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The Nine Best Articles on Productivity in Research

One of the more persistent nagging thoughts in the back of the mind of researchers is “am I doing this the best way, could I be doing more work with my time?”

An anxiety this pervasive has obviously caused a wide range of articles and advice to be written online about it. However, the irony is that if you were to spend a lot of time analysing what articles were worth your time reading… you aren’t being very efficient about the process.

1. Productivity for researchers: Nine brilliant tips

Written by Stacy Konkiel, the head of research at Altmetric, this blog by Nature lists a range of simple techniques that can improve productivity. It also introduces a delightful productivity technique called “eating the frog”.

2. Seven Productivity Tips, Backed By Science

Appearing on the blog for fintech firm Lemonade, this piece pulls from public talks and lectures by academic behavioural economists and organisational psychologists on how to work effectively. It also includes psychologist Shawn Anchor’s work which encourages prioritising happiness to enhance personal effectiveness. While it’s hard to argue against the suggestion, Anchor’s talk manages to back the claim with compelling numbers.

3. Why plants in the office make us more productive

A paper by a team from Cardiff, Exeter, Groningen and Queensland found that

“…a green office increases employees’ work engagement by making them more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work.”

If your workspace is a bit bleak, try getting some plant life to cheer yourself up.

4. Four Ways for Researchers to Maximize Their Time in the Lab

Written (with lab-based researchers in mind) by Duke University microbiologist Ben Mudrak, this blog stresses the importance of planning and organisation for improved productivity.

His advice includes scheduling experiments, being organised about when and how you take breaks and to avoid busy periods in the lab.

The article also links to detailed academic studies about research time management, which is an interesting further read.

5. Twenty Productivity Tips for Researchers

Eva Lantsoght is a professor in structural engineering as well as a frequent blogger and writer on the topic of how to manage work and life as a researcher.

Her top 20 list includes tips on small practical steps you can make, such as trying the Pomodoro technique for writing and getting an accountability partner who you can share certain responsibilities with.

6. My top ten academic productivity tips, or how I submitted five pieces in three weeks

The personal blog of assistant Professor Raul Pacheco-Vega at CIDE in Mexico journeys his olympian attempt to get five articles submitted in three weeks. While many other pieces on this list cite from studies and textbooks, this article details the personal habits of one individual. While some of these might not be to everyone’s tastes — his preferred habit of working in parallel on several topics sounds infuriating to me — some of his other topics like preparing your workspace thoroughly and his encouraging writing style make this an interesting read.

7. Value-added working is less taxing

Professor Mark Reed from the University of Newcastle and author of The Productive Researcher interviewed four of the top ten most highly cited researchers in the UK.

“Rather than being full of pride over their achievements, I heard stories about the importance of being approachable and open to criticism; about prioritising, empowering and trusting their teams.”

Mark’s piece and the accompanying book focuses on making sure your work and life priorities don’t compete. Along with many other articles on this list, he also extolles the virtues of saying ‘no’ and avoiding getting bogged down in meetings and emails.

8. Is bland corporate leadership holding back our innovation nation?

This blog views R&D productivity for a company or organisation more holistically. Australian professor Mariano L.M. Heyden focuses on how a team can be best equipped to use the R&D process effectively. Prof Heyden’s main hypothesis is that increasing diversity on a team will greatly improve its ability to do and benefit from R&D.

“If an organisation breaks deeply ingrained diversity barriers, it may be well positioned to handle other types of change. This is important for firms driving R&D intensive strategy.”

9. The Seven Habits of Productive Scientists

Angled with PhD students in mind, this interview with a group of American Chemical Society editors-in-chief about their habits for productive working is useful for anybody wondering how they can enhance their productivity.

I particularly like Professor Rotello from UMass’s extended analogy about owning a house. He uses this to explain how an effective researcher owns their research and is proactive about looking after it.

“It is critical for scientists to see a research project as a whole,” Rotello advises, “and to carefully plan each piece that needs to be done.”

Author: Dr Matt Allinson

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