Productivity hacks for scientists #2

#2 – Collaborate more efficiently

Successful scientists do not work alone, they team up. It is a lot easier to get things done if you have access to resources beyond your own desk. Saving time through team efforts and collaboration requires efficient communication. Without it, you end up spending too much time on laborious talking/instructing compared to what you want to be doing – getting stuff done. Here are my essential approaches to facilitating collaboration with minimum fuss and maximum gain:

No team email

Email is a suitable communication tool outside of your team. But team communication over email is painful because you

    1. fill your inbox with short messages
    2. waste time looking for attachments that relate to a certain project
    3. loose track of who contributed what to which project
    4. use polite forms of communication to start and end each email

For these and many others reasons, teams are switching to messenger systems to communicate efficiently. Take for example the Slack (free but limited chat history to 10.000 messages) or Ryver (same as Slack but completely free so far). These tools offer:

  • a messenger Interface for team communication
  • different channels so you can e.g. only talk to the people within a certain project
  • file sharing with a direct view on all files you shared with one person or a group = no more searching for Email attachments
  • private messages
  • mobile apps

The thing I like the most about these team messengers: you can reduce your communication to its essence. No more ‘Dear bla bla, how are you, could you please bla bla, sincerely yours…’ just straight communication about project updates and mission critical details.


No generic meetings

Meetings can be a great collaborative tool, but only if they have a clear purpose. If a meeting takes place just because Monday has rolled around again and everyone has to talk about his/her project (even if there is no progress), it just robs you of your precious time. Meetings are a place to brainstorm and encourage people to expand past their tunnel view and contribute to a foreign subject. But if it’s only about project updates, this can be handled far more efficiently. I have worked with trello and asana to manage projects and collaborate with people. These tools give the PI an overview of who is doing what for each project, without the need for general meetings. You can choose who of your team contributes to what, stay up to date on individual workloads, and better meet deadlines.


No group phone calls

Can you relate to the common situation of a group of people trying to share the same phone for calling someone? It is a painful experience at best for the one fielding the call. If you must group call, please use an online system and have each participant sit at his/her own screen to participate! It doesn’t matter if it’s Skype, Google hangout, or any other video group chat tool. The advantages I see include:

  1. better audio quality compared to multiple people using one phone
  2. the ability to see each other through video chat
  3. keeping hands free for taking notes and surfing relevant web links
  4. direct file and link sharing

These are my strategies and the tools that support them, for helping foster better collaboration practices. Do you agree? Is something missing? Please let me know and have a productive day.