Some sporadic insights into academia.
Science is Fascinating.
Scientists are slightly peculiar.
Here are the views of one of them.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

His Job, Her Job: Our Kids



Dr John Tregoning (JT) and Dr Charlotte Tregoning (CT) discuss roadblocks and solutions to equality in childcare. 


We have as a couple, tried and sometimes succeeded but most often failed to share parenting fairly. Drawing from our own experience and a very shallow skim read of how to books, here are what we consider to be some of the major problems to equality at home as two working parents and some possible solutions. This is not to say every parent should go back to work; do what is best for your own family, but remember to be honest with yourself about what you really want and include yourself in the “what is best for my family” calculation.

What society wants
Since the introduction of split parental leave in the UK in 2015, only 1% of fathers have taken it (based on 2015/16 figures). Why is this? Societal expectations are the major barrier to equality in childcare (in 2014 – 33% of people thought mums should stay at home compared to essentially 0% who thought dads should stay home: the flipside 73% thought dads should work full time and 28% thought mums should work full time – but only after the kids go to school). Going against the societal norm is tricky and requires reserves of energy, time and self-belief that you are doing the right thing. When the right thing is also difficult and financially unrewarding these reserves can be depleted, eroding your will.
JT: ‘Ooh, hairy knees, we don’t see them often’, thus began, and ended my time as a stay at home Dad. I was at baby-rhyme-time at the local library, failing to sing along to any of the songs. The librarian looked scornfully at me, made passing reference to my aforementioned knees and then ignored me: I in turn never went back. But societal pressures are only part of it. Staying at home with a small child sucks. It is both boring and difficult, with the attendant loss of identity from Dr Tregoning to Jamie’s Daddy. I did one whole week on my own and even with considerable grandparental support that was frankly enough. I was glad when Monday morning came around to be back in my lab.
CT: It took me till my son’s 9th birthday to openly admit my struggle with societal expectations for me, as the mother, to be the main care-giver. I had always given the reason that due to financial pressures I ‘had’ to go back to work. What I can admit now, but couldn’t when I first had children, is that I always wanted to go back to work. It was easier and less guilt inducing to say that I ‘had to’ rather than I ‘chose to’ – even to myself! That it was my choice has not made the endless juggling act easier, and has sometimes made reaching out for help more difficult.

It’s the economy, stupid
The average age in the UK to have children is 29. Often at the point of conception, fathers and mothers are on equal salary and have equal status. But the early 30’s is a time of logarithmic career acceleration; within the timespan of the maternity leave, major promotions, partnerships and pay rises can occur, which can make the childcare vs income maths skewed towards the parent not on leave (most of the time the father). This can be exacerbated by the arrival of a second child, essentially putting the stay at home partner back by 3 or more years (including the time it takes to adjust from work to stay at home back to work again). Taken as a single data point it makes sense if parent A is earning more than parent B, then parent B should stay home. But it needs to be considered over life time earnings.
CT: In her book, Lean in, Cheryl Sandberg describes childcare costs in the same light as university fees, an investment in future earnings rather than being viewed as a one off cost and in the long run women who return to work earn more than those who take longer breaks. We invested in childcare so that when the children were older I still had a career. 9 years and 2 children later, I have not only caught up with my husband financially but have actually overtaken him. You don’t need 15 years of academic and pharmaceutical training to mush up vegetables and then watch the same vegetable mush being thrown across the room. But as a professional the skills, networks and kudos you have spent those years developing are easily lost.
JT: This year, for the first time in our working lives, my salary is less than Charlie’s. People have asked whether it makes me feel emasculated and unempowered. The truth is that it has been liberating. I have colleagues who are the sole bread winner, exponentially increasing the pressure of failure at work. I on the other hand have a fall-back position, if it my job collapses, the mortgage will still be paid and food will still be on the table. This has given me creative freedom, and actually made me more productive.

