the grid

the grid

Saturday, 3 April 2021

2021 Session 1, Week 13: it all counts

A theme in last week's comments is people working on things that weren't on lists, or dealing with stuff that comes up unexpectedly, or just adapting as necessary. It all counts! These things are useful and necessary. Our lives are better with the files sorted, the garden improved, the opportunity seized. Maybe in a different year, at least some of these things would seem like distractions from the main goal, but this is 2021. We've been dealing with pandemic conditions for over a year. Any forward motion you can make is a good thing.

For a change of pace, this week I offer a view of the schedule kept by Cambridge scholars in the middle of the nineteenth century, taken from An American in Victorian Cambridge: Charles Astor Bristed's 'Five Years at an English University,' ed. Christopher Stray (University of Exeter Press, 2008). I love writers' accounts of how they spend their days, so this is the sort of thing that amuses (and sometimes inspires) me.

The young man is expected to attend Chapel at 7:00 a.m., for about half an hour, so he rises by 6:30 to get ready. After Chapel, he walks in the college grounds for 15 minutes or so, to allow the bed-maker to do her work in his rooms. "By eight, he is seated before his comfortably blazing coal fire, with his kettle boiling merrily, and the materials for his morning meal on a diminutive table near him. These are of the simplest description---rolls, butter, and tea: an excellent preparation for a morning's reading." Lectures (if the young man attends them) take place from nine till noon. "It is generally some time before one, when the student resorts to his private tutor. . . .From two to four is the traditional time for exercise," and dinner in Hall is at four. "After Hall is emphatically lounging time, it being the wise practice of Englishmen to attempt no hard exercise, physical or mental, immediately after a hearty meal. Some stroll in the grounds . . . many . . . glance over the newspapers . . . and many assemble at wine parties to chat over a frugal dessert of oranges, biscuits, and cake, and sip a few glasses of not remarkably good wine." Evening Chapel at 6:00 is not so well attended, and after it "evening reading begins in earnest. Most of the Cantabs are late readers, so that supposing one of them to begin at seven, he will not leave off before half-past eleven, thus clearing more than four hours' consecutive work" (16-22). 

Later in this work, Bristed writes of these men's care of their health: "His seven hours of sleep are always the same seven hours of the night. . . . His breakfast is light and simple . . . and while he is at it he does not worry himself about anything else. He is discreet in his position when at work, and knowing that he has to stoop forward in writing at the examinations, does most of his reading leaning back in his arm chair or standing at a high desk where he strengthens his legs and eases his chest at the same time. After he has dined you could not bribe him to engage in any exertion of body or mind for at least two hours. . . . Bur above all, his exercise is as much a daily necessity to him as his food" (291).

Since Bristed endured a serious illness after arriving at Cambridge, he also has some comments on how he lived while recovering, when work had to be limited to under four hours a day (102). I'd like to know more about the lives of the tutors and masters, but he was experiencing Cambridge as an undergraduate, so I can only glean bits about the masters' lives between the lines.

If you feel like it, comment on your schedule, either actual or ideal! Or just get down to reporting and setting new goals. Here are the goals from last week: 


1) Do the computer modelling thing for local project
2) Write the report for local project
3) Finish and return marks for undergrad class
4) Check in with all students in program I run about summer and advising
5) Have difficult association conversation with important person
6) Do at least two coffee walks with friends
7) Last day of skiing for the season

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell:

Mail off passport application.
Attack the remaining scary box under the desk.
Walk.1 x 5
Make remaining doctor’s appointment.

heu mihi:

1) Write 3 hours
3) Read a bunch of Parzival and Equiano
4) Order books for Fall 2021
5) Read journal article
6) Run, yoga, sit, language


1 Submit Boredom conference paper
2 Select and submit creative piece for MV
3 Submit review of smol book
4 Make significant progress on Because (due soon)
5 Make significant progress on Young Ones (due soon)


