Tagged / time

‘I just don’t have time’: How to improve your work life balance, prioritisation skills and time management

This is a phrase I hear most often at work – we all have increasing pressures and often struggle to be as effective as possible in a shorter period of time to ensure we have a healthy work-life balance.

We have hired the services of an external facilitator to offer support in this for academic staff as part of the BRAD programme. Dr Margaret Collins has a 20+ year academic career background and uses her experience and subsequent training in theories such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming to deliver advice on how to increase personal effectiveness in these areas.

When I undertook the CROS and PIRLS surveys with staff back in the Summer and when consulting on what sessions would be most valuable for our academic community via the blog, the recurrent theme was better time management to improve work life balance.

You sometimes have to invest a little time to free up more later on – the session on Weds 16th October 1-5 on Talbot campus is a worthwhile investment. There are limited spaces so please do ensure you get one by booking on the Organisational and Staff Development webpages.

Writing & Time

One of the recurrent issues for researchers is time, as for most things in life.  I am in the process of visiting all the BU Research Centres and at various points in all of these conversations time for research and the balanced workload emerges as an issue.  There are no easy solutions to balancing ones work load; and there is a mix of both personal and corporate responsibility.  As a busy academic, with lots of external commitments, a big job and two young boys, time is for me the one thing that I don’t have and is something most of us have in common to varying degrees.  Research is often the first thing to be sacrificed as the time pressure builds or it is pushed into stolen moments between other things.

Twenty years ago as a young lecturer I used to prioritise my research over everything else and my teaching was done in the time that was left, but in those days there were few external commitments and time had that elastic property which it seems to have lost with age.  These days such flexibility does not exist, but my research is still to the fore dominating the spaces between other commitments.  Like today for example on the walk into work I was puzzling how to portray some data; I spent a few minutes while making a cup of tea between meetings outlining the structure of my next paper in my head; a structure which I finally sketched out before introducing tonight’s Professorial Inaugural lecture.  With luck I may find the time next week to start work on fleshing out this paper which I am quite excited about on the quiet.  Snatched moments are not ideal but are better than nothing; the key for me is to make the most of them.

The hardest part of getting a new paper started is setting out the first scrappy draft on paper, or just the first few pages.  Once I have this I am able to continue to work on it in stolen moments but that first bit with the cursor constantly blinking at you is hard and I need to find some proper time to marshal my thoughts and launch myself at it.  Writing is one of those hard things which you quickly get out of the habit of and getting back to paper writing after a break can be challenging.  Yes we write e-mails and texts all the time, but real prose is a struggle for most of us, certainly for me.

Last year a very eminent academic gave me a piece of advice which I now try to follow.  It is a simple task around a writing discipline which has helped me a lot.  Their advice was to write something ‘proper’ every morning as the first thing you do each day; just for twenty minutes or so rather than reach instantly for your inbox or that pile of marking.  According to their advice it leads to a more productive day in which you are more likely to write good stuff in those stolen moments.  Well I am a bit sceptical about advice like this I started the practice last year in desperation and found that it really does help.  In fact I try to spend twenty minutes writing something both morning and night now; the evening is more about trying to get ideas and issues out of my head but I do feel more productive when I start the day with some proper prose.  It can be anything and in my case is often written long hand in my ‘ideas book’; this blog post for example, a few paragraphs of a strategy paper, or better still some of my research notes.  It works really well when I am in the field or analysing data and makes a big difference to translating that fieldwork or analysis into published output.  Sitting in my tent or a seedy hotel somewhere in the world I try to write down my reflection on the day’s fieldwork and sketch out and articulate my emerging ideas.  A bit like the Victorian scientist or explorer writing out their notes or diary in laborious copper plate!  My notes are far from copper plate but the idea works.  I suppose the key point is that writing regularly really helps me keep productive and makes the most of those stolen moments for research helping me to stay positive about my research progress even when there is in reality very little due to other work commitments.  There are many such techniques and I would be interested in hearing from you on this subject, but the key thing is to find the time for research.  The appraisal round commences next term and it is your chance to be pro-active in challenging your mangers for the time to push forward your research agenda not just in stolen moments but in meaningful blocks of time; I wish you luck in this challenge and you have my support!  There are no magic solutions to the issue of time, but if you know of any I would love to hear about them!

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)