Bring balance to the force
So what can be done?
1)      Stop maternal gatekeeping. CT: Allow dad to do things his way - let him be in charge and organise the day – even if it distorts the whole schedule that you have spent weeks carefully putting in place. It is frustrating, annoying and I have had to walk out of the room when he has got cross after our 8 month old rejected food that I would not eat myself (pasta with bisto – a classic). Even if it goes against social norms of the mother being the one in charge or child related matters, shared ownership and decision making in childcare empowers both partners to do more childcare. JT: An analogy – I don’t like doing the dishes, getting told I am doing it wrong does not encourage me to do it better next time, it induces the phrase ‘well you *** do it then’. The same applies to childcare, there is basically no right way to look after kids, so if I have to be in charge, it will be my way!
2)      CT: Expose your husband to the ‘fun’ of full time parenting with a baby for a sustained period. Leave the baby with your husband for a week and then he will hopefully really ‘get’ what it is that you do all day! This was a revelation and turning point for our relationship, John did not want to do childcare full time and therefore never expected me to.
3)      JT: We are all selfish. Level the playing field so no one feels they are sacrificing too much. Test yourself against these thought experiments to test how equal your careers are:
  • You are offered a dream role in a new city, but taking it would put your partner out of work…do you take the job?
  • Your commute is ½ hour long, your partner’s is 1½ hour…do you move?
  •  For one intensive month your partner has to work long days to finish a project and you have to do 90% of the childcare with a negative impact on your job…do you take the hit graciously?
So far, so easy? But now shrink the margins – the difference in commute is only 15 minutes, the unbalanced childcare extends to 2, 3, 6 months. Who gives first, whose set point is lower, to whom should it be unbalanced? Like salaries, the snap shot is probably misleading and career balance should be viewed as a career average rather than a single point in time. This does have an implication, if your partner took at least 6 months off as maternity leave, you will probably have to swallow the odd solo bath time! Removing friction can help here, big holidays are nice but using that money to get someone else to clean the house means fewer arguments about the dishes that neither of you want to do after a long day.
4)      Pay dads more! The 2nd six months are expensive. At the moment, the paternal part of shared leave is only covered by statutory pay by most companies. This makes it economically unviable for many families. We should learn from Scandinavian countries; where parental leave is shared in the fullest sense with full pay for a year, to benefit all of society.
5)      Finally, guilt is a wasted emotion. There will always be compromises in the choices you make, and it is not possible to give 100% of your time and ability to being both a mum and a professional. I feel guilty at work for not being at home and guilty at home for not being at work. This is normal and unavoidable but doesn’t help me do either job better. JT: I confess that I too feel guilt (I have pretended to Charlie that I don’t). But it is a worse kind – when I take time off to be with the kids I feel like I should be at work which takes away from the fun of being with them. Turning the phone off helps.

In conclusion, we are in no way saying that having both parents work is best, what we are saying is that for those of us who choose this path, it would be nice if it was a bit easier. We believe there are ways of making it more straightforward with more productive and happier workers and parents. Ideally, there would be less pressure on mums to stay home and not work; but equally importantly there should be more support for dads who want to be involved in raising their own kids.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Publishing Do's and Don'ts

This first appeared on Times Higher Education

Do: Get writing.
Every paper has a home. Sadly papers do not write themselves. If you don’t write it, no one else will. This applies at all stages of your career. The writing process clarifies ideas, identifies gaps and suggests key experiments. You may be doing the best research in the world, but work unpublished is effectively work undone. Knowing when to stop, when that one last experiment is not needed and it’s time to wrap up is critical. Careers falter on lack of publications and there are many roadblocks to getting your work published, don’t let one of those roadblocks be you.
Don’t: Aim for perfection.

Done is better than perfect. Yes the work has to be of a high standard, but no paper will ever hit perfection: aiming for this impossible goal will delay publication. I like to use the unlikely analogy of rifle cleaning. No matter how much you cleaned a rifle, the inspecting officer could always find hidden dirt: however, if you took it 90% clean, though they still found fault, but that fault was fixable. Ditto papers, even if ‘perfect’ the reviewers will always find fault. Better to leave a fixable hole and get published than get scooped aiming for the moon.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Better Metrics

