Taking back control of time

Tips on time management in academic research

Part 2

As the items on the to-do list pile up, academic researchers, who love a challenge by nature, tend to engage in a race against the clock to tick every item off the list in time. In this quest, we over-estimate our super-hero skills and forget that we are humans and not machines (at least not yet!). Planning too many tasks without allowing ourselves to disconnect and reset is counter-productive and is even harmful for ourselves and the people around us.  

Below are some tips on how to integrate moments of peace and rest in our busy and hectic days. 

Give yourself a break 

Since academics are always in pursuit of inspiration and creative ideas, it is helpful to allow ourselves a mental break to plan our next original project. When you get a writer block, a walk to the nearby park will help you see things from another perspective. Also, talk to people! Organise lunch breaks with your friends or colleagues and invite new people from different departments to listen to their perspective. Lunch is a great socialising activity which can be integrated during the day and might provide you with ideas for future projects and opportunities for future collaborations.  

It is very common to feel that our days are never long enough to do what we planned and decide to continue our work on the weekends to ‘increase our productivity’. However, allowing ourselves to take a mental break is very important and is what we truly need to increase our productivity. It might be better to do a hobby that we enjoy, meet up with our family or watch movies during the weekend. It is good to remind ourselves sometimes that we do enjoy other things besides research (just in case we decide we want to switch careers at some point!). I am a big fan of hand crafts (sewing, crochet, embroidery, soap making etc.) and I try to work on a craft project every weekend. I find this time therapeutic because it gives me the mind space that I need and allows me to disconnect from the lab especially during those times when research is not going so well. 

Set boundaries and prioritise your time

You can’t say yes to everything! It is a good idea to prioritise your projects and what you are willing to spend time on. A review, a manuscript, a grant can always be written better and be perfected. Seeking perfection is an inner quest that all academic researchers struggle with, but it is important not to let perfection become the enemy of your time. Creating deadlines, even if they don’t exist, is a good strategy to limit the time you are willing to spend on a given task. This can be done for example by creating a time budget since “time is money” (Benjamin Franklin). Think about how many hours/days/weeks you can afford to spend on a task while taking your priorities into account.

Adjust your space

Creating a physical barrier between our workspace and personal space is important, especially when working from home. Removing electronic devices from the bedroom for example will make you less tempted to check late emails. This will also help your mind disconnect and help you get a better quality sleep.    

Time is precious. It is up to us to decide what to do with the time that we have and prioritise our tasks without forgetting to “waste” time on ourselves too! 

You can share in the comments section below your experience of feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work and what you did to overcome these frustrating feelings. 


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