Why aren’t you publishing more? This is a question I ask myself A LOT! I have been fortunate to be a part of a number of projects that have published great work in peer-reviewed journals, but now that I am the captain at the helm, I am responsible for my own publications in high level journals. If you are struggling with this problem too, maybe this blog post can give you some tips and exercises that have worked to help me on my journey!
Why am I qualified to give this advice? Think of it more as sharing the tools and philosophies that have worked for my busy lifestyle rather than advice! However, I value self development and I take a lot of courses and workshops. A lot of the tips and tools below stem from those experiences. This blog post has stemmed from my attending a few ithinkwell workshops oriented towards PhD students offered at my school. If you are a PhD student, there are a ton of free resources and others you can get through your library and if you are not a PhD student, they are still a great resource for learning and productivity! All of these products have been available in New Zealand and the US!
A little background first….
Like so many other people and women in heritage conservation and academia, I have many roles. It isn’t a competition, and there are people out there with much bigger struggles than mine that still manage to be more productive, but my hats are wife, mother, daughter, sister, small business owner, marriage administrator, PhD student, lifestyle block owner and volunteer. Each of these identities carry some sort of time commitment. I largely work from home unless I am traveling for interviews or contracts. My son is in daycare four days of the week and sleeps through the night. If you have children and you do not have daycare or your child does not sleep through the night, you should not try to accomplish being highly productive! Try to solve those situations first!
A few caveats….
Some strategies for being more productive and publishing more suggest waking up earlier which sounds great because I am a morning person and an early riser! However, my son is up between 5am and 6am so I am up early and usually tending to him right away until daycare begins. I can get up at 4am, but that may be a quick way to exhaustion! Who knows, maybe that is the secret?!?
So…the strategies that I use below, for me, have to be able to work between 8:30am and 4pm. Outside of those times, I am with my family. It’s not that I consciously chose to do this (although you should!), it is because I have no other choice!
Also, I am a Mac user so I prefer products that seamlessly integrate into my devices.
Lastly, my diet consists of whatever my family will eat and my exercise is largely a sprint for the bus. My wardrobe is of the Mark Zuckerberg system and my hairstyle of choice is the messy bun. No seriously, my hair is cut to maximise making a messy bun look styled because most days it is up, so why fight it?! I have decided to NOT make these a priority at the moment.
First, I want you to do an exercise. If you are reading this, you are probably an adult and are likely to be aware of your own unique qualities, but…..
Exercise #1: Who are you?
Identify your personality traits. Jot down a few things that define you. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’. Are you:
- introverted or extroverted
- perfectionist or good enough
- procrastinator or get it done now
- happy with no changes or always seeking new things
Your list doesn’t have to be as black and white as that, but it is a way of identifying what common features in those characteristics can benefit or hurt your productivity.
Exercise #2: What are your commitments?
- List the identities (or projects) that you have that require time commitments. Some are ongoing and some are finite.
- In general terms, what are the ‘to dos’ needed to get those projects finished or that are ongoing?
- Prioritise those projects or ‘to dos’ if projects are ongoing or concurrent.
I know that I am an extrovert (extreme my partner would say!). This means that I get energy from being around people. I FEEL like I am less productive when I don’t have deadlines and when I am alone. I enjoy working in a team. I think because of this (and part of our business name says it all), I make quick decisions and try to find solutions efficiently. I am a ‘done is better than perfect’ person and I am always seeking out new information. Maybe you are completely different or maybe you are similar, but the most important thing is that from this, I have identified that I have trouble with prioritisation and overcommitment. For this blog, those are the two challenges I am going to focus on because that is what my tools are oriented towards.
Exercise #3: What are your problems?
- Identify what your personal barriers are to being productive.
- Find tools to help with those specific challenges.
- Use the tools! If they don’t work, try another (luckily many softwares and apps are available in trial versions).
I sit down at my desk and I have so many things on my mind and so many projects going on that I get completely paralysed about where to start. I think, I might as well go through email to get my day started and before I know it, I am responding to unimportant emails rather than tackling my to do list. Middle of the day comes around and I still haven’t start the things I had hoped to get done. Sound familiar?
I have two main activities that I do in a day: communicate and work on projects. I will divide this section up into those categories.
This includes things like sorting through email and reading professional news stories online.
Sorting Through Email
- Eat the frog first! Avoid opening email until after noon when your highest energy levels and productivity is slowing down. You are not going to be 100% mentally productive all day (clinically proven!). You need to portion your day accordingly and set your tasks according to how much mental power they will take. But, if you just can’t resist checking your email first thing, try…
- Inbox Zero=I get a ton of emails and I am no one important. It is a mix of business, academic and articles on conservation, archaeology, food and life. This process doesn’t leave my email empty, but it does make that dreaded unread email count go away. (Are you someone who has 10,623 for an inbox notification?). Only check it when you have time to sort it or else the messages will sit there. I boiled down the Inbox Zero philosophy to whenever I get an email, I immediately:
- Archive: save it as a PDF and put it in a folder for future reference (i.e. reference literature on iron conservation, things to read on the bus or plane, to print, etc.)
