How do you spend your day?
Many of us are not really able to answer these questions in detail. We tend to rush into the next “busy” week ahead and try to “catch up” with work. We may also feel that we can set work and life priorities well, but those priorities change over time and often compete against each other. Life can feel like a race, where time is scarce, and we haven’t got enough time to get everything done. Does this sound familiar?
So, how do you find a solution that works for each of us? My advice is to identify the roots of the problems. Time management challenges fall in three top categories: planning issues, prioritising challenges and performance. The latter needs to be defined in our own terms, but I like to refer to productivity as the “ability to create impact”. For some of us, it is about creating value in some shape of form.
How do we know which time management challenges we are faced with? First thing first. We need to focus on a diagnostic phase, finding out the real challenges we are faced with. We can use a simple method for this, which involves the use of a time-sheet. For a week or so, you will need write down what you do throughout the day. You can choose a time unit that suits you, for instance 30 minutes slots, and capture your activities on a spreadsheet or the traditional paper method. It is important take into account interruptions, planned and unplanned activities and related outputs. This is reality, a “time audit” where you meticulously observe and identify patterns that emerge. This phase in invaluable. It provides rich data which helps you understand the type of time management challenges you are faced with. You can then focus on a solution.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” This is a great reminder that we can influence our future and get more productive by focusing and working differently …today! so let’s get started.
Master the art of focus
Where do you start? How do you know what to focus on? Prioritisation techniques can be very helpful but you need to experiment and see what works for you. I like to use priority matrices which help categorise my activities under the important/urgent criteria. But there are many more you can use such as “easy versus challenging”, “rewarding versus boring” activities. You can also estimate the amount of energy required and decide when you can best tackle the activity during the day. If you need to write a proposal or a grant application, this may require a high level of energy and concentration. Depending on your preferences, you may want to focus on this activity first thing in the morning (if you are an early riser) or late at night when everything is quiet (if you are night owl!).
Visual reminders can also be very helpful. I would recommend having visible notes of your short-term priorities and your long-term goals. This is a balancing act of course, as we need to constantly make decisions on what we should be working on or “doing”. Being reminded of our ultimate goals and purpose, on a daily basis, can help us prioritise effectively on a daily basis.
You can also use online calendars and book allocated times for specific activities and tasks. This works well when you have a high level of control over your schedule. If you have to work with constraints, make them your friends and plan your additional or core activities around them.
Finally, I am a great fan of the Pomodoro technique for specific activities such as writing or planning. This is a useful technique that helps you work in a focused manner in specific time intervals. So, for instance, you could spend 30 minutes writing, 5 minutes break, followed by a further 30 minutes writing and a slightly longer break. You are providing a helpful structure to focus your creative output.
Observe habits of the mind: the good, the bad and the helpful…
Our time management, motivation and concentration are impacted by our thoughts and emotions. And yet, we often thing we can learn to better manage our time through simple techniques, quick fixes that will solve our challenges and help us increase our productivity. We need to go a little deeper to find out what is stopping us manage our time efficiently and effectively. And this relates to habits of the mind – our thoughts, feelings and emotions which, often, get in the way.
Let’s, for instance, talk about multitasking. Research suggests that multitasking impacts our productivity negatively. We tend to learn to switch between tasks, but this comes at a cost as everything we do, takes longer to accomplish, and we can also feel increased tiredness.
If we take the example of procrastination, research suggests that our inability to start a task or activity can be linked to associated, often negative, emotions. So, if we learn to regulate our emotions, develop an increased awareness of our thoughts and feelings and build our resilience, we can positively influence our productivity.
Further research in the field of positive psychology, suggests that we can reach a highly productive mental state when we are fully energised and immersed in the activity. Researchers refer to this as a “state of flow” when there is the right combination of complexity and aptitude. So, our ability to develop the right skill-sets can help us boost our motivation and turn increase our productivity and performance.
Time well spent: enjoy the journey and help others
If we live up to 79 years we will have spent 28,835 days on Earth. That’s 692,040 minutes. We spend 26 years sleeping! And just over 13 years at work! Screen time, which includes TV and social media, can add up to 11 years! Eating accounts for 4.5 years of our life…The rest is spent on Holiday, Exercise, Romance, Socialising and School/Learning. And, on average, we spend 115 days laughing…(for some of us it may be more!)
These numbers are frightening in a way but a wake-up call too! Spending our time wisely makes a difference and we have to make choices every day to decide what we want to focus on. I recently wrote a post on Linked In, asking to give advice to someone starting in their career path. I asked people to vote and choose between “work hard”, “focus on work on life/balance’; “be kind and help others”; and “enjoy the journey”. It seems that the most popular choices were “enjoy the journey” followed by “be kind and help others”. Interesting and somehow surprising results.
So perhaps, we need to see and spend our time differently? We may want to measure performance of productivity differently, or at least add a breadth of measures which can deepen our relationship with time. Our ability to enjoy our life experience and help others along the way, may increase our sense of wellbeing and help us focus on what really matters to us. Getting things done and accomplishing our goals may only motivate us part of the time. Our sense of belonging, our need to connect and support others as well as appreciating the ups and downs of life, may be important factors to consider.
