How I spent my summer

Throughout the 12 weeks of my summer internship, I was keeping a time log of my project-related activities. Here’s the resulting chart:

A few notes to explain the chart:

  • My project was a field study, other research internships would have very different hours and kinds of activities depending on their nature.
  • I spent an average of slightly more than 40 hours/week in the office. 1, 3, and 7 were 4-day weeks, 9 was a 6-day week, and 11 and 12 were crunch-mode weeks.
  • With the exception of “Talks”, I only logged strictly my real work time — not the time I spent staying on top of things (reading and answering emails, catching up with blogs), taking a break, working on non-project stuff, etc. I can usually keep a pace of 40-hour weeks with 22-25 hours of real work per week without burning out (and if you think that’s too little you should start timing yourself). The last couple of weeks were a bit intense as I rushed to finish a paper and deliver a presentation, and as a result I’m now overcooked, though not burnt out. A few days off will get me back on track.
  • “Connect” represents meeting people to get access to their teams, or to get feedback on our plans.
  • There were a few hours of planning and a lot of reading before I started the project, so they’re underrepresented here.
  • Whenever I had to choose between logging an activity as “Collect” (data collection) or as “Analyze” (sometimes the distinction was blurry), I chose “Collect”. So “Analyze” is also a bit underrepresented.
With those caveats, the chart can give you a basic idea of how a research internship project looks like.

About Jorge Aranda

I'm currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SEGAL and CHISEL labs in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Victoria.
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3 Responses to How I spent my summer

  1. Andrew Louis says:

    Cool data. A few questions:

    1. How did you collect it? Just a text file?
    1.1. Were you able to capture when your time was getting cut up?
    ie. “analyzing” while dealing with occasional emails from colleagues?
    1.2 How granular are your time periods?

    2. Did you get any sense of how much of a hit your productivity takes when you switch activities?

    Also, have you heard of http://www.slifelabs.com/? It tracks what app is active at a given time. I’m sure for the work you’re doing, you could set up some good rules to get an accurate mapping of app to activity.

  2. Jorge says:

    Hey Andrew,

    1. Not even a text file –just pen and paper. I’d pass the data to a spreadsheet once in a while. I’ve tried text files and programming my own apps for time tracking, but I haven’t felt comfortable with either yet.

    1.1 What I do is I try to have uninterrupted work sessions of one hour, or a half hour at least (my goal most work days is to have about five one-hour sessions, planned at the start of the day). So while I’m doing work, I don’t check emails. Occasionally I’d get an interruption at my desk; in those cases I just jot down the amount of time I’d been working and carry on from there.

    1.2 They’re in half-hour increments.

    2. I usually spend 10-20 minutes between one-hour sessions — going for coffee, decompressing a bit, checking email, and getting ready for the next hour. Getting started is the hard part. For some activities, especially writing, I’d find it would be better to just carry on on my second or third hour rather than take a break so as not to loose my train of thought.

    The tool you mention sounds cool, I’ll check it out. The problem is I like to do some of my work away from the computer –read papers or books in physical format, plan or analyze in front of a whiteboard, not a monitor. So it’ll always be partial data…

  3. Manuel says:

    “I can usually keep a pace of 40-hour weeks with 22-25 hours of real work per week without burning out (and if you think that’s too little you should start timing yourself)”

    Yo siempre he mantenido la existencia de al menos 15 horas/nalga por semana. Tu estudio valida mi experiencia.

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