- finish and publish feedback on AT1
- catch up 2 x weeks of online material, and set up AT2 online
- move offices/flee building works
- make test box


1. 2x 2 hours on famous author
2. 3 journals
3. Record next week's lecture
4. Do the sweaters and blouses in the great closet cleanout
5. Finally fertilize, plant seedlings
6. Have a good Easter.
7. Do things with friends online and in person
8. Keep up with exercise and healthy eating
9. Don't get stressed


Complete the "what I have" outline of book-in-progress.
Dead languages 4x each.
Grade discussion boards.
Daily stretching & cardio, weights x3.
Collect tax documents.
Tidy study.
Research new washer & dryer.
Read something scholarly.


  1. The schedule for the Cambridge scholars is fascinating--somehow very regimented but free within the confined range. I do well with that “do something of this sort for the next two hours.” I also like the acknowledgment of exercise as well as the effects of heavy food on the brain. As for my ideal schedule, I like the freedom of “I can read on one of three topics for the next two hours.” Although I cannot be completely structured that way in my work life, I’ve come to realize over the past year that there is more of that kind of freedom than I initially thought, and I want to incorporate that more extensively.

    My biggest problem with schedules is ADD hyperfocus, where I need an obnoxious sounding alarm to bring me out of whatever rabbithole I fell into. I can promise myself to stop for a turn around the block, but unless an alarm knocks me out of my chair, I’m unlikely to realize it is time to walk around the block. Although I am very good about setting alarms for meetings, I am very bad about setting them for “just me.” I do have a program that sets up “focus time” for me, which sets off an alarm when the time is beginning.

    I have griped already about the difficulty of setting up a schedule and space while WFH. I need to analyze why this is, but I can tear myself away from the work computer to take a brisk stroll through the stacks much more easily. My visceral guess is that all things get smooshed together at home. I have to walk past the laundry hamper and the kitchen to get from my computer to the front door to take a walk, both of which are siren song distractions. I am planning to see what sort of schedule I can create, though, stealing many of the Cambridge insights.

    Last week's goals:
    Mail off passport application. Yes. Even submitted to the photograph with minimal mewling about it.
    Walk 1 x 5. Yes, despite the SNOW on Friday.
    Attack the remaining scary box under the desk. Yes. About half of it stayed, since there are many articles that are not available to me online, so…. I do feel good about recycling all of the articles that are online.
    Make remaining doctor's appointment.Yes. I was even prepared for the “eternal” hold by having a novel in hand.

    Not on the list: Listed the three boxes of patterns and supplies for sale online, after organizing them for easy retrieval. Compiled and combined a sheaf of handwritten notes from a research trip a couple of years ago with the latest version of AsYetUnnamed. Updated April in my planner, and updated my faculty activity report.

    Next week's goals:
    Walk 2x5.
    Read 1 hour x 5 on early printers. Break out another new notebook!
    Combine three different filing systems into one and shred duplicates.
    Get second dose of vaccine.
    Draft a daily schedule.

    Happy holidays to all who celebrate. Take some time for reflection, and float like mist, everyone.

    1. Working from home does mean laundry etc can be distractions. Sometimes that's a convenience, if you can use housework as a break and not as a job. It looks like you & I are on the same vaccine schedule---I hope your second shot goes well!

