Archive for category: Time management

New paths to “research productivity”

May 7th, 2010 by

“Incrementing productivity” is oftentimes framed in terms of incentives. The simpler incentives are, of course, monetary incentives. Academia is in this respect not so different from the business world – or so think many university managers and administrators. Some well endowed universities pay a premium to productive researchers: for instance, €3,000 for an article in an A+ journal, or maybe a lighter teaching load. The intrinsic value of discovery, and the thrills of fame, are no longer or not only the principal movers for scientific production. Not everyone agrees.

Snowbound! Tips for working from home

January 12th, 2010 by

The last week or two has seen some serious winter weather here in the UK. Schools have been cancelled, transport delayed, idiots arrested for driving on frozen canals, and all those other things you would typically associate with places like Canada, not the balmy UK. (No, on second thought, I take back that thing about the canals. We don’t do that in Canada, unless you count this).

Anyway, the weather’s meant that a lot of us have started 2010 by working from home. Timely as always, the Guardian published a small article with some helpful tips for those new to home working. As someone who has worked from home for the past two years, I’d say the basic advice is pretty sound and worth repeating here:

  1. Have a work space. Prepare a clear work space so that you can mentally, if not physically, separate home and work life. If you have a spare room to use as a home office, great; if not, clear off the kitchen table and do your best.
  2. Don’t forget to take regular breaks. It can sometimes feel like you need to prove constantly that you are at your desk working, but remember: it’s very rare that an entire workday at the office would be spent staring at your computer. So listen to the radio, go for a run, do whatever you like: it’s okay to take a break now and then.
  3. Be clear about what you’re working on. This is mainly a due diligence tip for those who might not normally work from home and need to demonstrate that they haven’t been wasting their time. But it’s good general advice too. Even if you are a seasoned home worker, it’s always useful to clearly set out what you hope to accomplish during a day. This is especially important for long stretches of home work when it’s all too easy to procrastinate from day to day.

One of the interviewees in the article suggests that people “stick to the work pattern they adopt at the office” and this is a good take-away message. Home work really is like working from the office, with some pros and some cons. In the past, I thought there might be more pros, like listening to music or doing a bit of laundry, but most of the time that doesn’t work. You need to have enough discipline to avoid those distractions and focus on the job at hand. This can be difficult at first but ultimately, it’s worthwhile. Once you get used to the monastic life, you may actually find that you get more done at home as there is very little outside distraction (compared with an open-plan office).

Anyone else worked from home recently? What tips do you have?


October 29th, 2009 by

Procrastination, the mother of all productivity sins (or virtues), is the theme of this infographic video by John Kelly.

(via Information Aesthetics and Cool Infographics).

Being a genius or having a genius?

September 9th, 2009 by

If you’re not already aware of the excellent TED conferences and talks, I would strongly recommend going to their site and having a poke around. There are some fascinating people and ideas featured but be prepared to spend a bit of time: most of the content consists of 18 minute video talks.

One of the best ones I’ve seen recently is this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of a “journey of self-discovery” type novel which is being made into a movie with Julia Roberts. To be honest, from that description, I probably would have skipped it but I’m glad I did watch it: it’s thought-provoking and in places very funny.

She discusses the idea of “genius” and how the pre-Enlightenment concept of attributing outstanding works of art to divine inspiration/intervention (literally, “having” a genius) contrasts with the modern notion that such works come from within the individual (“being” a genius). “Having” a genius helps the artist maintain distance between themselves and their work, deflecting blame from the self when things don’t go so well and keeping one modest when work is well-received. As she says, it helps avoid the depressive thoughts that make one want “to start drinking gin at 9 o’clock in the morning” and generally helps promote creativity.

What do you think? Sounds pretty reasonable to me and a useful construct for digging one’s self out of rut.

Benjamin Franklin: the grandfather of personal productivity?

August 28th, 2009 by

A few years ago I visited the Huntington Library in Los Angeles. We spent most of our time poking around the beautiful gardens, enjoying the Californian sun. But the Library collection is pretty remarkable too and it holds copies of the Gutenberg bible, Audubon’s bird drawings, early Shakespeare editions and – a definite highlight – Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.

I’m not sure why I suddenly remembered this now, almost four years later, but when he wasn’t experimenting with electricity and founding countries, Franklin was also a bit of a productivity guru. Check out this extract from Chapter 8 of his autobiography (click for bigger):

Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule

He was pretty keen on everything having its own allocated time, supporting what he called the virtue of Order. He never seemed to be quite satisfied with the progress he made (bit hard on himself really) but the interesting thing, I think, is that you can see him actively reflecting on his progress and acknowledging its benefit. Check out these extracts:

I enter’d upon the Execution of this Plan for Self Examination, and continu’d it with occasional Intermissions for some time. I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of Faults than I had imagined, but I had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish.

And later:

In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it

So there you go: Benjamin Franklin, the grandfather of personal productivity c. 1791. As if he hadn’t done enough already!