Regardless of the industry or profession, you belong to, you want to maximize your efforts to achieve your goals and continue to grow. Productivity can be boosted through numerous mechanisms as per individual aptitude and need. In the world of academic medicine, where my time is split between clinical care, research, manuscript writing, and personal time, these are the tools that have helped me build on my goals
1. Have goals:
If you don't have goals, how will you know when you have achieved them? I have traditionally set short term goals (1-2 years) with an occasional ‘zoom in or out’ of that time frame. For example, my goal this year was to publish one manuscript per month and start 3 projects. To keep that goal achievable, I engaged in a variety of projects – some as primary author, some as senior author, and some as co-writer. Similarly, the projects I picked have variable timelines – some can be accomplished in 2-4 months, some will take 6 months, and some > 1 year. This allows a sense of accomplishment as tasks get done while watching the seeds of long-term projects germinate and grow.
2. Be a finisher:
This is probably my most relevant advice to my residents and fellows. Ideas and intent are a dime a dozen – and mean nothing unless you put in the effort and take it to the finish line. Not every research project culminates into a manuscript – but it should be started with that intent. If you realize that it is ‘simply not working out’ cut ties, figure out and remember why that happened, and move on to the next project. We thrive on deadlines – so set yourselves tangible deadlines for each project – and hold yourself accountable to them.
3. Organize /de-clutter:
- Make a to-do list, mark tasks as ‘done’ as they get accomplished – there is a distinct satisfaction in doing that
- Assign time of the day to handle e-mails. I cannot multi-task well so I don’t attempt to. Depending on the need, I check my emails between 2-3 times a day. My team knows that if it is urgent, they are to call me on my phone. My team also knows (and gets reminded if needed) that if it is not urgent, they are not to call my phone.
4. Work very, very hard but disengage periodically:
No one (except probably Dr. Fauci!) can work full capacity all the time. Disengage intermittently, often, and in all senses of the word: mentally, physically, and emotionally. During that time off, do not fall back into the ‘let me check-in’ trap. None of us (again, probably except for Dr. Fauci!) are working on projects that we cannot afford to disengage from. Having said that – understand that at least in academic medicine, your research efforts get accomplished on week-nights, early mornings, and weekends.
- If your plate is very full, learn to say no to additional projects – till you are ready to take on more.
5. Use your words and time effectively:
A lot of people spend more time talking about a task than doing it. Just… don't be that person. Especially in this era of online everything, a lot of so-called ‘mandatory’ meetings are a flog on our times. Find a way to delegate tasks (including meeting attendance) between your group and update each other at the end.
Last, but not least – enjoy your work… if it gives you heart-burn instead of a sense of purpose and accomplishment .. examine your choices sooner rather than later!