- Delegate (This is rare for me! One time, I got to do this to someone higher up than me. It was exhilarating!)
- Add it to my ‘to do’ list: If it is a task I need to complete that does not require a response until the task is done, it goes on OmniFocus (see below).
- Flag: I use the colour coding system to flag an email if I can not do one of the above. Do not place a reminder or due date though. This is a ‘to do’ so it goes into your ‘to do’ list and does not linger in your email inbox. Red needs my attention as soon as I open my email. Green is to read later. Purple are non-work related emails that I would like to respond to (eg letter from a friend).
I will leave you with the most valuable lesson I learned from Maria and her team at IThinkWell: You do not get promoted/recognition/jobs/opportunities because you are the best email writer. You get them by producing (in this case writing and publications).
Catching Up On the News
I like to narrow down the type of news I get and I like to be fed the stories rather than having to go get them. Also, part of my role as the newsletter editor for the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials is to keep up to date with conservation related activities around Aotearoa. I do all of these things with Feedly. I use a Pro account at what I consider to be an affordable rate (~$70NZD/year) to be able to enter keywords.
Wow, this is a big topic. I have a lot of projects/identities/time commitments as I am sure you do as well while reading this (thanks for reading this by the way!).
The overarching theme for seeing priorities in a variety of projects is to be organised! My number one, go-to tool, is OmniFocus. I like software where I can just pay once and use it until it is unsupported. I don’t like having ongoing contracts. It can be considered expensive at ~$100NZD for a one-off stand alone purchase. I should warn you, Omnifocus has a steep learning curve, but I have to say, it is so worth it! I have had so much less stress and anxiety after getting organized. There are a ton of these types of tools (Evernote is another used by people), but I have found this one the best for me. It helps you prioritise by…organising all of your projects and to do’s to where you can create a homescreen that shows you your most important tasks of the day, week or month (whatever you want really). All those little things you remember that you have to do that slip away and cause hidden anxiety…just add them quickly to Omnifocus and indicate what kind of priority it has and it will magically pop up when it needs to!
This is also where you can enter all the data from Exercise #2. You have your main projects–> goals within that project–> to do’s to meet those goals. Make sure your to do’s are small. For example, I had my to do line as ‘Transcribe interviews’. I have 12 interviews to do and they will take over 6 hours each to do. So, that kind of to do is not accomplishable. I revised it to be ‘Transcribe interview with John Smith’. Then I feel like I have accomplished something. Break your to do list down (really really far). It seems tedious but it will help you have small wins when you have big projects.
Also, I mentioned about that you need to portion your tasks according to how much mental power they take. I only created one category for this: easy. By tagging something as Easy in Omnifocus, I can go to it when I am intellectually fatigued at the end of the day or while watching Netflix with my partner.
Lastly, it is better to organise what your priorities are for tomorrow the night before. If you don’t, then you spend most of your time organising.
I can’t believe this software has so many features for free! This website and app is AMAZING! Do it, download it now! Avaza can do so many things, but I use it for tracking my time. Before I loose you or you roll your eyes, I only use it for my business time tracking. I don’t have the capability to track my time otherwise. It is only so I can account for which projects I am working on and I can look back and see if my project estimates were appropriate. I can estimate contracts so much more efficiently now that I keep track of my private work time and if the client has any questions about what the time was used for I can look up my notes. Also, I can add in any expenses super easy and generate a quick report.It will save you money if you estimate your own projects! It helps you prioritise by…seeing how much time you are ACTUALLY spending on a project (not what you thought you spent).
Admittedly, I get access to this software for free through my university. I do not know what the cost is. If you are doing any sort of publication or research, I highly, highly, highly recommend NVIVO. I can not imagine how inefficient research is without it. I found it to have a steep learning curve at first, but once you master it (they offer a lot of support and webinars), it is professionally life changing. In essence, it is a way to organise and code your literature and research. It helps you prioritise by…being able to immediately code an article as you read it and collates the data that can be seen with one click of the code!
Everyone has their favourite bibliography software. Mine is Zotero because it works so well with everything. It has a Word plugin. I did not discover this until a year ago when my advisor told me. I had been entering references and creating the bibliography by hand (gasp!). What a time waster that was! This saves sooooo much time in creating your bibliography. I upgraded to include 2GB of storage for ~$20NZD/year because I wanted to be able to access it from anywhere online and keep copies of the references. It helps you prioritise by…categorising your references depending on which paper you are working on and creating bibliographies/works cited automatically from your references.
