Sunday, August 4, 2019

Living the Asynchronous Life

I have always been highly productive in my academic career, finding time to teach, carry out research, write, manage my department, and mentor faculty and students. I believe that one of the reasons for my productivity is my leading a relatively asynchronous life.

What do I mean by asynchronous? In essence, most of my work is done by myself, wherever and whenever. And if I hit a block (or get tried of something), I can leave one task and move to another.

A good part of the asynchronous nature of my work comes from my teaching, which these days is mostly online. Most of my courses involve recorded (though frequently updated) lectures delivered online, followed by online discussion through the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) learning management system. I also interact with students by email and even sometimes by phone.

This mostly asynchronous work is also amenable to my lifestyle. Being a (very early) morning person, I can get most of my important and creative work done early in the day. A typical day for me involves 2-4 hours of work, exercise, and arriving at the office between 9-10 am. (Leading some to believe I just roll into the office late, when I have in fact have already been working for several hours.)

Another advantage of my mostly asynchronous work is that it allows me to pursue other aspects of my job that I enjoy, such as travel. I have often noted that I get some of my best work done in hotel rooms during travels. In almost every corner of the world, I can get access to the Internet, all my internal OHSU resources, and OHSU's learning management system. Having 3-4 hours uninterrupted in a hotel room can result in completing a day’s worth of work. And while not all of my work is amendable to being done on airplanes, I can choose work that is when flying. (It does not hurt to have status that gives me more roomy seating (and even sometimes upgrades).

There are some downsides to the asynchronous life. One is that the capacity for switching across tasks is not infinite. As with multitasking computers, too many tasks, and switching between them too frequently, can lead to so-called deadlock.

Another downside is that it can sometimes seem that work never ends. Even when a project is completed, there are others still demanding attention.

Nonetheless, given a combination of my satisfaction of creating academic papers, talks, and hire, plus my enjoyment of getting to see the world, I will always enjoy living the asynchronous life.

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