Category Archives: Work-Life Balance & Productivity

Trust Yourself

I’m posting here an email I just received from Monica Schultz – creator and founder of The WorkLife Lab
 
I hope you’ll like it as much as I did!
——-
stellarfield“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare

Not happy where you’re at, but don’t know where to go? It feels stressful, deadening, and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.

 
The key is to trust yourself even though your current work may have you questioning past moves and decisions.
 
If you’re making a living, but feel dead inside, below are proven – and safe – ways to find direction:
 
Don’t quit your day job – yet. You heard me. Sure, financial pressure is a great motivator, but for those of us who have a career to “fall back on,” that’s usually what we do: fall and go back. Then we can find ourselves more dejected than when we started. The truth is, the less financial pressure you’re under, the more experimental you can be. Trust your current work has something to teach you in terms of skills and/or personal development.
 
Do something you love – or you think you might love. Anything. It doesn’t have to make sense. Play. Experiment. Meet people with similar interests. Once you start moving in a direction – ANY direction – life has a way of providing connections and recalibrates your course. Some people even find they enjoy their work more – and find they have it better than they thought.
 
Be patient. Focus on finding, doing, and fitting more activities you love in your life. Don’t set a timeline of “I’ll be doing X in three months.” Intentions are fine, but if you find out you hate “X,” then where does that leave you? However, if you steadily add 15 minutes here and one hour there of things you enjoy, life becomes animated. Which brings me to . . .
Serendipity. Allow for synchronicity. Plan a path, but be willing to go off it should an interesting opportunity arise. If you talk to people who really love what they do, you’ll find they had strange ways of getting there. It wasn’t all planned on paper, though a map did have a role.
 
Don’t panic or lose hope if you don’t know what you want to do next. It’s the perfect opportunity to play with your ideas and dreams. As Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
This week, do something you love, no matter how silly, and trust that it will take you that next step forward.
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Note added: the quotation by Steve Jobs is from his famous Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. You can watch it here if you’ve never seen it before.
PS If you wish to find out more about Monica and the work she does, follow her or subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter at The WorkLife Lab
…and by the way… she has the nicest logo I’ve ever seen! 🙂
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On Time Management and Life

sand-stone-jar

Some days ago, I got an email from a colleague asking whether I could suggest a book or course on time management that he could share with his students. On the spot, I did not know exactly what to reply other than sharing some techniques which have been useful for me.

But then I remembered a story I read once and I suddenly realised that that story probably holds the secret for accomplishing what is really important to us. And in so doing, it also reminds us of the things that really matter in life.

 ****

One day a wise teacher was speaking to a group of his students. He pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”

“Really?” he asked. “Let’s see.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Looking carefully from face to face, he smiled benevolently and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

His class was catching on quickly. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Very good!” he replied. He then reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. When he was finished he once again asked, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted.

“Excellent!” he replied. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Once again looking intently into the eyes of each student, he asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“Aha, that’s very good!” the teacher replied, “But let us look a bit deeper. This illustration also teaches us a higher truth: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all!”

(Author unknown.)

***

As the year draws to a close, I hope you may find some time to reflect on your ‘big rocks’ for the new year ahead. Is this something you want to accomplish, maybe finish off your PhD thesis, or submit that long-due paper? Is it re-gaining your physical fitness? Is it learning a new skill that would be useful for your next career move? Or is it starting a journey of personal growth? Or simply spending more quality time with your loved ones?

Whatever your priorities are, my wish for you is that you may treasure this story and find a way to put your big rocks first, before any pebbles or sand.

 

The Productivity Code Video Series

woman_reseacher_at_microscope_istockphoto

Very often people think that being a researcher is all about excitement, discoveries, and success. And while some of this may eventually be achieved, the day-to-day reality of it is rather different.

We often struggle to keep up with running a lab, taking new data, analyzing them, writing papers, applying for grants. And all of this while also trying to have a full and fulfilled life!

Some of us may also constantly battle with negative thoughts:

“what if this is not good enough?”

“what if I don’t manage to make good progress?”

“why did I not do this earlier when I had more time?”

No wonder, we often feel exhausted, overwhelmed and just simply run down.

I have been there myself. And I have personally discovered what a huge difference it can make to just follow the advice and support of those who have been there and have found a way to succeed.

In fact, soon after becoming a mom, some years ago, I realized I needed to set new priorities both at work and in my private life. That’s when I started working with Olga Degtyareva, a friend and former colleague of mine.

Olga has become an expert on productivity and she has already helped many students and researchers all over the world to make huge progress in their careers without feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, or stressed out.

The good news is that Olga has now put together a great free training series to show you exactly how to overcome overwhelm, become more productive and stay productive for good!! Over 150 people from around the world have already joined in this training. You can still register to access the full training series at the link below:

FULL SERIES: The Productivity Code Video Series

(make sure you also download the handouts by clicking on the link below each video)

But that’s not all!

Olga emailed me the other day to let me know that she is going to release one more video today!

BONUS video #4… it’s all about you moving forward on your path. And she’ll be telling you about two biggest problems that most researchers come across.

