Productivity for Researchers: 9 Brilliant Tips

With the holidays upon us it can be difficult to bunker down and focus on work. Get set for a productive ending to your year, and an even better 2018 with these useful tips.

By Stacy Konkiel

At Altmetric, we provide actionable insights into the online engagement surrounding published research. In early 2017 we asked researchers to share their favorite productivity tips and tricks for tackling their to-do lists, in the hope picking up some ideas ourselves and sharing their wisdom with the wider community. Here are some of their top recommendations.

1. Use a task manager
There are many systems you can use to manage your to-do list. The simplest is a good old-fashioned paper notebook. One researcher recommended a Bullet Journal, which is simply a notebook with some extra scientific rigor.

For those that prefer to keep digital to-do lists, try Todoist, a task manager that makes it very easy to stay organized. Todoist allows you to create task lists based on projects, and also tag your tasks. We also recommend the high-powered task manager for Mac, OmniFocus, which offers many of the same great features as Todoist.

2. Get clear on your goals
On a daily level, this can mean focusing your time and energy on just a few tasks each day, rather than having a long list of things to do. Be sure to make time for the important stuff like reading and writing – if you don’t plan for it, it often won’t happen.

3. Get rid of distractions
Did you know that it takes more than twenty minutes to get back on track after you’ve been interrupted at work?
That’s why researchers, when asked, say you should turn off your phone and email unless necessary. Turn off those notifications from messaging apps, too. In extreme circumstances, you may consider even turning off your internet access.

4. Write better emails
One study found that the average worker spends around 13 hours a week checking email.
Computer scientist Matt Might has a great list of tips for managing your email:

  • Don’t send an email if you can get a simple question answered elsewhere;
  • Make your subject line informative;
  • Try to write five sentences or less (makes it easier to read);
  • Use bullet points to write and reply to emails;
  • Put the most important stuff at the top; and
  • Use “CC” and “Reply all” sparingly

5. Eat that Frog

Altmetric’s Natalia Madjarevic recommends “eating a Frog” first thing each day – that is, tackling your biggest task immediately upon starting work, so you can free up the rest of your day for more enjoyable and easier tasks. This practice is based on the idea that many people have the most energy and creativity in the morning.

6. Decline meetings that have no purpose
It’s easy to find your calendar full of meetings that might not help you achieve what’s most pressing. Here are some criteria you might use to decide whether a meeting is worth organizing or attending:

  • Have clear goals been set for the meeting?
  • Does the meeting have a defined agenda?
  • Is the meeting being set for an appropriate amount of time?
  • Have relevant documents been sent with the meeting invite, so you and your colleagues can come prepared
  • Can discussion or updates be managed asynchronously (e.g. via email, Slack, Trello, or Asana)?

7. Automate wherever possible
Nowadays, there are a lot of research tools that can save you time by automating certain aspects of your professional life. You can create and format a reference list easily with Mendeley or Zotero; set alerts to be notified when you receive new citations or use databases to collect discussions of your work from around the web, and advanced users can even write scripts to automate analysis and formatting for journal articles.

8. Take breaks
Taking well-timed breaks between tasks has been proved to help clear the mind and renew your focus throughout the day. One researcher recommends taking quick walk; research has also shown that movement can help boost your productivity and creativity over time.

9. Treat yourself (for getting things done)
A great way to encourage yourself to accomplish more is to set rewards for yourself throughout the day.
That can mean the promise of a beer if you finish writing two more pages of your thesis; a hot cuppa while catching up on the latest articles in your field, or any other reward that you know will motivate you to do something well and quickly.

Experts suggest that even small incentives can make for great motivation.

What are your productivity goals for 2018? Let us know in the comments.

To read the original version of this post, visit the Altmetric blog.

Stacy Konkiel is the Director of Research & Education at Altmetric, a data science company that uncovers the attention that research receives online. My research interests include incentives systems in academia and informetrics, and I have written and presented widely about altmetrics, Open Science, and library services. Previously, I worked with teams at Impactstory, Indiana University & PLOS.

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