Food for thought and time to reflect…
Multi-tasking – Nass 2009 –
Eat that Frog – Brian Tracy
Procrastination – Eckbert et al 2016
The state of flow – https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/
15 secrets successful people know about time management – Kevin Kruse founder of www.LEADx.org
The perfect day formula – Craig Ballantyne
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield 2012
The 7 habits of effective people – Covey
The pursuit of diversity
The gender diversity agenda remains one of the top items for Universities, research centres and wider organisations. We know that diversity is key to foster innovation, inclusivity and sustainability and many initiatives are focusing on increasing gender diversity and encouraging women to apply to senior positions in research, Academia and beyond. The Athena Swan charter has been a driving force to embed change, initially in STEMM, and more recently across disciplines. We know that one solution does not fit all, and a cohesive approach is required to have a lasting effect. In this article, I am specifically looking at development programmes which can support women researchers and address the leaky pipeline in STEM (Berryman, 1983; Alper, 1993) and the under representation of women in senior roles across disciplines. One of my focal points in recent years, has been to design and contribute to fit for purpose programmes which supports women researchers throughout their career path and leadership journey. As a developer, I have been fascinated by the opportunity to investigate the key drivers and limiting factors that influence women researchers in their decision to pursue leadership roles. This has influenced the way I approach programme design and encouraged experimentation. I have listed below the three combined programme components which have raised interest and engagement:-
1. Finding the hook: inviting women researchers to take the time to reflect, pause and explore career pathways strategically
As researcher developers we are faced with what I like to refer to as the “time scarcity” which can be summarised by our ability to encourage participation and engage “very busy” researchers. Why should researchers participate in development programmes when they are already juggling many responsibilities and time is scarce? The researcher development concordat has been an instrumental force in encouraging institutions and researchers to allocate time and effort to personal, professional development and career planning. However, “dry conversations” around career planning or leadership development may look a little off-putting (or even daunting!) for some. Furthermore, the system is often putting pressure on researchers to secure their next role in a highly competitive and time-pressured environment with little time to think about further steps or career pathways…until they are facing a road block or severe challenges.
To attract women researchers and encourage participation we must think carefully about the “hook”, raison d’être and positioning of the programme. A powerful approach promotes the importance of taking the time to pause and plan. It places researcher at the heart of the discussions and provide an invitation to:
– think and reflect on their journey to date
– share their experiences and trajectories with other women researchers and listen to others’ stories
– explore possibilities and opportunities, stop and think about their options and pathways – in view of their revised assumptions around leadership (which I cover in the next paragraph)
– take ownership of their own definition of success and their ambitions
It is also important to consider the timing of the programme and how this fits crucial career milestones. Our ability to engage early on and reach early career women researchers at the start of their journey will increase impact in the short and longer term.
2. Co-creation: de-mystifying leadership and designing a more inclusive culture
One of the key challenges faced by women researchers is the need to embrace the existing leadership paradigm by “Leaning in” and “fitting in”. The challenge with this approach is that too often existing culture, structure and leadership styles are biased and oriented towards certain types of behaviours and values which may not be appealing to women. It is also believed that women in research intensive organisations have a different definition of success which values broader contributions such as teaching, projects and outreach work for instance and which are often undervalued criteria for promotion. Our role as developers is to recognise these differences and open up discussions around existing systems, culture and structures which define success and leadership. However, times are changing, and deeper conversations around a new style of leadership may need to take place. Helena Morissey’s book “A good time to be a girl” was the first public manifesto for a new way of working and a more inclusive culture. Development programmes can offer an opportunity to co-create and shift the leadership paradigm. It is a space needed to de-mystify leadership, challenge assumptions and redefine what leadership is and should be for women researchers. We have a collective role to positively influence a more inclusive research culture. There is a need to explore leadership styles and behaviours that are more authentic and closer to values which are more attractive to women and create a brighter future.
3. The role of women only programme to foster a safe and trusted environment
Our ability to create a safe environment is a key factor to increasing participation and engagement and yet it requires a good understanding of the driving forces, dynamics and context in which the development programme is taking place. In my experience this safe environment is specifically important for women researchers. A mixed gender group will often have different dynamics and we can often notice that women’s voices are often absent or silenced. Designing women only programmes to tackle specific challenges around career progression, pathways and leadership seems to be highly effective. It is a place for women researchers to hear others’ stories full of similarities, contrasts and aspirations and contribute a shared experience. Discussion topics are varied and may include confidence, courage, role models, the imposter syndrome and resilience amongst many.
The aim is to encourage women researchers to discuss openly, the challenges and opportunities they are faced with. And above all it is an invitation to be comfortable with their own and others’ vulnerability as well as an opportunity to design their future. It is cultivating the idea of design and creativity in their own choice of career pathways and allows them to explore possibilities in a safe and trusted environment.
Programme design is one of the many tools we have to reverse the trend and increase gender diversity in senior roles. We have a responsibility to work together to ensure women researchers find the motivation, opportunity and support they need to apply and take on senior roles in research, academia and beyond.