Since January is the beginning of a new year, it is as good a time as any for reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next one. Here are a few things that I try to do (with variable degrees of success!) in order to get off to a good start.
Working out what to do next
I usually look at my list of goals from the previous year and evaluate how I did. At the beginning of each month I find it helpful to list the roles and responsibilities I have, and what I need to accomplish for the month. It helps if I have a planner to write these down. Some of you will prefer to do this digitally. This process works better on paper for me. Then, I find it is helpful to…
Declutter and reorganize
The office equivalent of tidying closets and sorting out items at home is to declutter my computer and my office. There are a range of places that need constant monitoring and decluttering. I find that I am constantly attending to clearing out my email inbox, and organizing my computer desktop and file organization. It’s also a good idea to check that automatic back-ups of documents are working effectively on electronic devices used. In the office, I like to return library books that I am no longer using, file teaching materials from the previous semester, and create folders and digital files for keeping track of new tasks. Other items I need to think about are updating licenses for software used in research and teaching, and checking subscriptions and annual renewals to professional organizations and journals. I ask: Do I still use this? Do I need to renew?
Reflect on what happened in the previous year
One thing I have noticed is that some of the items on my list of things to do for the previous year simply did not get done. Instead, these were overtaken by new opportunities and goals that I had not anticipated. In addition, some tasks that I planned for simply took longer than expected. Rather than feel overwhelmed by what I did not manage to do, I try to appreciate what I did accomplish, and then move on from there.
For example, one of my goals over the last year was to make writing a priority. What I learned from reading about effective writing habits and applying recommended strategies is that it is possible to write daily, even in the busiest weeks when my schedule is overtaken by meetings. There were a few key factors that helped. I found that the best time of day for me to write is in the morning. This could be the very first thing I do when I rise, or the first thing I do when I start the work day. It helped to:
- Turn off the internet browser and email application during writing periods.
- Use a timer to record the duration of each writing period.
- Keep an inventory of writing activities and reading and research tasks.
- Make monthly goals that prioritize what writing tasks need to be accomplished by what date.
- Use free-writing activities to get started when I did not feel like writing.
What I learned from writing daily was that more ideas were generated, I felt less anxious about writing and completing tasks by deadlines, and I got more done — even if the time spent in writing daily was sometimes minimal.
And of course, it is helpful to reflect on what did not go so well, and why.
For example, I did not get to work on two research projects that have been languishing for some time. Clearly, if I am to complete these projects, I’ll need to think carefully about what tasks are needed to reactivate these projects, and set monthly goals to achieve. Adding these projects to my yearly goals list will not help unless I think about the smaller tasks needed to get started. The difference between these projects and other projects in which I was engaged is that I did not have deadlines set for which to complete work. I accomplished more on projects for which there were deadlines such as conference presentations and commitments to co-researchers to complete work by a certain date.
This year, I face the same challenges faced by other qualitative researchers. These include balancing the time needed to:
- keep up-to-date with new research in my areas of interest
- complete research and writing goals
- work on teaching and professional development goals
- manage service commitments
There are only so many hours in a day, so I likely will not achieve all that I hope to in the coming year. By outlining yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals and checking on these routinely; keeping a calendar handy to track where I am spending my time, I hope to get more done than if I approach these tasks haphazardly. Of course, achieving any professional goal will be easier if I am healthy and happy. For me, it is also important to learn new things, eat healthy food, exercise, and keep up with family members and friends. That is another list that works alongside my professional goals.
All the best to you in the New Year, and please share your tips for starting out well…