    2. Housework can be a break--I will strive to look at it that way.
      I hope your second shot goes well, too!

    3. That's a good week, lots of things on the list and off the list! Glad the scary box is no longer so scary...

  2. That is a lovely schedule! It sounds a lot like the perfect retreat schedule where external things like school runs and other daily life things don’t intrude. I’m pretty happy with my current schedule. I set the alarm for 6, faff around a bit and then generally work out (still in love with fancy app!) and finish around 715. Breakfast and kid and school run takes until about 845 and then I make the first of two cups of tea and get working. What I work on is still very much dictated by other peoples’ plans but that doesn’t bother me much and does break things up nicely because that changes every day. Kid gets home around 3 so I save easy stuff to do for when she’s home and I can supervise with half a brain on work without losing too much time. Work until 6 or so, dinner, and then sometimes more afterwards often coupled with instrument practice or just general hanging out before bedtime. This year I’ve generally had enough time to make a point of not working after kid’s bedtime, so I go to bed at the same time and read, I really like that.
    One thing I am not crazy about with the working-from-home/living-at-work thing is that I do a lot more working during traditionally off hours now that I have a half-decent workspace at home. The schlepp factor of having to find a flat surface and set up the computer and getting everything together deterred a lot of evening work in the before times. Now it is just a matter of stepping into the not-a-dining-room-anymore and sitting down so I do it a lot more often. It is not bothering me much, but I think being aware of it is a good thing to not let it get out of hand.
    Last week’s goals:
    1) Do the computer modelling thing for local project ONGOING
    2) Write the report for local project ONGOING
    3) Finish and return marks for undergrad class DONE
    4) Check in with all students in program I run about summer and advising DONE
    5) Have difficult association conversation with important person DONE
    6) Do at least two coffee walks with friends DONE
    7) Last day of skiing for the season DONE

    I did pretty well with goals, even the difficult conversation went ok and will probably result in better work performance from lovely but scattered person. The computer modelling is finally working after a ridiculous amount of yak shaving (see here for excellent article) so now I just have to finish it. It is the sort of work that needs periodic input and then waiting time, so I’ve been working on it on and off all weekend, and I’ve done enough for today so I’m opening the wine for dinner a little early!
    This week I will stick with ongoing goals and try to add some grading. The whole week is bright red with committee meetings so it will be extremely fragmented. Those are hard for focussing on anything that takes a bit longer but if I plan well I can finish up the modelling in small batches in between things.
    This week’s goals:
    1) Finish the computer modelling thing for local project
    2) Finish the report for local project
    3) Ridiculous number of committee meetings
    4) Final marking and grades for undergrad class if everything gets handed in, maybe
    5) Something fun maybe?

    1. I'm glad the conversation went well! And yay for getting it over with. I do way too much faffing about in the morning; it's become clear that I like to wake up slowly and ease into the day. The problem is that I also want to stay off screens in the evening, so I really only want to work a little in the morning and a little in the afternoon. Somehow that doesn't turn out to be enough!

      "Yak shaving" is a wonderful term; thanks for introducing it here!

    2. meant to put the hyperlink in for the yaks:

    3. Yak shaving reminds me of one of my favorite books as a kid, Theodore Turtle. Theodore wants to go to town, can't find one of his rubbers, and keeps getting distracted . . .

  3. I'm glad the Cambridge schedule is pleasing readers! Sorry about the "bur" for "but" typo, but I expect you figured it out.

    Last week did not go as planned---I spent much of it in sick bay or on very light duty, as I pulled a muscle in my side and had several days w/lots of pain & limited ability to sit upright. I think I'm on the mend but I also think it will take awhile. I'm not even sure what I did! I think it must have been something fairly mild that I then aggravated by carrying on with my usual exercise routine instead of resting soon enough.

    How I did:
    Complete the "what I have" outline of book-in-progress. YES.
    Dead languages 4x each. ONE x4, one---1x at best, not sure.
    Grade discussion boards. NO.
    Daily stretching & cardio, weights x3. NO, NO, NO.
    Collect tax documents. IN PROGRESS.
    Tidy study. IN PROGRESS (desk top cleared, clothes stashed).
    Research new washer & dryer. NO
    Read something scholarly. NO

    New goals:
    Something toward book-in-progress.
    Dead languages 4x each.
    Grade discussion boards.
    Very very gentle stretching, try a short walk or two.
    Finish organizing tax documents.
    Research new washer & dryer.
    Read something scholarly.
    Pay bills.
    Write letters.
    Dentist appointment, and shot #2.

