It's really surprising how long it takes to acclimate oneself to a full-time position in academia. I'm nearing the end of my second year now, and I still find myself constantly tweaking all of my best-laid-plans for "balancing" the Holy Triumvirate of responsibilities: scholarship, teaching and service. As I've said many times before, one of the more maddening aspects of academic life is that you never feel like you're "off" work. There's no punching-out at the end of the day, and weekends are less "days off" than they are "uninterrupted" work days. And don't get me started on that myth of "summers off"! The dead weight of Work-Guilt (I should be prepping, I should be writing, I should be reading, I should be...) never goes away. For all of the sweet perks that come along with academic life, a quiet mind is not one of them.
I'm sure we're not alone in thinking that there just aren't enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the month, months in the year.... but because our work time is so unstructured, and often so unpredictable, it is especially hard to manage. The first step, I think, in getting some handle on the problem is to figure out how one works best. For me, the optimal conditions include long stretches of uninterrupted focus. I've discovered that I really cannot work for an hour or two, then have a meeting, then come back to my work, then teach a class, then come back, then eat, then come back, then advise a student, then come back, etc., etc.. When I try that, I end up having to repeat the last thing I was doing before I took a break, trying to find my train of thought again, searching desparately for the next sentence that was right there before I got up. Absolutely maddening. The problem, I've come to discover, is that such conditions are really only available in the summer, which means that the amount of reading, writing and researching that I can get done during the semester is less than I would like. Consequently, The Guilt.
However, I've tried something new this term. I've just conceded the fact that there is a very limited amount of progress that I can make on my manuscript during the course of the semester, but what I CAN do is make sure that, when summer gets here, I have everything in place to hit the ground running. All the research is compiled and organized, all the books are checked out and waiting, all the outlining is complete, and all I have to do is sit down and get started. My hope is that this way I won't lose the last couple of weeks of May trying to shift gears from the teaching schedule to the writing schedule. I can't say that this new insight has done a tremendous amount to assuage The Guilt just yet, but I'm hoping that if things go well this summer, I might be able to look back and re-evaluate how best to manage my time during the semesters.
At any rate, I'm interested to hear from others what works for you. Misery loves company!