Monday, October 24, 2011
I recently wrote an article on my science blog, Inside Our Lab, that talked about being productive. And you know what? I thought you might be interested, too. It was originally written for science-types - who do a lot of writing and typically don't give themselves enough time to just think. But you can translate these words into whatever applies to your own job or blog or whatever. Here you go.
Life is short, and there's no need to waste it on junk mail, or by staring at blank computer screens, or by accompanying office mates to coffee not once but three times daily. Here are some tips for making your work more productive.
|No matter how tough the terrain ... you can do it.|
1. Don't start your day with email.
This isn't intutitive, because who doesn't want to clear their inbox first thing in the morning? But email is a massive time-waster, and you want to start off your day feeling good about yourself and your work. Plus, most people write best in the morning - why waste that precious, focused time?
Instead of email, write something. Read something. Do something. And then a couple hours later - when you're ready for email - you'll have already ticked things off your list.
2. Give yourself goals.
Start with the long-term. Where do you want to be, in 5 or 10 years? What do you need to do to get there? Relevance is the key to performance - so if you can draw a link between what you're doing now and where you want to go, you'll likely be more motivated and focused on your work.
Use your long-term goals to make shorter-term ones - what will you do this week or this year to make your long-term goals more achievable? Make a list and start working.
3. Find balance.
Working hard is great, but you need to give yourself work-free time, too. Exercise. Read novels. Have entire weekends where you don't even think about opening your laptop.
Everybody has days where work just doesn't happen. The words don't come out onto the screen or the journal article glazes in front of you. Sometimes - on those days - the best thing you can do is just let it go. Shut off your computer and take yourself for a walk outside. Do something completely different and try to focus your brain on other things. Any other things.
(Pretending you're having a hazy day - just to give yourself the day off doesn't count).
And if you must sit at that desk and do something? Just do something different for awhile, and see if that helps.
4. Talk to people.
Have you ever found yourself working in a bubble? Me, too. Particularly in the academic world, it's hard not to. You want others to be impressed with your work - your genius ideas - so you toil away in isolation waiting to (surprise!!) impress everyone with the final product.
It may not be easy, but one of the best things you can do to increase your productivity is to talk about what you're doing. Talk through your ideas, your problems, your excitement. Seeing your own ideas or writing or whatever from a new perspective is invaluable, whether it's with your workmates or your supervisor.
5. Turn off the internet.
When you really, really need to write or think - turn off your access to your email, to the web. (I turn off my wifi). BUT - you say - I need the internet for my research! How will I find references to back up what I'm saying?
The point is - you don't need those right now. What you need is to put words to paper (so to speak). You can do the other bits and pieces later, when you aren't feeling (or needing to be) so focused. Do not tempt yourself with casual looks at Facebook. Do not shoot off quick emails to colleagues. Do not order that book from Amazon - even if it's work-related. Just write.
So these are a few tips I've learned about increasing my productivity. Some of these ideas originated with Rachel Meeks, who writes a fabulous blog about simplifying life. Some came from a book on time management I've read recently.
Mostly, they've developed from years and years of effective time-wasting in the process of my academic life. And you know what? There's not enough time for that. I want to have a life ... and that means my work needs to be more productive.
What do you do to increase your productivity?