Professor MinKyung Choi protects her most productive time–those optimal hours–for the work that matters most to her.
Capitalizing on your personal optimal hours to accomplish what matters
MinKyung Choi is an Assistant Professor at Bronx Community College (“BCC”) at the City University of New York in the Department of Education and Academic Literacy, where her research focuses on literacy development in both adolescents and adults. Min has taught at BCC for the past five years, teaching mostly freshmen students. Before that, she studied creative writing, which is a passion of hers. She has taught creative writing workshops for middle and high school students in New York as well. Min lives in New Jersey with her husband and two energetic children, ages 5 and 3.
Min grew up in South Korea. At around the age of 10, she was thrown into a new schooling environment that used a different language than the one she had grown up in, so she has first-hand experience of what it means to “become literate,” not just in the sense of being able to read words phonetically, but really understanding the text.
As she studied creative writing, she had opportunities to teach at middle schools and high schools in Queens & Harlem, and to court-involved youths, which exposed her to a wide variety of populations and students. It was here that she really fell in love with teaching literacy–specifically, teaching students not just how to read, but also about the value of reading in the world today.
In her research, and in working with professors from other disciplines such as mathematics or chemistry (areas that most people do not associate with reading being a strong component), Min learned that literacy isn’t just about the text itself, but about how to create a “transaction” between the reader and the text. She believes a lot of it lies on the instructor’s approach to teaching literacy – not just to absorb text, but to really have an interaction with the text. So it’s important that instruction focus on those aspects as well.
A typical day
Min is a morning person, usually up between 3 and 4 am. In her 20s and before she got married, she would be up by 6 am. But as she was writing her dissertation, while working, while having and raising kids, she realized the hours between 3 and 6 am worked best for her because it’s when she is at her maximum productivity level and her brain is sharp and ready to go. So that is when she gets the bulk of her work done for the day.
Between 6 and 7 am, she gets ready for work, prepares breakfast for the family, & packs school lunches. From 7 to 8, she and her husband wake the kids and gets them ready for school, and get everyone out the door. She then goes straight to work and works until she has to pick up the kids at 5 pm.
From 5 to 9 pm, it’s all about the family: getting dinner ready, supervising homework, washing up the kids, and putting them to bed.
At 9 pm, Min is in bed. At first, this was difficult for her to come to terms with because she felt that she had to do something after the kids were in bed, but then she would struggle to stay up and realized she didn’t have the energy or focus at that time of day to get any meaningful work done. She doesn’t fight it anymore.
Basically, she recognizes the time when her brain works best and then orders her life in such a way that takes advantage of her most productive hours. During these hours, she writes, reads articles, writes literature reviews, writes grant proposals, plans curriculums, or anything else that requires some creativity and brainpower. She tries not to catch up on emails at that time.
At the beginning of each semester, Min challenges her students to figure out their own optimal hours of productivity in a 24-hour span and try to organize their days to allow them to do their most important work during those hours.
Biggest Productivity Challenges
Min’s biggest challenge is getting caught up in work and taking on too much. She recognizes that she has a bit of a workaholic streak. It is hard for her to turn down work, not because she has a hard time saying no, but because she feels that if she turns down work, she isn’t performing at her best. This trait has always been a challenge for her, and even now, her first instinct is to jump on all the opportunities that come her way.
In the past year, though, she’s been thinking about how this tendency affects her husband, her kids, and their day-to-day routine. When her kids were younger, it was easier to say yes to opportunities because their needs were more physical than emotional. But as they get older, she recognizes that her absence (or lack of attention even when she is there) really affects her kids, so she is saying no more often.
Min says her desire to say yes to every opportunity stems from a fear of missing out, a fear that the opportunities she passed up may not be there any longer, and also a fear of not wanting to be “that person” who is too busy with her kids.
Tools Min recommends
Min has multiple calendars to manage her own life, her kids’ activities, and her husband’s engagements. She sends her husband alerts and invitations so they can stay on top of everything that’s going on. This felt strange to her at first because it turned her relationship with her husband into a semi-professional one, but it is necessary and it works for them.
She uses Google Calendar because it syncs automatically to all her devices, and she can color code the different people and groups she has to manage calendars for. She also uses the Google Office Suite extensively.
She also has a paper planner and organizers to help her stay on top of her weekly and daily schedule and tons of alarms that go off throughout the day.
