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Reflections on spring break 2018

Topics/tags: Overcommitment, autobiographical

A few weeks ago, I reported on my plans for spring break. Now that spring break is over, it seems like a good idea to report back on what did and did not get done. Friday was not an auspicious start to spring break. What was supposed to be a quick department meeting at 4 p.m. ended up taking more than an hour. That meant that I missed the Executive Council Happy Hour. But things go a bit better as break went on.

It seems best to start with the list of what I planned, what I actually got done, and the approximate time I spent [1].

Family and fun

Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
High school Jazz band       ?         1.5 hr  not quite what I expected
Grinnell Singers            ?         12 hrs  includes travel
Solo and group ensemble     ?         8 hrs   volunteered, too
Relish dinner               ?         3 hrs
Sleep in                    ?         ?       only week 1
Fun with family             ?         ?       lots
Serious talks with sons     ?         ?
Musing                      2 days    20 hrs  More than planned!

That’s right. I didn’t put down plans for how much time to spend with family. I did, however, commit certain days to time with family. More on that below.


Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
Clean office                1 day     35 min  Not much got done
Taxes                       1/2 day   2.5 hrs Last few steps
Car                         1/2 day   -       Did not get done

I also took my car to get an oil change. That work is not included in the log. The other car activities will have to wait until it’s a bit warmer.


Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
CSC 151 Exam 2              2 days    23 hrs  Ouch!
CSC 151 Paperwork           1/2 day   -       Did not get done
CSC 321 Paperwork           1/2 day   -       Did not get done
CSC 322 Paperwork           1/2 day   -       Did not get done
CSC 151 Quiz                1 hr      1 hr    Added

Three days of grading during break should be enough.

Other teaching responsibilities

Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
Write CSC 151 Exam 3        1/2 day   4+ hrs  Good estimate
Rebuild Course Sites        1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Experiment with MediaScheme 1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Rewrite grading software    1 day     1 hr    New task / incomplete

The most important task got done. I distributed the new exam today [2].

Department paperwork

Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
WGMC conference materials   1/2 day   -       Did not get done / High priority
Self-study                  1/2 day   3 hrs   Less to write than I thought
NCWIT                       1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Access Computing            1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Review materials            1/2 day   3 hrs   Misc. tasks

I’ve probably missed some things. There was a lot of paperwork (or at least email discussion) during break.

Institutional paperwork

Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
Code camp report            1/2 day   -       Did not get done / high priority
SIGCSE report               1/4 day   -       Did not get done
Update CV                   1/4 day   -       Did not get done

If I was going to put something off, institutional paperwork seemed to be the least important work.

Other professional responsibilities

Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
GHC scholarship reviews     1/2 day   3 hrs
SIGCSE SV policy            1/2 day   -       Did not get done
SIGCSE SV software          1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Update SIGCSE mailing list  1/2 day   2.5 hrs Add new members; cleanup needed
New SIGCAS Web site         1 day     -       Did not get done
COPE                        1/4 day   -       Did not get done
Case study                  1/2 day   -       Did not get done

I also wrote at least one recommendation. I don’t think I logged that time, though.

Digital life

Activity                    Est.      Actual  Notes
--------                    ----      ------  -----
Deal with old laptop        1/2 day   4 hrs   Felt like much more
Synchronization strategy    1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Backup strategy             1/2 day   -       Did not get done
Set up to-do list           1/2 day   ?       Done (but not logged)

I was surprised to see that I only spent 4 hours playing with the problems with my laptop. As I say, it felt like much, much more. It may be that I was too frustrated at the time to actually log the work. Or perhaps the frustration just made it feel longer.

I realize that few of you care about those data. But I wanted to organize the information so that I could think about what I could learn from what.

It looks like I spent between 60 and 70 hours on work (including musing) over the two-week period. That’s about one normal week of work. So I did get some break time. Where did the break time get spent? Let’s see … I took Youngest Son to look at colleges. That wasn’t quite a vacation, but it was nice to spend time with him and I think it helped him think through options. We were also able to see some colleagues I respect at other institutions, to visit with one of our alums, and to see some family. That trip took six full days. I spent a day and a half or so playing games with the kids or talking about future plans. It was great to have Eldest home.

It appears that I under-estimated two important tasks. Grading the CSC 151 exam took longer than normal. In part, that’s because I had academic honesty issues to write up, and those take a long time to explain to people who don’t understand code. In part, it’s because I did not anticipate all of the complexities of student solutions. I also spent more time musing than I expected. With sixteen days in break, I assumed that I’d spend sixteen hours musing. However, break seemed to encourage me to spend a bit extra time musing, and so I did.

I did not get as much reading done as I had hoped. If I recall correctly, I read two fun novels [3]. I started to read Mindset, Carol Dweck’s work on fixed vs. growth mindset. I expect to write a series of musings on growth mindset once I’ve finished reading it. I read daily news articles and a few other things, but nothing else major.

Unfortunately, although I knew that I would not get everything done, I also failed to finish a few high-priority tasks. I’m trying to figure out when I can get those done. The high-priority tasks include entering grades for my three classes [4], preparing for Hopper and Tapia applications, and writing a report on last summer’s code camps [5]. Unfortunately, the grading has to wait on grading software; the software that I’d written previously broke and I decided that I’d patched it enough over the years that it was time to rewrite rather than repair. But that will be another day of work. I hope that I will have time this weekend.

With classes back in session, an exam out in CSC 151, and preregistration about to start, my free time for any of these projects is limited. I spend a lot of my day meeting with students or answering email questions or preparing my classes or dealing with paperwork or …. I also need to write the next homework assignments for CSC 151 [6].

Are there lessons for the next spring break? Probably not. I should remember that I won’t get everything done, but I figured that out before break. I should remember that even when I know that I won’t get everything done, I’ll still get even less done than I expected, in part because other things crop up.

But there do seem to be lessons for the next exam I have to grade. In particular, I need to make myself a bit more efficient as a grader. Believe it or not, but I think I have some techniques that will help. I’ve already started the answer key, which will make a difference. I’m also switching back to adding comments in vi rather than in DrRacket.

In the end, this was a fairly good spring break. In most years, when people ask me how I feel after spring break, I answer Spring Broken! This year, I feel behind, but not broken. I’ll take that as a good sign.

Postscript: In reading the original list of plans for spring break, one of my friends suggested that I start using a to-do list. You’ll see that set up to-do list is on my list of tasks completed over spring break. I now have a to-do list. I did well using it during the first week of spring break. I did less well while traveling. I now need to get back in the habit. I’ll report back on my experiences in a few weeks.

[1] I am not sure that I was as careful on logging time during break as I normally am. I certainly didn’t do a good job when I was traveling.

[2] I only give take-home exams in CSC 151. In a future musing, I’ll explain why.

[3] They were YA fantasy novels; I find those a good way to unwind. My brain is currently blanking on which ones they were.

[4] Grades tend to scatter.

[5] That report should be on my musing list so that it gets done more quickly.

[6] Fortunately, a class I sat in on during spring break has given me some good ideas.

Version 1.0 of 2018-04-03.