Happy and productive 2020!

Happy New Year and welcome back.  Or just welcome, if you’re starting your research programme this month.

2020 balloons

It’s traditional at this time of year to make (and perhaps break!) a few resolutions.  The media is full of articles about diet and exercise, but what about resolving to make lasting improvements in your research processes?  It’s easy to say “I will do more” or “I will do better” but what exactly does that look like in practice and how can you make it stick?

One of the keys to successful resolutions is knowing why you want to make a change and exactly what you’re going to do.   Being clear on why will help motivate you when it seems difficult and guide your measures of success.  So if you resolve to “write often” to increase the fluency of your academic writing, you know that you need to be practicing your academic writing frequently but it matters less how many words you produce.  If you are writing often because your thesis deadline is approaching, then creating substantial drafts becomes more important.

Speaking of knowing what you want to do and what your measures of success are, it’s a good idea to set SMART goals for your resolutions.  Or at least to be specific about what you’re planning and to think about how you will measure your progress.  Rather than saying you will “procrastinate less”, think about how you will actually achieve this in practice and set a SMART goal for this: “I will use the Pomodoro Technique to do at least 2 hours of focussed work every week day”.  Start small.  Once you have fully embedded small changes in your research practice, it’s easier to ramp this up.  If you set your goals too high, you increase the chances that you will give up before your new practice is embedded.

Don’t forget to track your progress.  This can be a very simple tracker such as a tick on a calendar for days you achieved your goal.  This provides a quick, visual reminder of how well you’re doing.  If you’ve resolved to do something every day, then this will provide additional motivation – don’t break the chain.  It will also help you identify if your resolution isn’t working for you, so you can start to reflect on why it’s not working and change your strategy to something that will work (resolutions are just as effective, even when they’re not set down on 1 Jan!).  Don’t punish yourself or give up immediately if it doesn’t stick right away.  It can take time to solve a tricky challenge.

Finally, remember the power of of a good support system.  Share your goals with your colleagues or social network and let them help you achieve them.

What are your resolutions for 2020?  How will you achieve them?  What have you found most helpful in getting good research habits to stick?

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