A guest post from Dr Vera Lukashchuk, a research associate from the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience.

If you have ever felt like you are not using your time effectively, that you are not progressing in your job as fast as you wish to, and that you may be ignoring the importance of the work/life balance, then read on…

In March 2015, Think Ahead ran a brilliant workshop called ‘How to be an Effective Researcher’ aimed to help you resolve or at the very least recognise all of these and other issues in yourself. The workshop delivered by Caron King from Mindset Methods consisted of two very dynamic days dedicated to providing an insight into strategies for successful project design and management, and working effectively to deliver results. I walked in there open-minded, and very aware of the fact that I would have to challenge my introverted nature and interact with people I’d just met, full-time for two days straight.

This is my personal account on some of the key factors I identified for myself as essential in achieving your goals in a structured and realistic way, while enjoying it along the way.

The importance of making space for creative thinking

2015 ER outputs1How long does it take you to walk to the University and back every day? Are you thinking about the millions of things you need to do in a day while getting increasingly overwhelmed by the workload, or are you devising a strategy on how to achieve a result? Despite the increased awareness of the importance of professional development activities, dedicating the time and finding the opportunities to ‘thinking outside the box’ is challenging. The trick is that creative thinking is most likely to happen outside of your office or lab space. Scheduling a 15-30 minute break every day that takes you out of your usual workspace and using it to ponder about a specific problem may seem impossible at times, but may become ultimately the time when a solution to a problem becomes apparent.

Milestones

Establishing realistic milestones (see this earlier Think Ahead Blog post) will not only structure your approach to tackling a problem, designing a new experiment or provide a deadline for task completion, but will motivate you and provide you with a great sense of achievement upon meeting it. I had never before come across the concepts of divergent and convergent thinking. Caron suggested asking yourself a question: At what point do you decide to stop work, generate options and ideas, and stick with one, and how do you decide this? The solution lies in generating a time window for making an idea into a working plan, which effectively brings the discussion to the importance of time management.

Time Management

2015 ER outputs2Procrastination is a trap. All of us have done it during our busiest times at work, and with the advent of social networks it has become almost unavoidable, irrespective of whether you use social networks for work purposes or keeping in touch with friends. Using one’s time wisely while procrastinating is a skill. There numerous ways to make procrastination a time well-spent: Staying on top of the news in your own field by reading the latest development either in the journal or a news website, looking up people’s professional profiles and learning about different skill-sets in your network are among them.

As I am consulting my own notes taken over the two days, and my take-home messages look like this:

  • Have a strategy, and ‘think with the end in mind‘. What is your output? What are your tools, and are there ways to improve them?
  • It is YOUR project – take the ownership: think creatively, talk to people, ask them about their research and their expertise.
  • And importantly, if on your work/life scales ‘work’ is severely outweighing life’, consider balancing them out. In any project, your well-being is the upmost priority.