This first appeared on Times Higher Education

So the UK HE sector, has just been evaluated again (the teaching excellence framework: TEF). This brought good news for some and bad news for others. And that is the problem with evaluation, it is divisive – there are winners and losers. This moves academia away from being a collaborative, team-effort with a free flow of ideas between individuals and a pooling of talents to a fight to the death for limited resources. However, regardless of your opinion about the validity of the process, external assessment of higher education is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. This means we need to think about what is being assessed and to shape it so that it builds rather than subdivides.
Whilst the assessors claim it drives up quality, assessment can put undue pressure on the people being assessed. And it changes the focus to the metrics being assessed. We should be in higher education because we love doing it. But, since the sector has moved away from the generation of gentleman scientists performing research on their country estates in their spare time, to be involved in higher education, you need a space to do it, income to support you while you do it and funding to pay for it. And to get these things you need a career. And to get a career you need to tick the boxes.
Call it what you want: gaming the system, focussing resources for maximum effect, metric based performance criteria, we all do things to progress our careers. If you don’t think you do, you are either: in denial, stuck in a scholarly Stockholm syndrome where you think this behaviour is the norm, a Nobel laureate or about to get sacked.
Changing the metrics is the easiest mechanism to deliver change, giving clear guidance and enabling senior staff to support people as they advance. But the new metrics need to be meaningful and critically, understandable to everyone involved. Poorly constructed metrics can lead to the loss of potential by cutting careers off at an early stage, perpetuate gender bias if they are worded in an overly aggressive fashion and can pile on unacceptable levels of stress, especially when used as a tool to manage out rather than support and develop.
The best metrics will align to support and deliver performance, scientific excellence, service and personal development. Easy to say, much harder to deliver. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) is a start, but focuses mainly on research output, without assessing the academic in the round. Here are my suggestions for underpinning principles for new metrics:


  1. Holistic: we need to demonstrate that we are improving and growing, that the work we are doing is of value and that we are making a meaningful contribution to the community, both the greater community and also to the institutions in which we are based. Contributions to these communities – through teaching, service, outreach, mentoring need equal weighting to grant income and papers. Not just as boxes to be ticked, but actual equal weighting.
  2. All informed: both the assessors and the assessed need to understand, accept and stick to the new metrics.
  3. Supportive: It takes time to discover your academic niche – not all of us are great teachers, not everyone can be on TV, only 9 of us a year are going to get Nobel Prizes. There needs to be space to develop our talents and not to be cut off after three years because you failed to get a million pounds in grants and the cover of Cell. 
  4. Simple.


If metrics can deliver academic excellence, personal development, community engagement and the greater good, then we might get the sector that we are all working hard towards.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Lab culture: Part 1. What is lab culture?

What’s the difference between a Lab and E.coli … E. coli has culture.
Lab culture is surprisingly hard to describe, in part because it is so varied.
Lab culture is underpinned in the science. There are clear differences based on the discipline: a group waiting for their solitary slot of the year on the particle accelerator are going to have different priorities to a group conducting field work on the mating habits of the common sparrow. This seems obvious, but there are subtle differences in sub-speciality. Take the approaches to studying influenza virus as an example: a virology group working on viral replication are going to think about the problem differently to an immunology group working on flu vaccines who in turn are going to approach it differently to an epidemiology lab working on transmission dynamics.
There are also differences in the approach to science. Amongst others, there are n=3 is good enough labs and there are labs that need to iron out every wrinkle, even if it means never publishing. There are labs chasing the latest fashions and labs working on an obscure niche of the field. There are ‘translational’ labs working towards to a specific product as that will improve human life and ‘pure’ science labs seeking to discover some greater truth - each convinced their own approach is best. There are pile ‘em high sell ‘em cheap labs producing PhD likes sausages and bespoke hand crafted labs with only a single member. There are great labs to work in that generate nothing and shitty labs to work in that get Nature papers. And of course most labs are a mixture of everything.
But it doesn’t end there, lab culture extends into your social life. In some labs everyone stays at work till midnight but only a subset of those where people are actually working as opposed to messing about on Facebook looking busy till the boss leaves (presenteeism). In some labs everyone goes to the gym and power lifts whilst other labs binge drink. Some labs stop religiously for tea together at 10am and some labs no one talks to each other – simmering in resentment. More than anything else, the culture of a lab will shape your experience in the lab now and potentially going forward into the rest of your career (and possibly personal life: intra-lab weddings being not infrequent).
Since lab culture is key to your happiness and productivity, it is important to identify what works for you and then identify a lab that aligns as closely as possible to this. We would argue this is more important than the material detail of the project. Most scientific skills are transferrable; being miserable for 3 years and then quitting is not. John started in Drosophila lab and now work on human vaccines: Charlie started in a parasite lab (not entirely coincidentally in the same department) and moved through mast cells, asthma, pharma and charity. It is better to walk away from a lab that does not align with what you want than suffer for 3 years. This may be hard to imagine when you have spent an eternity looking for a PhD position: but a bad PhD is considerably worse than no PhD.
Identifying what you want takes some hard soul searching; harder still is finding the soul of a lab before you work there. There are some ways to sniff it out – it helps if you can do a 1+3 type PhD scheme and shop around for a lab, likewise masters or bachelors projects in the same lab or department can help. Some labs will have such a strong reputation (for good or bad) that it will precede them. It also gets easier as your network grows. Do some research, LinkedIn stalk the lab and work out how many people have worked there ever and what they have gone on to do, look at the number of publications and where they go. Failing knowledge you have to ask questions. Try and visit the lab before doing an interview, ask other people working in the lab what it’s like to work there but also snoop a bit in the lab and offices. Are they tidy, dirty, covered in ‘hilarious’ posters, is there evidence of communal food in the office, are there rotas for cake club or other social interactions. Interviews are a two way process, don’t waste questions about the start date, ask questions that probe lab culture. This is a tricky line to take as the questions need to be open without being confrontational and to make you sound employable: how often do you meet with your team is reasonably non-confrontational. Take some time to think about it, balancing the emotional with the rational.

