|Productivity guru? Don't make me laugh.|
Developing the ability to focus on a problem for several hours at a time has been the most formidable challenge of research study. It’s also been the most rewarding. As an advertising executive, constant interruption was a normal part of my job and I rarely had to focus on a single task for more than an hour at a time. Days were full of meetings, emails, phone calls, negotiations and conversations in corridors. Actually, it occurs to me that there are growing similarities between this existence and academic life...
I recently wrote about how important it was for time-poor academics to have a clear strategy and objectives for online activity. In this post, I thought I’d share a few insights into how I try to balance my PhD research, blogging and social media.
- Keep blog posts short. At around 1,000 words, mine tend to be too long. They generally take between 2-4 hours to write (except this one – I am trying to take my own advice!). I genuinely love writing them but I know if I made them half this length, not only would they be easier to read, I could post more regularly and reap some major Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) benefits.
- Make blogging an extension of work you are already doing. You can adapt presentations, speeches, book reviews or even lecture notes or research you have been undertaking for teaching purposes. You could even adapt an email you have written and are rather proud of, for example, one that explains a concept, includes instructions or advice (‘How To’ posts are often really popular) or argues an opinion.
- When you blog about something new - make it count. I often use the blog as an excuse to research and learn about a research interest that is not related to my actual PhD thesis.
- Create a ‘content calendar’ so you always have ideas on hand. Mine is a word document. Whenever I have an idea for a blog post I jot it down along with a few notes. It doesn’t take long before you have more ideas for posts than you have time to write them! It also means that you will rarely need to start writing from a (scary) blank page.
- Collaborate with others. Get together with a group of your peers and create a multi-author blog for your discipline or research group. You can create an editorial calendar and set out deadlines for contributions. This takes the pressure off one person and keeps the blog fresh, dynamic and chock full of new content.
- Enforce a technology embargo at certain times of the day. My PhD comes first so I work on my research 9-5 and blog before or after this time. I block out several chunks of the day for research and try to stay offline during this time. Since I don’t need to be instantly available during the day at the moment (I know, lucky me), my phone is generally on silent to ward off interruptions.
- Don’t be ruled by technology - make technology work for you. When my mind is wandering, the temptation to go online can be overpowering (if I'm reading the newspaper, that counts as 'work', right?). I use a firefox plugin called Leechblock to restrict access to certain time wasting sites during the day.
- Try a Pomodoro. I write in 25 minute bursts using the Pomodoro technique, a frighteningly simple productivity trick that helps me stay focused for longer. It also allows me to quantify the amount of time I spend working on my PhD each day - which is marvellous on days when the wordcount really doesn’t reflect the amount of effort you have put in. For example, when the day's ‘work’ consists of revising (or discarding) things you have already written.
- Read a lot of blogs? Feed them into one place. Bloggers tend to read a hell of a lot of blogs! It’s how they find fresh, new, inspiring content to share. I am following about 30 academic blogs at the moment (plus another 20 digital media blogs) and feed all of them into Bloglovin so they are in one location. I check them quickly each morning (while having a cup of tea and toast) to see if anything new catches my eye.
- You don’t actually need to be online to tweet. Each morning, I use Tweetdeck to schedule a few tweets to appear at different times over the course of the day. This allows me to share content at specific times (when I think people might be around to see it) without actually having to stop work and go online, ie: 9am (lunchtime in Eastern states of Australia and evening in USA/Europe), 1pm (Perth lunchtime) or 9pm (morning in USA/Europe). That being said, Twitter is all about conversation so it is vital to check in a couple of times during the day.