lot of the books I read for various places, or read the books because I want to interview the author — is that reading work? I don’t know. Or random networking functions. They are often not so specifically labeled as such for me, and yet I’m always trying to find sources.

          I think Griffin raised an interesting point about mental time vs. actual time — how hours feel. Also some people claim any time they’re thinking about work is work, but I’m not sure about this. People rarely claim that if they’re sitting in a meeting and thinking about a kid issue, a disagreement with a spouse or friend, etc., that they’re not working. I’m not sure why it only goes one way.

  4. One thought — The people who really were at the office for 80 hours probably a) aren’t reading your blog, and b) probably didn’t have time to fill out a time sheet for you. Speaking as an epidemiologist, your sample is almost assuredly biased. I do agree with you on the principle though: People say they work a lot more than they do (just as they say they sleep a lot less). For the record, I sincerely hope you’re right that people work less than they say, because I am not looking forward to working 80 hours a week (averaged over a 4 week period) for the next 4-5 years of my life.

    1. Great point. I sit by two managers who work at least 80 hr/week, at least if you count all travel time as work. Maybe work travel/having to spend nights away from home frequently is a gray area between work and non-work.

    2. @oldmdgirl – sure, there is bias. But if we’re looking at total work hours, there is bias the other way too. I had a lot of people start one week, and then tell me they did a different week because “I was out sick 2 days, so it wasn’t a typical week” or some such. Nobody tracked a week with more than one vacation day, which makes sense on an individual level, but with lots of people, if everyone tracked a random week, I should have at least a few more with very few work hours. There’s also this random quirk: I have a reasonable number from accountants, and they were all during “busy season” in the lead-up to April 15. Of the women over 60 hours, the majority were accountants. I’m not saying it all comes out in the wash, but the bias doesn’t only point one direction.

      1. Unfortunately,systematic bias in one direction does not cancel out bias that may be occurring in the other direction. I wish it were so… it would make my job easier. Alas, it is not.

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