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Prioritisation and productivity

Throughout the ebbs and flows of the professional and personal relationship with your postdocs, it is of course important for your and their careers to maintain certain standards. Productivity is an essential aspect of any job, but particularly in projects with a finite end and funding. 

Dr Hannah Roberts, career coach, is an advocate of a big shift in mindset: she teaches moving away from time management, into energy management.

The main idea of energy management is identifying when your energy levels are either at their peak or their lowest points and adapt your working patterns around these. This in turn enables you to increase your productivity. 

Managing other people’s productivity is challenging but there are tools that can support both you and your postdocs in being effective. 

Personal priorities 

“If you don't plan your day, someone else will.”

Dr Hannah Roberts

Prioritisation in academia is often an art, and at times, the numerous competing demands become overwhelming. Practicing, modelling, teaching and sharing prioritisation is an excellent way of maintaining a healthy balance between personal and professional life and to increase productivity, both for yourself and your postdocs.  

One model of prioritisation begins with an audit of performance in, what Hannah Roberts calls, the pillars of the foundation for growth. Ensuring that your performance is at a good standard in all or most of them will allow you to deal with unexpected changes. To carry out such an audit, you should focus on the five pillars below that identify the five most important areas of your life, and score them from 1 to 10: 

  1. Health 
  2. Relationships 
  3. Wealth 
  4. Career 
  5. Professional development 

Similarly, you should encourage your postdocs to audit their pillars and understand in which area they are succeeding or where they need extra help and/or focus.  

Both you and your postdocs should then aim to prioritise tasks to make progress on the identified weak pillars. These tasks should be set on a weekly, monthly, and tri-monthly basis. Setting these tasks allows the individual to work effectively and be productive in their workday, rather than react to other people’s requests or priorities. 

You may wish to have regular check-in points to discuss progress of some or all the pillars, with a particular focus on career and professional development. These check-in points are essential to review what has been achieved, if the intended plan is achievable within the allocated timeframe, and what might be the impediments to progress. 

Personal professional boundaries

Setting and maintaining boundaries is another essential tool that can aid you to focus your energy on specific tasks and people. Practicing this and modelling it, will encourage your postdocs to do the same and keep firm in their priorities and remain productive without overcommitting to please others. 

The first step of setting those boundaries is identifying what matters in your personal and professional life, where and towards whom your energy is worth using. These could be family members, friends, colleagues; activities that enrich your mental and physical health, tasks that develop your career. These will of course change throughout your life and should be periodically re-evaluated.  

The second step is allowing yourself to set the boundaries. Conversations around boundary setting are often difficult and can be perceived as confrontational. Hannah Roberts provides some templates for having such conversations. An example is how to ‘say no gracefully’ in four steps:   

  1. Acknowledge the person. "Thank you for [offering me the opportunity to/fill in your specific scenario]..."   
  2. State the boundary. "But that doesn't work for me right now."  
  3. Consider if the request or behaviour is a deal-breaker. If it is then you need to make it clear by saying, "if this continues, then [state the consequence]." If the behaviour is not a deal-breaker skip this step. 
  4. Collaborate on a way forward. "Now let me see if I can think of anyone else who might be able to help you." 

Next steps

You can hear more from Hannah Roberts on these prioritisation and productivity tools. Watch the following video on Establishing priorities. 

Hear more on Setting boundaries.

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