Also, towards the end of the video, she’ll give you the details about the Productivity Code Quick Start Online Course and Coaching Program.

So, if you are struggling with making progress with your work, don’t miss out!

Registrations are opening up TODAY (11th of September) at 12:00pm London time.

Enjoy!
Marialuisa

PS Oh, and remember that the free training will remain available only until September 18th!

 

How to Master Academic Writing in the Sciences

Ok, this is an announcement more than a post.

writing

But first…

…did you know that only 2% of academics have ever undertaken any formal training in academic writing [1]?

This is amazing when you consider how critical it is for academics to be able to write well. Think about a PhD thesis. Or a research paper. Or a proposal to obtain research time at some international facility (a major lab or a big telescope). Or even a grant application. Or a job at a prestigious university.

Your chances of being successful at any of these hinges greatly on one simple factor: How well you can write!

Sadly, most PhD students (and, dare I say, academics!) are expected to (magically!) master academic writing with very little guidance, almost by osmosis. Of course, there is much you can learn by trial and error and by attempting to emulate the work of the masters. But this is a lengthy, inefficient, and serendipitous path to take. And one that does not guarantee success either! (Do you really want to find out how to write a good job application by trial and error?)

Far better is to understand what makes for good writing, to learn the dos and don’ts of academic discourse, and to follow some simple strategies that can massively improve the quality of your writing. Then, you realise that scientific academic writing is a craft. And one that you can learn!

Yes, I know. There are hundreds of books out there, which could teach you how to write successfully in academia. And actually many of them are really great.

But here is the problem. Do you actually ever read them? I suspect, your answer is no.

And if you do, have you ever wished you could get in touch with the author to ask any question you may have? If that’s the case, then here is my announcement for you:

I have developed a stepbystep programme specifically designed to take you through the process of academic writing, at your own pace, but with my support.

Interested? Then, have a look at

Hands on Writing: How to Master Academic Writing in the Sciences.

In this course, I will share with you some simple tools and techniques that I regularly use in my own writing and that have proved helpful to many students already.

Whether you are working at your PhD thesis or a research paper, this course will provide you with an easy-to-follow framework to become a more effective, confident and productive writer.

And even if you are not in a scientific discipline, you can still benefit from plenty of very general strategies and tips to help you improve on your skills.

Now, here is the important bit!

The course will go live online for the first time on November 4th and then registration will be over until next year.

And because this is the course debut, I’m going to offer it at a very special price for this time only.

So, now is the time to take action. Click here to register.

But hurry up! This offer expires on Sunday, November 3rd.

PS Oh, and if you think that this post may be relevant to someone you know, please be so kind to pass it on.

[1] Source: Helen Sword, Author of Stylish Academic Writing, Harvard University Press (2012)

How Long Does Your Writing Take?

Let me ask you a quick question. Do you normally read in bed before falling asleep every night? If so, how long do you read for?

candleI certainly do. Yet, I only manage to put together five or six pages at most before abandoning myself into Morpheus’ arms. The whole process probably takes me 15-20 minutes every night and, as a positive side effect, I have noticed that the quality of my sleep is far better than if I tried to fall asleep without reading.

But I am digressing…

So, here is my point:

I have managed to read lots of books in my life, just by spending a few minutes every night reading only a few pages!

This is remarkable for me because all too often I have a strong tendency to wait for the perfect circumstances, the perfect settings, the perfect time, before actually getting a start on what I want or have to do.

Say, for example, I have to prepare a talk for a conference. I typically wait to have a whole half-day free from any other commitment before even thinking about making a start.

Guess what?

The perfect time never comes. I wait and wait and wait… and then I have to rush through preparing my talk at the very last minute when I cannot procrastinate anymore.

Sounds familiar? Maybe you do the same with your writing.

You wait for the right time, the right context, or the right inspiration.

The trouble with this approach is that we seldom get anything done and end up feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, and guilty.

Admittedly, finding large chunks of time to devote to one single activity is often difficult in our busy lives. Yet, we can still accomplish a lot by using whatever 15 minutes we can find here and there. That’s how I have read hundreds of books. And that’s how I have written some of my papers.

More than that, setting aside just 15 minutes may be far more productive that setting aside 3 consecutive hours (assuming you have them!).

So, if you are struggling to find the time to do some writing, here is an excellent way to making a start:

  • You schedule one 15-minute session in your diary (ideally at the same time every day, just to get into the right habit)
  • You protect this time from external invasion (this is essential or you’ll let any excuse distract you)
  • When the time comes, you set your timer (any timer would do!) and just write. For 15 minutes. Every single day. A few sentences a day. A figure. A table. However small, it’ll be more than you had yesterday. Just do it, day in day out.

After a few weeks (apparently it takes 21 days to establish a new habit) feel free to increase the time (not by much!) and keep going.

It does not matter if the quality of what you write is not good at first. You can always revise later once you have put together enough content. Your aim here is to get into the habit of writing and to stop procrastinating.

And remember: if you start today, even for as little as 15 minutes, you won’t have to start from scratch tomorrow. And writing tomorrow will just feel a bit easier.

I have done it. And it works.

Ok. Enough said. I’d better go and make a start with that talk of mine!