At the end of the day it is always a bit of a punt and you may have to settle for good enough and paid rather than perfect but unemployed. However, once you’ve got your foot in the door there are ways to change things.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Lab Culture part 2: Shaping lab culture

We’ve established that the culture of the lab you work in is going to have a major impact on your life. Having taken the fantastic advice from our previous article, you went and picked a lab with the perfect culture for you and then lived happily ever after. The End, or is it?
Something’s changed.
The direction of the work can change; either driven by new funding opportunities (or lack thereof), or new techniques – with this week’s cutting edge technique becoming next week’s kit. The people doing the work also change; this is accelerated by the current climate where high-throughput, short-term contracts are so common. Changes to a lab’s culture can be positive; a coming together of like-minded individuals, with a common purpose at a similar stage of life. But they can be negative; it only takes one poorly managed psychopath to tear apart the fragile ecosystem of a lab.
I’ve got the power
These fluxes mean that lab culture isn’t set in stone and the power for change is in your hands. But in order to change lab culture you need to understand the different agents that shape it and the degree of leverage they have.
Institutional Change
The most remote agent influencing lab culture is the institute. Institutional influence is asserted through the principal investigators it hires and the expectations it has of them. The institute also influences broader interactions outside of your group through meetings, seminars, away days and social events. These extra-group interactions can be critical when you have hit a wall, both scientifically and socially. Whilst you can shape these wider interactions – departments often have unspent budgets for social events and are looking for an enthusiastic person to organise things – by  and large there isn’t much you as an individual can do to shape the broader policy:unless of course you are head of department!
Power to the people
The second driver is the group itself. People make the lab, they are the ones who go to lunch (and the pub) with you, spill stuff into your bench space, order replacement chemicals (before using the last aliquot), book key pieces of equipment for weeks on end or help you with that out of hours timepoint. Every member of the group can exert a positive or a negative effect on the culture. The degree of influence you have in the group will be a product of seniority, time served and personality type.
The simplest way to have a positive impact is to spend more time together: out of the context of work. This doesn’t have to mean going to the pub, simple social events – a cake rota or a bake-off – anything that gets everyone in one space and talking is beneficial. How you behave in the lab is also important; not being a dick is a good start. Contributing to communal tasks, for example tidying up, collecting parcels or reporting broken equipment, leads to a better lab culture. But think about how you let others know about your contribution. There is no point in being a silent martyr: you are only going to end up resentful. At the same time, don’t weaponise your contribution. Emptying bins then sending passive aggressive emails about full bins leads to a worse culture than not emptying bins in the first place.
Like a boss
The final (and main) driver of lab culture is the principal investigator (PI). Even seemingly unengaged PIs set the lab culture: through the staff members they choose, the bad behaviours they ignore, the field they work in and their approach to that field. Some of the things that can be done as a PI to build a good lab culture include:

  1. Attitude. Spend a small amount of time thinking about what type of lab you want to run. If you are going to run a results-driven sweatshop, at least let it be a conscious decision rather than a default position based on your own postdoc experience.
  2.  Altitude. Running a lab is not dissimilar to being a parent. There’s a balance between being too close (helicopter) or too remote (satellite). Different people need different things at different times. Only by getting to know your group will you know the level at which they work.
  3. Break the bread. Take your group for a drink or an ice cream. Celebrate every win – papers, grants, vivas. When you have time, eat lunch with the group. Have an away day. Invite the group to your house. These small social interactions will help and energise you too. However, remember it helps to have some distance between you and your team: management’s not a popularity contest; you may have to make difficult decisions which can’t be done if you are always trying to be “besties with your crew”.
  4.   Care. Take an interest in your team. Ask deeper questions about their lives outside the lab and actually listen to the answers. Remember what they said they were going to do at the weekend and then follow up on Monday. Even if you are not interested, fake it; 5 minutes of engagement can go a long way.
  5.  Return to the lab. You may have got to the point where the majority of your effort is focussed on writing (papers or grants) and it is more efficient to get the people you employ to do the labwork, to do the labwork. However, not being in the lab, you will miss a substantial part of the group dynamic. Treat yourself to an experiment every now and then, you will get a much better sense of WHAT is and isn’t working and equally WHO is and isn’t working. As a side benefit, people tend to be much chattier when pipetting so you can catch up on the gossip.
  6. Be the best you. Behaviour in your lab reflects you. This is partly because you have recruited people just like yourself (which we all do) and partly because as the figurehead of the lab, you are the main role model. Bitching about colleagues to your group, however tempting, will lead to a culture of bitchiness. Not sweating the small stuff will lead to a more relaxed atmosphere, but it may mean things get overlooked. Losing your rag every time a mistake is made won’t stop mistakes, but will mean people hide mistakes from you.

