Updated: Jul 21, 2020
You see... it’s the simple things that no one seems to talk about in academia. More specifically, the simple tips about how to do the job well. Perhaps we are all just too busy soldiering on with our projects and just getting on with it? But I sense that there is an appetite for greater collegiality and to be more open to sharing how we become more effective. On that note, one challenge I have faced recently is managing multiple research projects which until recently seemed like a dark and mysterious art. So, I begin this post with a polite pardon - a pardon for asking the stupid questions (someone has to). While I do appreciate these points in today's post may be rudimentary for some, I’ll bet for the rest of us, myself included, the guidance is both welcome and much needed. You see, I’m trying to find this out for myself as much as for my fellow colleagues. So, how do you manage your academic research pipeline? Well, I have put together a blog post on juggling multiple research projects and how to ensure you complete and finish effectively - based on my research here is what I have uncovered so far...
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A Bird's Eye View
Hold it right there! Rather than diving straight into your next research project take a step back for a second and ask yourself how is your academic productivity going overall? If you have a lot on your plate perhaps now is a good time to get all of those tasks out of your head and get a sense of what you need to do for the next few weeks not just for research. I’ve written some posts on prioritisation and organisation which you might want to check out here, Another way in which to do this ... if you fancy a dabble... is to create a Trello Board. Here's one I prepared earlier which is specifically for academics and is free to access here. Using tools such as Trello you can get every single to-do out of your head and in front of you. Think of it as a smorgasbord for your working life where you can move priorities around and schedule items as needed. The bottom line here is it’s about prioritising your time and attention so when you get round to research you have a fighting chance with at least one let alone multiple research projects.
There are a whole host of other tools and techniques out there to each help us prioritise such as the Getting Things Done (GTD) method (suggested by Santanu) by David Allen via Amazon Books. There's also his Linkedin learning course. An oldie but a goodie - the Eisenhower Matrix here. I am also a big advocate for wellbeing so again before you do any of this carving out a little time for exercise is important - your research time, energy and attention will thank you for it.
Creating Research Pipeline of Multiple Projects
I always wonder how those academic super-publishers do it… you know who I mean... your colleague down the corridor with 10 high quality published manuscripts in a year without even breaking a sweat. From what I gather when speaking with more seasoned academics is that you need to be proactive in managing your research pipeline. Having lots of different academic research projects (e.g. books, journal papers etc) is key. For some that could be 5-8 projects or as many or 12 for others it’s just 3 or 4. Ideally, you want to have these each at different stages of development - that way you are not turning up the heat on all of your research work all at the same time. It also means you are spreading your bets in case one paper or co-author falls flat which is a reality after all. A mix of projects also works well - so having some that you are lead author while being a co-author on others can help so you can contribute in the right capacity to each.
Research Project Tracking
Many colleagues I have engaged with online also spoke of the merits of having a dedicated whiteboard with all their research projects listed on it. For those of us that work in different locations more regularly (me included) I find an excel spreadsheet could solve this challenge. Within the whiteboard or excel template, you can keep track of the status of any given research project and add important task completion dates and submission deadlines against projects. You can also be a bit more comfortable to saying no as other tasks come in - because the reasons are staring back at you. Another tip helpfully suggested by Becca was to note down an asterisk next to any project items that you are holding up so that you prioritise them going forward.
Dr Becca Krukowski's Research Pipeline Whiteboard
Dr Sam's Excel Research Pipeline 'Whiteboard' - if you would like a copy DM me.
Making Progress & Maintaining Your Attention
From some of the books I have read on academic writing the overarching theme discussed is trying to write a little bit each day whether it's 15 minutes or 5 hours - its about making incremental progress. I know first-hand as a former part-time PhD student that this strategy is a good one - it takes the pressure off and gives you a sense that you're heading in the right direction. Another tip I have found is to try and make sure at the start of each day you do something for you. So that could be prioritising that research paper for the first 30 minutes of your day. That way you have done something for yourself before the challenges of work time kick in. The Pomodoro technique is another great way to work around juggling multiple projects. Where you can work in short but accountable bursts of time.
“Incremental progress made on multiple manuscripts can start to feel like no progress made on anything. A tracking system helps you analyze where to focus your efforts and gives you a reason to celebrate when a manuscript moves from one category to the next. A common bit of wisdom I’ve heard shared among academics is the 2-2-2 rule: Always have two manuscripts in preparation, two under review, and two in press. While that captures the need to have manuscripts in various stages at all times, there are many more categories than those three.” Erin Furtak
Creating a degree of separation between and among research projects is important for maintaining attention and making progress. That could be by working on research on different devices as Sandi suggests here. Another trick I have found is to shut down all of your other windows on your computer so you only have that project open to mentally switch off from other distractions. Yes, that means email. There are apps out there to help you with this but I always find a workaround these so they are yet to work for me. Other ways of maintaining attention are being able to identify a lead research project from your pipeline (one that you want to focus on the most) and having a few other research projects as backburner tasks. So you still make progress on all of them but you can get rapid traction with at least one.
Ok, so now you are up and running with your many projects but we need to get them across the finish line. If an article doesn’t quite cut the mustard with one journal don’t let go of it - revise it for another journal or keep it safe - trust me, you will use it again one day in some shape or form. As soon as that article is finished, however, it doesn’t mean that is the end of it. You need to take it to the next stage and I talk about this a lot more in my discussions on personal branding. Show and share! Have you shared it across your media channels e.g. Twitter, your website or institutional page for example? Have you added that paper it to your email signature? Have you added it to relevant reading lists, updated your CV/LinkedIn? These tasks are so important and allow you to optimise the most from each publication you complete. Another point to consider is making sure you have a list that documents what you have completed as Santanu suggests - or get another whiteboard so you can see the progress you have made. You need to take time to stop and look at how far you have come.
I’m open to more points of view on this - so if you have a view or an opinion on the post please share it @drsamlynch and I’ll update the post to reflect any of these new insights. If it makes our life easier then why not? Thank you to everyone on Twitter who helped in contributing to my research for the blog the post with their words of wisdom and savvy ways of working. You can read the Twitter chat here with everyone’s contributions: https://twitter.com/drsamlynch/status/1284090644688928773
Feeling productive yet? Here are some more resources to peruse:
Managing Your Research Pipeline by Raul Pacheco http://www.raulpacheco.org/2019/12/project-management-for-academics-i-managing-a-research-pipeline/
Managing Your Research Pipeline by Matthew Lebo . https://docs.google.com/a/stonybrook.edu/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=c3Rvbnlicm9vay5lZHV8bWF0dGhldy1sZWJvfGd4OjRjNDMyMDViYTBhNjVlYTU
Erin Furtak on My Writing Productivity Pipeline https://www.chronicle.com/article/My-Writing-Productivity/236712
Research Publication Planner (via the University of Bristol) http://www.bris.ac.uk/media-library/sites/staffdevelopment/documents/rs-hub/research-publications-planner.pdf
Checklist for Disseminating Your Research - Durham https://www.dur.ac.uk/library/research/disseminate/checklist/
Magdalena Bak-Maier - Get Productive https://twitter.com/maketimecountuk/status/1284457248442515456
Until next time...
Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in consumer decision-making and omnichannel fashion retail. You can find out more by visiting the drsamlynch.co.uk homepage, reach out via twitter @drsamlynch or use the email address above.