orgtheory.net

how do you justify the time?

So I’m about a third of the way through my guest-blogging and have only done three of these. My obvious excuse for not doing more is lack of time. But one thing that has become really salient to me is that the challenge in blogging–at least for me– is less the lack of time than the fact that blogging makes my time-use public. That is, anyone who cares can see that I’m spending some of my time blogging when I could be doing other things. Of course, hardly anyone cares how I spend my time.  But a few people do.  In particular, about a dozen people at any one time are waiting on me for various things (comments on papers, letters of recommendation, referee reports, contributions to coauthored articles, contributions to committees, etc.), and now this is making it painfully obvious that I’m *choosing* not to work on those things, rather than being constrained from doing so.  By contrast, nothing else I do is so public.  I’m curious how you orgtheory guys deal with this problem, or perhaps it’s less of a problem for you because the various demanders of your time understand that you are committed to blogging, so it’s part of the bargain in working with you?

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Written by EWZS

October 12, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Posted in uncategorized

19 Responses

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  1. To me, this post illustrates how totally broken and dysfunctional the social norms of our profession are. I’m a graduate student, and I completely understand and empathize with Ezra’s point. And yet the implication is that the socially acceptable and expected allocation of an academic’s time is to dedicate literally *100%* of discretionary time to scholarly obligations. Even if everyone understands that no-one can literally do this, it is nevertheless thought prudent to maintain the illusion of unending labor. Hence it would be rude, or even something of an embarrassment, to admit to or be discovered in the act of something so superfluous as blogging.

    Perhaps this is just the price we pay for our high degree of autonomy from the discipline of clock-time, relative to other occupations. But I’d like to believe that this situation is not inevitable.

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    Peter

    October 12, 2008 at 7:59 pm

  2. Ezra, this is an interesting point and one that I’ve thought about. I try to be as communicative and open as possible as I can with the people I work with (and with my other dependents), letting them know specifically when I expect to get things done. Sometimes that means I give large time windows, although I don’t think that’s a function of blogging but a necessity for someone who is preoccupied with a lot of things. Once I say I’ll do something I try to be as reliable as I can in fulfilling those commitments. I’ve been pretty good about it so far and most of my coauthors trust me, I think, as someone who can be counted on to do things in a timely manner. I imagine that if I started failing consistently in getting things done, I’d be much more concerned with my public time use.

    I also don’t worry too much about it because I’m the type of person who is generally available to colleagues and students. I’m in my office a lot and I respond to emails effectively. I’m not an internet hermit by any means. What you see on the blog, I believe, is a reflection of my other types of social interaction. If there were some dissonance between the two, I’m sure more people would question the way I spend my time online.

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    brayden

    October 12, 2008 at 8:47 pm

  3. Hi, Ezra:

    I can’t speak for other people, but I get stuff done because I’m a multi-tasker. Since I squeeze blogging into either recreation time or dead time (little chunks between meetings), it doesn’t cut back on my ability to do research or teach. It also helps that I don’t watch much TV, which is a major time consumer for most people. That makes it easy for me to blog a little here and there. Also, I’m a work minimizer. I do work that will improve things, not waste time on useless tasks (e.g., personally tutoring an illiterate student so they can Weber).

    The punchline is that I produce pretty much the same stuff, whether I’m blogging or not, so others get their papers/letters/etc on time. And if work overwhelms me, I just stop blogging.

    At the end of the day, I trust that people will respect you if you do a good job. People can criticize you for just about anything and we should have some courage in our lives. If a person is really upset that I spend some of my spare time writing about the latest ASQ issue or university press book, while my own book gets published on time, then I’m not going to worry about it. They’d probably pick on me for some other reason. As long as you are productive, I’d just chalk it up to “you can’t make everyone happy.”

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    fabiorojas

    October 12, 2008 at 8:59 pm

  4. I’m curious how you orgtheory guys deal with this problem

    Bzzzt. I reject the premise.

    In particular, about a dozen people at any one time are waiting on me for various things (comments on papers, letters of recommendation, referee reports, contributions to coauthored articles, contributions to committees, etc.), and now this is making it painfully obvious that I’m *choosing* not to work on those things, rather than being constrained from doing so. By contrast, nothing else I do is so public.

    Long justification here. Short principled justification: “you dozen people have a right to care that I do what I promised, but no right to resent the fact that I’m also doing other things. Shorter unprincipled justification: “Hmm, you seem to be reading this blog, yet you claim I am wasting my time?” Or: “It sure beats searching for pr0n while drinking gin and crying. Not that I’m implying anything about how you spend your spare time.” Shortest obnoxious justification: “You want a faster response? Try engaging me with a task that’s more interesting than writing a short post.”

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    Kieran

    October 12, 2008 at 9:02 pm

  5. Hmm… interesting that I got so much more/faster responses to this post than any of my previous ones. I sense this is a very sensitive issue.

    Two main points of clarification: First, the issue for me is not that blogging is “superfluous,” but that it’s *public.* Second, the issue is not about blogging in the abstract (i.e., fulfilling some expectation about how much one should be working); it’s about *choosing* to devote a concrete block of time to blogging when you could have chosen to devote it to fulfilling a promised deliverable. It is always easier to explain a failure to satisfy an audience by pleading “constraint” than it is to plead “choice.”