When I asked Min what other things she is doing to balance her personal and professional life, she replied that she is starting to let go of the idea of being perfect, or always doing well in both areas. She wonders if that’s actually even possible because there are days when she has to feed her kids chicken nuggets, and when she’s unable to finish her work at work so she has to pull extra hours at home. But on these days, she reminds herself to give herself a little more space and understanding; otherwise, she brings the frustration home and that isn’t good for her family.
When her kids were really young, she had hired help every other week to clean their house. Without that help, she says she may have lost her mind. But as her kids grow and now are able to pick up after themselves, they are trying not to rely on outside help, although she isn’t opposed to bringing in help when it’s necessary.
Another tremendous resource in her life is a chatroom in KakaoTalk with a group of 3 very supportive friends. This group chat has been going for the past 5 years or so, starting around the time she and the other members started having kids. Through the conversations that go on in this chatroom, they all know they are going through similar seasons in life, dealing with similar issues, facing similar pressures from work, family, etc. Some of the members are in different timezones on the other side of the planet, but it’s good to know that she’s not in this alone.
They relate with each other, offer encouragement and advice, and share jokes and memes. Sometimes these friends can even provide support and advice that significant others or life-partners cannot.
Interestingly, they do not really share photos of their kids, nor do they really talk about their kids in this chatroom. This isn’t an intentional arrangement, but it just happens that way. This is a space where the four women can simply be themselves, reminding them that they still have identities outside of their families or professions.
What happens on a day when everything gets away from you?
Min admits she has these days more often than she’d like. Sometimes, everything just happens all at once. And on those days, Min lets her husband know that she just really needs a break and needs him to take care of the kids for a couple of hours so she can take a walk or crash and go to bed at 7 pm.
When she was a newer parent, she would worry about who would put dinner on the table or bathe the kids even when she was completely burnt out. But 5 years into being a parent, she realizes that kids are pretty resilient and it’s not really earth-shattering for kids to go a couple of days without a bath or living on sandwiches for dinner. So in these moments, it’a totally worth it for her to leave the house or lock herself up in the study with a book to focus on recharging. In fact, Min believes it is necessary for her to become a better mother, a better wife, and a better person.
What’s on the horizon for Min?
Min is committed to protecting her time with her family from 5-9 pm and has turned down a few career opportunities that would’ve impeded her commitment. She plans to focus on the research aspect of her career this year and has a couple of research projects coming up.
Because her kids are now at an age where they can really communicate verbally, she’s learning that they have very distinctive personalities and different needs. So this year, she really wants to get to know her children better – not just as a mother-to-child, but as person-to-person. She wants to learn what kind of people her kids are.
Last thoughts on making a life that matters
“Prioritize your needs sometimes. As mothers, it’s hard for us to do that because we are so used to taking care of other people’s needs, but I think there are moments where we have to just listen to ourselves and prioritize what we want and what we need. It’s not a selfish thing. On the contrary, it makes us better mothers at the end of the day. It takes some time to get there, and it’s something you have to consciously build into your day.”
What do you think?
Connect with Min
More about Min
Minkyung Choi, Ph.D., MFA, is an Assistant Professor at Bronx Community College at the City University of New York in the Department of Education and Academic Literacy, where her research focuses on literacy development in both adolescents and adults. Currently, she is interested in the personal relationships students develop with literacy and how that influences their literacy journey. She has taught creative writing workshops for middle and high school students in New York. Min lives in New Jersey with her husband and their two children, ages 3 and 5.
Announcements & Reminders
Thank you to our sponsors Textexpander & FreshBooks for helping me bring content to you at no charge.
- Let TextExpander help you communicate more efficiently. Visit TextExpander.com/podcast for 20% off your first year of this productivity tool that I find absolutely indispensable. Be sure to choose The Productive Woman from their “how did you hear about TextExpander” dropdown question.
- Let FreshBooks help you manage the never-ending accounting paperwork so you don’t waste any more time. To claim your 30-day unrestricted free trial, just go to FreshBooks.com/tpw and enter THE PRODUCTIVE WOMAN in the “How Did You Hear About Us?” section.
I would love to have your help!
- Subscribe, rate, and review The Productive Woman in Apple Podcasts or subscribe in Stitcher.
- Join the conversation at The Productive Woman on Facebook.
- Your feedback matters to me. Please share your comments, questions, or suggestions.
Royse City, Texas