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In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time
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My title comes from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, which concerns the effort to recover the past by reexperiencing it in memory and recording it in writing. I’m applying Proust’s words (in translation) in a modest and specific way, to ask where the time of a semester goes. As my students always tell me, it goes quickly. I agree. Semesters seem to be made not of months or weeks or even days but of the hours, or almost-hours, of class meetings. At my university, a semester’s classes add up to under 36 hours. No wonder the time moves so quickly: it was, in a way, less than a day-and-a-half ago that I was going over a syllabus and learning students’ names, and now they’re turning in essays for the last time.

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The bell that tolls the semester’s end can have a hollow ring: time has passed so quickly that it might feel as though little of consequence has happened. The campus becomes eerily quiet as most students disappear into the summer. And all the work of a semester — all the reading, all the writing, all the discussion — is reduced, finally, to a handful of letters on a grade report. Is that, as Peggy Lee asked, all there is?

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To counter end-of-semester emptiness, it might be helpful for anyone in academic life, student or teacher, to look back at the work of a semester and add it up on paper. Having done so, I find that I have graded 1600 quizzes and 300 essays. I’ve spent 10 hours holding conferences with my freshman students and perhaps another 80 hours holding office hours and meeting students by appointment. What universities call “service” adds perhaps 30 hours more. And I’ve spent more hours than I can easily count preparing materials for my classes: several dozen poems, a handful of short stories, two plays, Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

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There’s nothing extraordinary in this amount of work — it’s representative of what many a professor does in a semester. Adding it up lets me see that the semester did indeed amount to something — in fact, to quite a lot. For a student, adding up the work of a semester can be a helpful reminder that education is not about the letters on a grade report; it’s about the work of learning.

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Another way to counter the empty end-of-semester feeling is to jump into a project or two. For me, that means reading In Search of Lost Time for the second time.

Before I begin, I’d like to thank Leon Ho once again for the chance to contribute to Lifehack throughout the academic year. See you in the fall.

Michael Leddy teaches college English and blogs at Orange Crate Art.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

  • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

  • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

  • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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Different Folks, Different Strokes

Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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Productivity and Trust Killer

Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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A Flexible Remote Working Policy

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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