Research life

Peak productivity: the academic way

It’s here! That manic magical time of the year where academics across the world take part in Do-Everything December. If you’ve found yourself uttering such rallying cries as, “I’d like to submit this before Christmas” or “Let’s get this squared away before the break”, you’re not alone (but you’re probably an ECR). This month, we will #finishallthethings so that we can start next year afresh, and with a chunkier CV. But how do we do it? How can we reach peak productivity when it has eluded us for eleven months thus far? I’m no expert* – just an average ECR trying to get ahead in this crazy game – but here are just a few things that I’ve tried that you might find useful.

  • Make a pile of manuscripts that would be ready to submit after just a day or two of concentrated effort. These are easy wins, and your quickest path to getting stuff done – the ‘nearly there’ pile. Use this pile to prop your computer monitor up a few inches higher. An ergonomic desk is a productive desk.
  • Schedule set times to check your email. This could be once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Or every hour. Or whenever the task you’re doing is difficult or boring.
  • Organise your current workload, colour-coding projects based on progress, topic, or deadline. For example, blue can be for half-baked ideas, yellow for things you definitely want to do some day, and purple for things you will never finish.
  • Consider renaming all your PDFs by author_date, rather than date_author.
  • Accept all invitations for working groups and steering committees.
  • Start a working group or steering committee.
  • Check if your h-index has increased this year.
  • Try Google Scholar – it’s normally higher there.
  • While you’re at it, check out the track-records of friends and colleagues. Knowing where you stand will boost your ambition and productivity.
  • Seek comfort in a packet of Tim Tams.
  • Keep track of the papers you want to read next by saving the PDFs into a ‘To Read’ folder on your desktop. Never open this folder.
  • There are a lot of articles detailing apps and lifehacks for boosting academic productivity. Read all of them.
  • Nag a co-author about the progress of a paper that they’re leading but hasn’t progressed lately. It’s basically the same as producing a draft yourself.
  • Hide from co-authors of papers you’re leading but have let languish. All that ducking and weaving increases blood flow to the brain, allowing you to think more clearly and creatively. #academicparkour
  • Schedule a meeting.
  • Contribute to your field’s latest hashtag campaign with a snappy photo, pithy comment or witty meme. #teambinchicken
  • There are a variety of different reference management softwares that can make sorting, finding and citing your PDF library a breeze. Become intricately familiar with all of them to figure out which one works best for you.
  • Now that you’re an expert, offer to run a workshop on reference management to your lab group.
  • Have you considered a Gantt chart?
  • Re-arrange your desk to reduce clutter. Having a clear, open space invites you to sit and write without distraction. Shift the pile of ‘nearly there’ manuscripts into a ‘nearly there’ drawer. Never open this drawer.
  • Are you sure you haven’t received another email? Maybe there’s something about a departmental morning tea, or a broken piece of equipment in an unrelated laboratory that you should know about? (I hope Autoclave Dale is OK today).
  • Make a list of all the conferences you should attend next year. Lament having nothing new to present.
  • Co-organise a conference. Volunteer to develop the website, plan the field trip, run the social media campaign, judge the abstracts, and make the name tags.
  • Check Google Scholar again.
  • Have you updated your ResearchGate profile lately? They have ‘projects’ now.
  • Go to Officeworks. You can buy productivity. Colourful, colourful productivity.
  • Give unsolicited advice to other academics. Preferably in blog form. Don’t say anything helpful.

*I warned you.


4 comments on “Peak productivity: the academic way

  1. Pingback: Dbytes #315 (14 December 2017) | Dbytes

  2. Bernie Hobbs

    Kylie Soanes you is genius. I LOVE your writing! Fresh, cheeky and real. Keep the unsolicited advice coming – it’s my favourite kind!


  3. Are you living in my house? 😀


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