    1. I'm sorry about your side! Yikes. I hope that this week goes better--it looks like you're prioritizing recovery with the very very gentle stretching.

    2. Ouch! On Captain's orders you are hereby assigned to light duties only and officially required to log regular breaks as frequently as you need to. No lifting and definitely no KP duty, that will be reassigned.
      Good luck with shot #2, so exciting!

    3. I do hope you're on the mend quickly! Those weird injuries and aches are frustrating. Not knowing the cause makes both the treatment and the timeline difficult.

  4. Thanks for sharing that, DEH! Lectures from 9-12 sounds a bit brutal to me, but otherwise, that looks like a delightful life.

    I've developed a sort of MWF schedule, in which I (ideally) sit at around 8:00, after breakfast; take care of emails and figure out what I need to do, then write from about 9-10; then it's teaching prep/grading and maybe some service work, usually with meetings in the afternoon. I run in there, too, at either 10:30/11 or 2:30/3. Writing it out, I can't see where the time actually goes; that just doesn't sound like enough to possibly fill the hours. And yet.

    TTh I teach and try to attend a morning yoga class, so that's that.

    I'm looking forward to developing a comfortable new schedule in May and June, when I'll be done with the semester and my child will be in in-person school!!

    Last week:
    1) Write 3 hours - Yes; am closing in on a working draft of my part of the WH intro
    2) NOTES ON NunG - Yes
    3) Read a bunch of Parzival and Equiano - Yes, also a good bit of Chr├ętien
    4) Order books for Fall 2021 - YES
    5) Read journal article - ?? I don't remember what this is. I did read A journal article, or at least skimmed it, so yes?
    6) Run, yoga, sit, language - x3, x1, x5, x4

    This week:
    1) Write 3 hours
    2) Get some Kalamazoo stuff organized (register, contact panelists)
    3) Write exam questions for grad student
    4) Copy-edit journal article
    5) Run, yoga (try for twice), sit, language

    I'm also adding
    6) Read book review
    because I just saw that my book has been reviewed in a Fancy Journal by a Fancy Person, and I'm pretty sure that it's going to take all my courage to download it, let alone read it! (Said Fancy Person also reviewed my first book, positively, so it might be okay....)

    1. That's a great week!
      Good luck on the book review! That is scary and exciting all at once!
      The question of where time goes drove me very nuts for a long time, and I fell in love with some time-tracking software that I use a lot (toggl). It is designed for people who bill things in time increments, and is great for academics because you can assign things to projects and within the projects you can specify tasks. It is second nature now, and every time I get frustrated I can look back and see "yes, that week got sucked up by committee meetings and student crises" instead of beating myself up about not doing "anything". It gives you neat little pie charts colour-coded projects and bar graphs and can break down specific projects and is generally pretty fun if you are a data geek. And it makes me much better at estimating time for tasks because I have data to help, and it is good at helping me decide that I will spend X on a particular thing today and no more, and then I quit when the time is done. I even have a special category for yak shaving!

    2. I have very high hopes for Fancy book review! Especially since Fancy Person was positive about your previous book. Enormous congratulations on publication.

    3. Thanks! The book review was actually sort of anti-climactic. It was very short. Like oddly short, especially for a review that was featured "above the fold" in the journal's new-issue email. I suspect it only garnered that spot because of the prestige of the reviewer.

      It said some nice things (the words "thoughtful" and "insightful" and "passionate crie-de-coeur" were used--at least, I choose to interpret the latter comment as nice!), and there were two disagreements with my interpretations, but I'm okay with that. And I think that the reviewer didn't actually give full credit to what I was doing in one of the arguments that she didn't like, but whatever.

      This person supposedly wrote me a glowing promotion letter, in any case, and that's what matters!

  5. The Cambridge schedule reminds me of Jeeves & Wooster--I haven’t read the books but the series featured the sheer delight of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Bertie Wooster didn’t particularly like having to maintain his social schedule; I think he was prone to whimsy and needed Jeeves to keep him in order. I appreciate that, but don’t have a Jeeves-type person handy.

    The university announced plans today to return to regular classes for Fall and I am very much looking forward to shifting back to that routine. I know I will miss the freedoms of being at home, but I truly need some structure.

    Last week:
    1 Submit Boredom conference paper: yes
    2 Select and submit creative piece for MV: yes
    3 Submit review of smol book: yes
    4 Make significant progress on Because: ongoing
    5 Make significant progress on Young Ones: needs more time

    This week:
    1 Submit Because
    2 Submit Young Ones
    3 Write and submit review of already-read book
    4 Write and submit T-House abstract
    5 Try to focus on teaching-related responsibilities too

    Wishing you reasonable whimsy in the week ahead!

    1. That was a good week! So glad to hear you are looking forward to on-campus classes again! The transition will be a great time to take the good parts of working at home and the good parts of being on campus and create a schedule that works for you.

  6. I like that schedule, especially because I think my natural schedule would be morning work, afternoon nap and laziness, and then picking up again at about 4. I can easily work till 7 or 7:30, and then it's a late dinner, so not always functional.

    My current schedule involves being woken by the cats some time between 5 and 6 (4:30 occasionally, which is NOT GOOD). I don't go back to sleep, but I tend to go back to bed and scroll through twitter, play my solitaire games. Ideally I get up at about 6:30 to do fancy exercise app, and then breakfast, and to work. Lunch break is usually about 1, sometimes a nap, and then work until whenever. After dinner I don't work, but might do the ironing, or just watch TV.

    Goals from last week:
    1. 2x 2 hours on famous author NO
    2. 3 journals 1 only
    3. Record next week's lecture Not recorded, but given in class today
    4. Do the sweaters and blouses in the great closet cleanout NO
    5. Finally fertilize, plant seedlings SEEDLINGS PLANTED, haven't fertilized roses
    6. Have a good Easter. YES
    7. Do things with friends online and in person YES
    8. Keep up with exercise and healthy eating YES
    9. Don't get stressed MOSTLY

    What I did that wasn't on the list:
    - Cleared off a lot of junk on my desk, through out paper
    - Did most of the research on readings for the rest of the semester
    - Sent off job description for board I'm on, and participated in interview
    - had a conversation with a recent Ph.D. who likes my work
    - was interviewed for position I didn't get (which is fine)
    - read drafts of papers for my class, did conferences with students

    It was not a good week. SOmehow I didn't factor into my goals that on Thursday I would be moving out of my office while my contractor installed the new energy efficient windows. I set up a desk on the dining room table, but it was not conducive to working. The ergonomics didn't work, my desk chair didn't roll on the rug, etc. I will have to think about this because soon he will start on the guest bathroom. At least then I can be in my office. And the windows are great.
    In addition, there were a bunch of meetings that I've had to go to (including the town hall on next fall that revealed that while "We will be in person" they are actually planning for 5 different potential outcomes, from normal in person to completely remote).

    This week is half over, and I'm hitting a time where I have talks I can attend on zoom almost daily (I could be at 3 different ones tomorrow, and a conference I would be attending this week will be online starting next week) so I will try to be realistic in my goals:
    1. 2 x 2 hours on famous author
    2. 2 journals
    3. Get materials for next week up tomorrow so Friday is free for writing
    4. Do first read of papers that are due Friday night
    5. Do either shoes or blouses in great closet clear out.
    6. Fertilize roses, camellias, and gardenias
    7. Pull more weeds
    8. Read for fun (be willing to abandon current book if it remains as bro-ish as I think its getting)
    9. Exercise and food
    10. Friends in various ways
    11. Stay calm, be kind

    1. Yay for reasonable goals and new windows! Hope the construction is not too disruptive for the rest of the work. Enjoy the gardening tasks, things are getting nicer outside!