- Google Drive
Similar to bibliography software, everyone has a favourite cloud or online storage service. Mine is hands down Google Drive. I used to use Dropbox, but I found it too limiting. Google Drive has cloud storage so your files are always backed up (as long as you leave the syncing on) and you can create editable and shareable documents in the same folder. What is not to love? I have the upgraded storage for ~$30/year. I can easily share documents with collaborators and clients. In general, I record meeting notes and class notes with the trusty pencil and notebook, but that is only because I will remember it better if I write it down. For volunteer projects where it is less about learning and more about organising, I put the information straight into Google Drive.
Omnifocus does have the ability to set due dates for items, but I find it is better for me to add a calendar reminder for things that are quick to do. For example, I pay my son’s daycare bill every two weeks so I just have a re-occurring reminder that pops up in the morning that it is due. I can really quickly do that.
These are my favorite tools and tips for personal marriage administration related activities. This includes doing the taxes, cooking, cleaning, life planning, keeping in touch with family, etc. My partner does the dishes and floors (huge help!).
- Life planning
My partner and I frequently evaluate where we are and where we want to go personally and professionally. One incredibly useful tool has been the life review template. It is such a useful tool that we refer back to it whenever we are making BIG life choices. It takes a little bit of time but it is a great opportunity for you to ask your partner the questions and record their answers for them. Check out the outlined version if you don’t have time to read the article.
- Mass Emails (BCC’d of course!)
I send out a quarterly ‘friends and family’ email with an update of what we have been doing and some photos in a PDF attachment. That way we are keeping in touch with people and you contact everyone in one go. Sometimes people write back and I can respond to them (since they have been nice enough to personally email me), but it is usually a shorter response because I have already given our latest news!
- Menu Planning on Monday Night
Menu plan, menu plan, menu plan. I want to spend my weekend maximising my time with my family so I do my menu planning on Monday after dinner. My partner and I would often work out on the lifestyle block together building and fixing, but then we would get in and no one would have made dinner! He is a very capable and good cook, but he is stronger and faster at building skills. We play to our strengths and it just happens that my strengths fall into a traditionally female role. That includes cooking. I am responsible for cooking dinners (primarily) and I enjoy it. We also live in a rural area where there are limited options for getting (good) ready made food so I cook a lot. I have not mastered this art yet, but planning my menu for the week and ordering groceries online for pick up or delivery has been a life saver. I used to get so anxious by the time dinner time came about what I was going to cook, but now that I am menu planning, it has been so much better. Plus there are so many leftovers, I only have to come up with 4-5 meals. Everyone is on their own for lunch!
This is my go-to personal list keeper. Not another one, you say? The difference is, Wunderlist for me is not used when I am trying to be productive. I only use this for personal things I need to accomplish. For example, I have lists for groceries, present ideas for my partner, presents I would like for myself (I never get them!), errands I need to run in town, library books I want to check out, etc. It is simply a way to unload your brain from everything you are trying to remember.
There are sooo many other tools and tips out there that are proven to work. A few other popular ones that I tried were:
- Routine, routine, routine. Create a habit.
- ‘Snack’ writing. Write in little doses.
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: You can stand anything for 10 seconds, then you start on a new 10 seconds!
- Pomodoro timer. This doesn’t work so well for me because I get interrupted a lot or interrupt myself. The cow breaks out or the chickens get in the garden or someone drops by for a cup of tea.
In summary, my prioritisation looks like this for some of my time commitments:
Work on PhD research–>Look in Omnifocus for first priority
Private work–>studio day/practical work or look at Omnifocus for consulting/writing tasks
Lifestyle block–>Saturdays are set aside for repairs and catchups (the animals need fed everyday which I slip in on my way to taking Jack to daycare or as soon as I get home).
Family–> Sundays are set aside for full fledged family day
Volunteer–>Usually set times for meetings or look at Omnifocus to see where tasks are in priorities
NZCCM newsletter editing–>set aside one weekend after deadline to compile every quarter (collect stories and data continually but finite time commitment)
This is all great, but what about…
I saved this section for the last because I have one tool for it. I have a problem with overcommitment. I developed this checklist today from the ‘Defeating Self-Sabotage’ workshop I attended through IThinkWell at Victoria University Wellington. Anytime an opportunity comes up, I will go through these questions. Maybe they will be of some help to you:
- What is the cost of my overcommitment? (once you have identified this, say it everytime!)
- How will this add to my CV?
- Is it working with someone I see as a mentor?
- Is it worth risking my PhD for?
- What new skills will I develop?
- When I think of saying no, how do I feel?
- Why do I feel that way?
- What are the facts behind those feelings?
- What evidence exists to support those facts?
For me, it is one small way to stop and think about whether it truly is a great opportunity that can not be missed!
Shortcut to the prioritisation tools and philosophies mentioned above: