Productivity hacks for scientists – #1

December 1, 2016 Uncategorized 0 Comments

Honing your work habits will give you more time for science. This is the first article in a series of productivity hacks for scientists. Here we start by describing four ways to keep your focus by limiting the distractions whirling around you.

#1 – Limit distractions

As a scientist, you need to stay on top of many projects at the same time without letting important stuff slip under the radar. The key to staying on top of everything is focus. Focus is easily lost many times a day between the flurry of activities required of you in the office and at the lab bench.

I would like to share with you four strategies and tools you can use to implement these strategies. Using one, or all, of these approaches will help you to work in a more focused way, by ridding your day of distractions and keeping your mind in the flow.

1. Pomodoro technique 🍅

The Pomodoro method was invented in the 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo. It comes from the Italian for “tomatoes”, which makes perfect sense once you know Cirillo used a tomato-shaped timer to put a new spin on his time-management skills. He set it to 25 minute units, or “pomodoros” to break down his work into smaller chunks.

At the core of the Pomodoro concept is the belief that having more (short) breaks in between focused working blocks (25min = *pomodori*) makes you more creative and less stiff. Key to the success of this strategy is to take regular breaks.

There are many tools available to help you track your time in this way – you don’t need to have a tomato timer. Grab any one of the many digital Pomodoro helpers out there and you are good to go. I use Power Focus for iOS.

Judiciously pick your task and try to focus on it for a solid 25min followed by a well-deserved break. If something else comes to your mind during your focus interval, write yourself a note and come back to it later.

This method can help improve:
– your reading speed
– the structuring and completion of papers
– breaking down any large tasks into manageable units, from drafting papers to planning experiments, to make sure you sail through them

2. Rescue Time ⏱
If the constant access to the internet is killing your ability to focus, here’s the app that brings back your control – Rescue Time. It can monitor your computer and phone usage and tell you exactly how much time you spend on productive and unproductive pages.

The downside: well, software is tracking you. You can, for example, use it to limit the time you spend on social media per day. For example, if you set your limit to one hour and you exceed it, an alarm goes off. Enable the focus mode to block distracting websites for a certain amount of time.

3. Say no ✋
Turn your phone to flight mode and switch off desktop notifications. If too many people tend to bother you with questions during the day, you can use one of many systems to tell signal the time to approach you – and when you need quiet time.

Some companies use colour-coded stickers on their doors. Others signal with open or closed doors. If you are into geeky gadgets, use a USB light indicator (like blink(1)) to show your coworkers that you’re busy.

When you master the ability to recognise and prioritise what is important to you and when to say no, you will save yourself a considerable amount of time.

4. Inside focus 🙏
What about internal distractions? If outside distractions are not a problem, you might need look inside. You should never suppress distracting thoughts, but rather harness them, manage their flow, and refocus your brain.

Meditation can pay off big. Just a bit of focused, quiet time can help you to stay organised and on track for hours at a time, if not for the rest of your day. I meditate every day for just ten minutes. For me, this does the trick. Because it’s hard to sit in silence, I’ve chosen to enjoy a guided meditation using headspace. Great stuff!

Enough distractions for now. Get back to work!

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