A couple of things have prompted today’s post. One was a session I ran yesterday for our School of Health in Social Sciences on building a research vision. Unsurprisingly, as part of the workshop we talked about where the time to do this would come from so the talk turned to time management.
I have a “ten tips” approach to time management based on conversations and workshop discussions, but the last tip has been particualrly resonating with me of late. This is to do things well enough (but no better). Of course there are things in academic life that we have to do PERFECTLY but sometimes that drive for perfection slows us down and even paralyses us. Most of the time getting something 80% good enough (by our own high standards) is enough for most people, most of the time.
Since starting at the University three months ago I’ve been trying to stick to this principle. I get my ideas into a coherent form, check that they make sense but then get them off for feedback and comment. I know the fine tuning and perfecting of these ideas will come during the process of implementing them, but at the moment the important thing is to get them moving.
I’m currently working my way through the 23things initiative and the Digital Footprint MOOC which have both given me lots to think about regarding my online presence and interactions. I seem to have spent a lot of time so far apologising the course leaders about not being on top of the work and they are being great. “Do what you can, when you can” is the vibe of both courses. (It’s also made me realise that I need to start tagging my blogs – a job for next week…) Rather than waiting until I had time to focus on these programmes, I decided to start knowing that I wouldn’t be a perfect student. I’m learning lots and I’m making progress. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
It’s the same with grant proposals – don’t hold onto that first draft for too long. Your ideas will be well enough formed for partners and collaborators to get the gist and to start thinking about their role and reactions. That draft of a paper can probably go to a critical friend now – perhaps with an apology for any rougher moments but the interaction with someone else could be the best way of getting things to crystallise in your head.
Take a look at your own to-do list – is there anything on it that you’ve got to “good enough” and can move on?
The other moment of inspiration came from an article
by Professor Polly Arnold, a University colleague in our School of Chemistry. Writing on a very different topic – the haemorrhaging of female talent from the sciences – she repeated a familiar statistic about the different levels of confidence that men and women have when applying for jobs. Women tend to demonstrate 120% of the skills/experience needed, whereas men apply when they are 80% ready. There’s that 80% again.
I’m not sure if the time management issues we were discussing yesterday had a gendered element to them. I’m not sure if the fact that time management problems which stem from solving other people’s problems, taking on the lion’s share of pastoral roles for students or over-committing are gendered. I have my suspicions but as this is an 80% blog I’m not going to spend two hours looking for evidence – I’ll just say that I’m not sure.
Try to embrace the 80% today in everything except your wellbeing which does require perfection. (I type this on a day off and although I haven’t quite managed to switch off 100% I’m going to try and manage 90% – consider me a work in progress…)