I’ve been working part-time for Redfin and taking a full course load since September ’07. It’s been hard. Recently I realized that my productivity at work has decreased an insane amount, and I think that I’ve known about this for a while now. I’m not sure why I never acted on it. My big boss, Bryan, called me out on it, and I’m really glad he did. Since his call out, my productivity has gone up a lot – at least I think it has ;). I wanted to shine some light on the difficulties of being a part-time product manager (PM) while taking a full course load.
You need to context switch. While I’m focusing on classes, either in class or while working on assignments, I have lots of things bouncing around in my head. I’m thinking about due dates, action items, exams, and everything else a student worries about. When I’m focusing on work, I need to be consumed with schedules, wireframes, work status, bug counts, and everything else that a PM worries about. For the first few months of my part-time work, I let myself focus on school projects and HST concerns far too often while at work. I always have a lot of things going on, but I would think and act on non-work related things at work far too often. Part of the reason for this was because my schedule didn’t really allow me to have much non-school and non-work time during the day. For example, if I needed to meet with a professor or an adviser, I would have to schedule my appointments right after my classes, forcing me to show up to work late. Sometimes I would even have to schedule phone calls (interviews) during work hours. Again, you need to context switch. What I mean by that is that you have to have times of the day when you do school work, and times of the day when you’ll do work. You can’t try to mix the two. You have to take all the shit going on in your head during school and put it away when you’re at work. You have to take all the shit going on in your head during work and put it away when you’re at school. You can’t mix these things. If you do mix them as I did, you won’t be efficient at either.
Checking your personal email at work periodically can also be deadly. Occasionally I would see important emails in my gmail box and act on them while at work. Bad idea. Checking your email at work makes it easy to mix work with other things, which mixes your thoughts up too much.
In summary, do work when you’re at work, and don’t do work when you’re working on school/projects/etc. If you set barriers between school and work and stick to them, you’ll be much more efficient and productive. Think about these barriers when scheduling interviews, appointments, and when scheduling your classes.