By Brenda Hanning, Deputy Director, Liaison & Training, Office of the Scientific Director
The Office of Education will list NICHD training and career activities with dates in the Subject line of an email, so you know what professional development workshops are coming up. Take advantage of these sessions to grow! Finding a time every day to see what lectures and talks are happening, what needs to be done at the bench, can help you to plan. But be sure to look for messages from your supervisor or mentor first, you want to be a responsive trainee or employee.
With the start of a new year comes what we call “resolutions,” when we all make plans and set goals for the next 12 months. Most often, it’s a pledge to exercise more, especially after eating sweets over the holiday season. Or, it could be this is the year I look for a permanent job. Or write up my research results. Whatever January inspires in us, thinking seriously about our approaches to time in the lab or in the workplace can help to make the most of those evaporating minutes. I’ve heard people say, “Where did the last year go?” Here are a few thoughts to consider for 2016.
A good place to begin is with an assessment of when you are most productive. Ideally for a trainee that time will align with your mentor’s schedule. If you achieve the most after 10 p.m., chances are you aren’t in the laboratory and there is no one to consult when a question arises. For writing, or the occasional lengthy experiment, those nocturnal hours might be good, but not for day-to-day learning and contributing to the research of your group. Work to align your schedule with the key members of your lab. And use your least productive time of day to do your laundry or catch up with friends.
Next, I suggest identifying the biggest time wasters in your life. Are you addicted to YouTube? Do you keep your phone by your side at all times, in case a friend texts you? Maybe it’s best to set aside the distractions until a different point in the day—when you are home, when you are ready to relax. Cumulatively, the minutes that divert your attention from your work can really add up.
Now some people mention email as one of the big drains on our time. Our In Boxes at NIH are always full, it’s true. The more mail you keep, the harder it can be to sort and to find the items that genuinely are important to you. Go ahead and delete! Many of us are careful to put important information in the Subject line.
Planning is a perfect antidote to vanishing time. We don’t all have to be compulsive list makers, but having a system is critical. What tools do you use? It could be a planner, a task manager in Outlook mail, or “To Do” in Google. Talk with your PI when you are developing experiments to test your research hypothesis; the time you spend brain-storming, up front, or surveying the literature, could save you many long hours at the bench that might lead to a dead end.
Ultimately, communication is the key tool at our disposal. Ask yourself: What is due today? Can I postpone something until tomorrow or next week? Are my plans for the day realistic? Whose help do I need? And then reach out to that person, so you can work together.
A final word. When December 2016 comes around, wouldn’t it be great to say you accomplished many of your goals? That you have many check marks in the “done” column on your list or on your Individual Development Plan for the future? So, before January becomes February, pause. Think about yourself and where you want to be 11 months from now. Shed the distractions and embrace all that is possible as a new year begins.