Whatever your role, the way you act will influence the culture of the lab; and whilst getting the science done is the priority, doing it in a way which is collegiate, supportive and fun makes it less painful for all involved.

This first appeared on digital science

Thursday, 25 May 2017

What actually prevents viral lung infection?

The protection provided by our immune system against infection is multi-layered. Each individual cell has a degree of self-defence where it is able to recognise and kill infectious pathogens, this is called intrinsic immunity. Then there is a rapid response called the innate immune system that recognises infection in general. Finally there is a pathogen specific response tailored to each individual virus subtype called adaptive immunity. In turn the adaptive immunity has several elements to it there is a cellular arm made up of two flavours of T cells (CD4 and CD8) and an antibody arm which is also divided into 5 different subtypes based on the structures of the immunoglobulin molecule produced, these are called IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM. Why they are not called IgA,B,C,D and E is unclear to me, but then again much of immunology nomenclature is opaque (think of the HLA/MHC gene numbering system – or don’t): some might say is deliberately difficult to keep out interlopers from other fields.

HAI

Whilst we know that these different components exist, what produces them and how they work to kill infections, we don’t have a complete picture of the relative contributions each component makes. Thanks to studies performed in the 1970’s in the common cold unit, Porton Down (in the rolling Wiltshire countryside of the UK), we do know that antibodies in the blood protect against influenza infection. In these studies, volunteers were deliberately infected with influenza and the rate of infection compared with antibody levels in the blood. The researchers found that volunteers whose blood scored greater than 40 on a particular test called Haemagglutination inhibition (HAI), which measures the functional activity of antibodies, were significantly less likely to get infected. This benchmark number of 1:40, is now used to assess new vaccines. However, the HAI test only assesses one of the arms of the immune system – IgG. We were interested in the role of other components.

IgA

In order to assess the role of another antibody subtype, IgA, in our recently published study we went back to human challenge studies. Working with a biotech company – Altimmune – volunteers were deliberately infected with influenza. However in this study, individuals were deliberately selected who had a sub-protective HAI titre. This enabled us to look at the role of other components without the masking effect of blood IgG. Having screened the patients to have low levels of functional antibody in the blood, one prediction might be that they should all get infected. However of the 47 volunteers infected, fifteen had no recoverable virus or symptoms of infection. This suggests that there are indeed other factors that can protect against infection. We measured influenza specific antibody and found that volunteers with high levels of flu binding IgA antibody in their nose or their blood produced less virus over the course of the study. This suggests that IgA can also protect against flu.

CD8

However, there were patients with low IgA and low IgG who didn’t get infected, suggesting that there are additional factors contributing to protection. We have data that suggest that CD8 T cells could also be playing a role. CD8 T cells are also called cytotoxic T cells, they work by recognising little bits of virus that are displayed on the surface of infected cells as little flags of infection. Recently it has been shown that there is a special population of T cells that live in the lungs and are primed to recognise and prevent infections. We found high levels of these cells in the lung after a viral infection (Respiratory Syncytial Virus: RSV, which has a very large burden of disease in children). What was really striking was that by transferring these cells alone from one animal that had been exposed to RSV to another animal who hadn’t we could also transfer protection against infection. This means that CD8 T cells are also able to protect against infection, the full study is described in our paper in Mucosal Immunology.