    To be sure, I completely agree with Messrs. Rojas, Healy, and King that this shouldn’t matter as long as one discharges one’s obligations on time. If that is the case, then there really is no issue. But unfortunately, that is not the situation I am in. Perhaps unlike you guys, I’m a really bad multitasker. I think though the real problem is that I have taken on so many tasks that even a great multitasker would have difficulty managing all of them. So perhaps I should be faulted for having taken on so much. I suspect, however, that at least as many people are in my situation as are in yours. Perhaps this is a function of being senior. I remember when I was a junior faculty member and I harrumphed about how senior people took forever to return emails. What could be so important? Boy do I empathize with them now!

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 1:39 am

  6. Hmm… interesting that I got so much more/faster responses to this post than any of my previous ones. I sense this is a very sensitive issue.

    Hm. That’s one interpretation.* Another is that it’s a bit of a chestnut and any academic blogger who’s been in the game for a while has a more or less canned response to it, because they’ve thought it through before.

    First, the issue for me is not that blogging is “superfluous,” but that it’s *public.*

    I understand, but it’s also just a slightly more public manifestation of a pervasive mode of self-presentation and interpersonal gamesmanship in academia, as Peter mentioned above. IME, most of my blogging falls into one of two categories: it’s substantively related to my thinking on some research-related issue; or it’s done at times when I absolutely would not be accomplishing some other task anyway. As other responsibilities (mostly work and family) have ebbed and flowed, I’ve posted more or less often. So in practice there’s not much of a problem — it’s only at the level of stereotyped images of blogging that there’s an issue, and I don’t have a lot of patience with that.

    Now, of course it’s possible to construct a case (or genuinely experience a situation) where your ongoing blogging in the face of other obligations is a true drain on your time, or looks pretty bad, or both. In your particular case, you can just say “I’m guesting for a week at OrgTheory, it’ll be over soon.” If you regularly blogged and this kept happening, e.g., as your obligations spiked, then obviously you’d change your posting habits to strike the required balance. (Look at how many times I’ve posted something since August of this year, for example.) And if you just couldn’t find a way to do that, then you’d quit blogging altogether. Indeed, even in the small world of Soc blogging there are examples of each of these responses. (I guess you could also completely flake out on your professional responsibilities and blog away, but I’m not aware of any socblogger who has done this.**)

    __
    * Incidentally, this also has a whiff of Freudian argument about it — “Aha! Your quick response indicates your anxiety!” But if no-one had commented, would you also have been tempted to say, “Interesting that I got no responses to this at all … [thus] I sense this is a very sensitive issue”?

    ** Except for Teppo, obviously.

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    Kieran

    October 13, 2008 at 2:18 am

  7. Hmm… I didn’t know I had only committed myself to a week! :->

    Kieran: I like your alternative theory for why it got such a quick response. And I also like your point about the lack of comments indicating that an issue is sensitive. In fact, one of the most interesting things I have ever seen in a blog is the contrast between the number of comments to this post (http://scatter.wordpress.com/2008/02/01/the-strange-case-of-dr-booty-and-mr-t-bone/) and this one (http://scatter.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/three-lessons-to-young-researchers-from-gang-leader-for-a-day/).

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 2:41 am

  8. Actually, I haven’t gotten any flak for how-dare-you-blog-and-not-doing-X in a LONG time. Your bringing it up makes me miss it a bit and feel slightly anomic.

    I had also forgotten all about the Booty/T-Bone thing. I may have repressed it. Unsettling and weird, regardless of whether anybody commented on it.

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    jeremy

    October 13, 2008 at 4:19 am

  9. You blog?

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 4:27 am

  10. Lolz, Ezra, lolz. My hypothesis is that you have conquered the soc blogging learning curve when, in one post, you tease Jeremy about his (lack of) blogging (other options might include his Super Secret Hobby or his exercise regime) and address some question of how your blogging relates to a dimension of professional practice. Your post indicates your anxiety, etc. etc. Ok. I’m laughing too hard. I love you people.

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    Jenn Lena

    October 13, 2008 at 12:11 pm

  11. I dunno. I’m still trying to figure out what the z in “lolz” means…

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 12:41 pm

  12. Don’t think you’re gonna get away with just one week Ezra! Your post quota has now been doubled (see the fine print of your blogging contract).

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    brayden

    October 13, 2008 at 1:51 pm

  13. Note that I only said he should tell his harassers that he had signed on for a week, not that he had in fact signed on for a week.

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    Kieran

    October 13, 2008 at 1:56 pm

  14. Hmm… but won’t they see that I’m blogging for a month? Unfortunately, my harrassers “trust but verify.”

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 1:57 pm

  15. In that case, come for a stint at Crooked Timber next month, and you’ll be able to say, truthfully, “Economics Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman and I are guest-blogging together right now, I’ll have to get back to you. What was that you were saying about blogging and academic credibility?”

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    Kieran

    October 13, 2008 at 2:16 pm

  16. Ah, but what is acceptable– and even laudable– for someone who has achieved Krugman-esque stature is not necessarily acceptable for someone who is not. See (http://web.mit.edu/ewzucker/www/Conformity.pdf; pp.14-17). The failure to recognize this is also behind the misguided push for graduate training in public sociology.

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 2:24 pm

  17. der…the “z” is for “zuckerman”, dude.

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    Jenn Lena

    October 13, 2008 at 8:09 pm

  18. I don’t think you have the foggiest how uncool I am: I didn’t even know if you’re joking. Thankfully, wikipedia (o savior of the uncool!) saved me: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lolz. I almost want to ask why the extra z connotes sarcasm, but I won’t.

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 13, 2008 at 8:52 pm

  19. […] final note: I have enjoyed orgtheory and will miss doing this after my time is up next week.  But as I have publicly fretted, I just don’t have the time for this.  Also, I think some of the back-and-forth in the […]

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