It is ironic that I am writing this blog entry today. My 5 year old twin son is home sick with a tummy bug and my “productivity” is suffering as I hear the strains of “NinjaaaaGO!” And “Go! Go! Samurai!” wafting up the stairs from his resting place on the sofa. Yes, my productivity is suffering as well as my mental health. I *HATE* the Power Rangers. Ninja-go is a treat compared to the Power Ranges.
In our lab, we have been exchanging productivity tips. This is relevant and important because as academics, we often determine our own time line (apart from conference and grant due dates) for when we turn things in. This is beneficial as we work to make our intellectual contributions the best they can be. It’s a real negative because our intellectual work can always be improved and at some point, we just need to get it out for review and move on.
We like to run my lab as a way for all of us (from the faculty co-directors, to the grad students to the undergrads) to share what we think. This ranges from debating research strategies to interpreting results to construct conceptualizations to best practices for working efficiently.
A couple of the latest tips have been particularly useful and thus, I am sharing them.
First, lists are important. I can self sabotage by saying “oh, I know what I need to do” and not making a list. I always think I have it under control AND I DO NOT. So while I’ve used notebooks and Evernote for my keeping and maintaining lists, I have recently started putting my daily tasks at the top of my gmail calendar. This has worked out really well. I put the weeks’ tasks on top of the day. I have the day’s appointments/activities in place and I can organize what I am doing. DIGGING THAT.
There is a trick though to “to do” lists, particularly if you have them on particular days. Some research suggests that putting too many things on your list, or having unrealistic expectations of how much you can do in one day, is self-defeating. It feels good to cross something off your list. But if you end up leaving 5 important things (that you really couldn’t have done anyway), then you end up feeling bad about yourself and discouraged at your abilities. I’ve been trying to put realistic amounts of work on, and if I have some extra time, I check the master To Do list and do something from there.
The second strategy our lab has been working on is called “Hot Potato.” My Lab RA named it as we were describing the strategy of another very productive grad student. The philosophy on Hot Potato is to that if someone gives you a task on a group project, your goal is to get it back to them as fast as possible so you don’t hold the team back. While for some people, this might mean sloppy work. For those of us who tend toward the perfectionist column, this is a great strategy to just GET MOVING. I actually say to myself, “HOT POTATO! DON’T HOLD THE TEAM BACK!!” I say that because I am a nut and I talk to myself all the time.
Finally, we’re all trying the strategy of only touching each email once. I am really bad at this. I understand that by not responding as soon as you receive the email, you are likely to write the email in your head many, many, many, MANY more times than if you would just DO IT THEN. It’s hard though to only check email when I have 30 minutes to do everything that needs to be done. Especially when some of that doing is so freaking boring. (Yes, work is boring sometimes. Especially the administrative stuff). Blergh.
So that’s our productivity tips for the week. What are yours? What strategies do you use to keep yourself moving forward?