There is an excellent post over at Dynamic Ecology, a site that I love. The post talks about the hours that scientists and academics need to put in to be successful, to get tenure. Here is a link to a Salon article justifying a 40hr week. The original post is filled with good links to other things, especially a comment from another post about women in ecology.
As a grad student and postdoc, I thought I worked really hard. But then I made myself start logging hours (sort of like I was keeping track of billable hours, though I was simply doing it out of curiosity). I was astonished at how little I actually worked. It was something like 6 hours of actual work a day. I never would have guessed it was that low. I hadn’t realized how much time I was spending on those seemingly little breaks between projects. -
It's a worthwhile exercise to sit down and actually track the hours you really work. When I was in grad school a friend of a friend was a French woman (she impossibly old and chic and beautiful to me at the time), call her Martine, who had two little children, and was single by choice. Martine was doing a visiting postdoc in the US for 9 months to learn techniques. She absolutely worked only from 8 to 4. Everyone was aghast, and predicted doom and failure. But, I watched some, and talked to my friend some, and it was very clear that when Martine worked, she worked. She did had one cup of coffee at 10:30 or so in the morning. That was it. Lunch was at her desk reading. Martine did not avoid the social relationships that are part of what make a lab work, and the discussions about science. But she didn't go to the gym in the middle of the day, she didn't hang out on the lawn or play volleyball or talk about fashion or movies. She didn't surf the web, which was largely impossible as there was no web at the time.
What struck me at the time, and stayed with me these many years, was that this woman had made decisions about what was important to her, and what she was going to do, large and small scale. I think we're all pretty good at the large scale (get the thesis finished, get tenure, get funded) and the middle scale (finish this paper, write this grant, torture this trainee). But we (and I mean me, too) suck at the fine scale. Look at me, I'm writing this post!
It's tough to be efficient and directed for 8 hours in a row. One way I've found is to make sure that the tasks are heterogeneous. I don't write for 8 hours in a row, or even 4 hours in a row, especially during grant frenzy. I have data analysis. I do some figure design, improvement, tweaking. I work on a powerpoint. It is easier for me, with the attention span of a gnat, to stay focused, when the focus is to different things. YMMV.
Work and children and families are funny little fuckers though. If you let them, they will expand and fill every crevasse of your day and leave you with nothing. Nothing, I tell you.
We all deserve more than nothing.