My CRC has been good to me, over the years. Apart from providing the scholarship that makes my research possible, they also incorporate student training workshops into each year’s conference. I think it’s important to develop a broad range of skills, to avoid graduating and forever being the brunt of jokes about “experts,” who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing at all…
Previous workshops have covered research commercialisation, media and presentation skills, ‘pitching’ business ideas, and managing intellectual property. This year, one of the workshops leads into a speed-dating style networking event when the industry partners arrive on Day 2. Warren sent an email to all the students yesterday, with a few pointers:
Give thought to where you want to be in 5 years, what you need to do to get there and what type of people/skills can help you along the way. Your 5 year vision may or may not have anything to do with your current areas of research: you may desire a total sea change or you may see yourself running a company or climbing the ranks of the academic world. Whatever you choose you will need to gather people around you with the right contacts and skills to help you get there. Your pitch should articulate your vision and also what you need to get there so that other people excited by your vision can see where they might assist, and if you are lucky offer to help you achieve your goals.
It’s a question that I’ve been asked a lot, during the past few months: “What comes next?” It’s not something that I find easy to answer: there are many things I’d like to do, and even more uncertainty over which ones will be available to me.
My goals are quite generic, and don’t require any particular industry or specialisation: I want to use the skills and knowledge that I’ve built over the years, but one of those skills is the ability to learn new things as needed. I want to be challenged. I also need a job where I can balance work and life: I’ve worked around the clock for years, and no longer enjoy it. I’ll work damn hard on a project that drives me, but outside of work I need time to spend with my family.
I woke at 5am today, with the tiniest beginnings of a business concept in my head. Since then I’ve been scribbling down notes and thinking through the questions that will eventually shape a business plan. I enjoy the planning process, and have something that I think will make it through the many hurdles between idea and reality. Importantly, it taps into skills that many of my closest friends share and take for granted, but aren’t actually all that common. Taking skills that people have a passion for and finding ways to apply them in other areas fascinates me. It also helps to find a niche. An important piece of advice that has stuck with me is that a small business doesn’t need to be all things to all people: it should find a niche, and own it. When developing a hobby into a business, it’s important to know where to draw boundaries: My business does X. I also do Y and Z as a hobby, but those are not the focus of my work.
If the concept has legs, it will help me reach those generic goals: more than anything, I love the range of challenges that a small business throws at you. If not, then preparing a rigorous business plan should help identify problems before it’s too late to change direction. Either way, it has an important (if counter-intuitive) secondary function: helping me to get my thesis finished. Starting a new project adds to the workload, but you always work faster when you’re preparing to move into what comes next…
I’m not very good at making lists. Actually, scratch that – I’m great at making them… I just have a terrible habit of making lists that can never be finished. This is a quick post about lists, and what goes into a good one.
1. Make it accessible. There is no use setting goals for your workday if you leave them at home. That productivity app might be awesome, but it is useless if your phone goes flat. Synchronising lists across a bunch of web apps is a great idea, unless you need to rely on a shaky internet connection to read them.
2. Make it achievable. All my failed lists have one thing in common: nebulous, subjective tasks that will never be objectively finished. Sometimes I start with them. Sometimes they hide further down the page. Regardless of where they live, they don’t belong on the list. “Refine chapter X” and “Read more on theory Y” are important, but without a bit more detail they quickly move from being milestones to millstones hanging about your neck. A good list helps you to get things done. It shouldn’t just add another layer of guilt about what you haven’t been able to finish yet.
3. Make it important. Finishing things is a nice feeling, but unimportant stuff doesn’t belong on that list – it obscures the important stuff, and helps you to avoid doing the real work. I’ve started putting the most immediate and important jobs up front, and the important-but-not-urgent stuff further down the list. I tend to enjoy doing the not-urgent stuff a bit more, and often do it first… that’s fine, as long as you keep momentum going to tackle the urgent jobs in time.
I find the Urgent/Important designation very useful, too. If something is in neither category, it shouldn’t be on the list at all. Urgent/Unimportant jobs don’t deserve much of your time or emotional investment: they are things required by others, and don’t have much worth to you. Get them out of the way, and save your energy for the things that matter.
Am I procrastinating other things to write this? Well, yes. It’s the only way I get anything done.
I’m writing about Social Media at the moment; hoping to get a rough chapter draft to my supervisor before my meeting on Wednesday morning. More than anything I’ve ever worked on, this is a minefield. There are legitimate reasons behind wanting to look at forums, read blogs, flick through Facebook updates and trawl through Twitter. In all directions lie time sinks that will happily distract me for months – let alone the next 36 hours.
A few years ago, I wrote about using procrastination as a way of doing important things, instead of focussing on all the stuff you aren’t doing. I later discovered that I was hardly the first person to write about it, as John Perry coined the term Structured Procrastination back in 1995. It’s pretty straightforward, and seems to be working for me so far.
Essentially, I need to have lots of jobs to do. I’m a multi-tasker, and feel completely lost with only a single task to focus on. Fortunately, lots of tasks are easy to find. Among other things, I’m halfway through a PhD; working various jobs as a research assistant, painter and publisher; managing a forum community (with 8,000 members at last count) and trying to make sure two people have enough uncluttered space and food to survive in my house. So, overload successful. What next?
Occasionally, “next” involves collapsing under the weight of all the jobs, and wondering how the hell I’ll manage to survive them. Let’s not focus on those times, though.
On happier days, “next” involves starting work on something important. I’ll sit down and open up a file, briefly re-read what I wrote last, and then get stuck in to it. For about half an hour, or until my mind starts to wander…
Then, I grab for another important thing on the “to do” list, and throw myself at it. It satisfies the channel-surfing part of my procrastinator’s brain (by giving it something different to look at), and still gets things done (by incrementally working on something else that was still important). Rinse and repeat as needed.
By the end of the day, I haven’t spent eight hours on the one project. That’s okay, though, as I don’t believe that kind of mono-focus works for me unless I’m painting. Instead, I’ve managed eight hours of productive work, spread between the important things that needed doing. All the procrastinating time becomes productivity on other tasks, instead of wasted time.
Today, it means that I’ve used my lunchbreak to update this blog after a morning of writing various different chunks of the chapter. I’m about to get stuck into writing again, but next time I change tasks I’ll take advantage of the fact that I’m working from home today, by riding over to the gym to get some exercise. All things I wanted to get through today, but none of them likely to follow an office-hours schedule…