A model: 
So where does this leave us? We think there is a layered defence against infection. IgA, which is mostly found in the upper airway, forms a barrier to the virus getting into cells in the first place. If this barrier is breached, then the IgG prevents the virus from moving from the upper to the lower airway. If the IgG fails to prevent infection of the lungs, CD8 T cells resident in the lungs rapidly kill the infected cells reducing the burden of disease. What this means is that when designing vaccines for these infections, we need to target all three components of the immune response for the best protection.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Time and how to organise it better

Organisation
Time, next to grant funding, is the thing for which most academics would sell their soul. Everything is a PRIORITY that needs doing NOW. This can be overwhelming, especially if you are caring for someone at home who also needs all of your time NOW.
The self-help literature shelves are awash with advice on how to better organise your time. So much so you’d need a whole second life just reading them. Luckily I have read the abstracts, looked at the front covers, chatted to a mate and condensed all this collected knowledge down to 3 easy steps and 5 superpowers.
Time being short, let’s begin:
Step 1, The List. Everyone has a list, be it on scraps of recycled paper or blue roll, lab gloves, google notes or a specially designed pad. The list may only exist in the ether, your head or your PA’s head (if you are lucky enough to have one). But somehow, somewhere, you need to register everything that needs to be done. If you are not even doing this, then you are truly lost. Make a list: write down everything, big or small, home or work, trivial or world changing.
Step 2, The Main Effort. Having written your list, step back and decide what it is you want to achieve. Not only by the end of today, but at the end of the year, in 5 years’ time and if possible over your whole career. Whatever your goal is, from finishing your PhD on time, through getting that paper out and becoming a PI to winning the Nobel Prize, define the activities you need to achieve it and put all your effort into those activities. In military circles, this is called the main effort (or Schwerpunkt): a centre of gravity, where a decisive result is to be achieved.
Step 3, Triage. Inherent in the main effort approach is the need to sacrifice other fronts to achieve the goal. You therefore need to prioritise your work into 4 categories (I use an adaptation of triage).
Red (Immediate): These tasks directly contribute to you achieving the main effort; spend as much time as possible doing them.
Yellow (Delayed): It’s helping, but indirectly; or someone is really screaming at you to get it done.
Green (Minor): It is not on the main effort but needs doing.
Dead: There are some tasks that a) seem urgent but aren’t or b) even if you tick them off the list come back to bite you at the end of the day. Don’t do them!

For example, my goal is to get promoted, to do this I need to publish papers and get grants (my main effort). I split my list into papers, grants, lab and admin (i.e. everything else). Where possible I prioritise doing papers and grants.
So now that you defined your goal and prioritised the tasks that will help you achieve it, you still need to find the time to do them. And this is where my timefighting superpowers come in.
·         Bullet Dodge. Say no. If it doesn’t get you where you need to be, don’t do it. Use this superpower sparingly. Part of being an academic is being a good citizen. If you are a superstar, you can be as selfish as you like, but the rest of us need to keep our jobs in order to achieve our goals and part of keeping your job is saying yes to things you don’t want to do. EO Wilson in his letters advises us to “avoid departmental level-administration…make excuses, dodge, plead, trade”.
·         Hyper-alert. There are parts of the day in which you will do your best work. For me it is in the morning up to lunch (strictly at 12 noon) and after 3 pm. So I schedule deep-thought for those periods and busy work for 1230-3. (If you are in my group and reading this and I have scheduled a meeting for 2…of course I value our time together).
·         Hyperfocus. Time flies when you’re truly engaged in a piece of work. Sometimes you get into a magical state where the ideas crystallise into words on the page. This Zen state of intense focus/ productivity is named as ‘flow’ by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Do everything you can to attain and remain in this state, for as long as possible.
·         Immunity to internet. Having identified your priorities and found your perfect time of the day, don’t let others or yourself come between you and flow. Some tips: divide your time into 45 minute chunks and in those segments, turn off the email, turn off the internet, block social media accounts, hide your phone, have a note pad so if something urgent but not task related comes up you can write it down and move on and focus. If you can’t get away from distractions in your office, work in the library, work from home, put on headphones, get away from that person who always ‘just needs’ to ask you one thing.
·         Let go your over-critical self. Some tasks are never going to be finished to perfection, there are times when you have to accept that 80% and submitted is better than perfect and still on your C drive as the final-final-final.doc. Not everything is achievable in a day; if you have pushed a task as far as it will go, put a mark next to it to remind you more is needed or you are waiting for someone else. One of the best pieces of advice to reduce stress about incomplete tasks is to go home at a sensible time every day and if things are not finished to repeat the mantra ‘I’ll just try harder tomorrow’.

So what are you waiting for? Identify your goal and don’t let anything (including yourself) get in the way!

This first appeared on Digital Science blog, May 2017