Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

How I work (what, me?)

dance_vramak_CCBY20

So there’s a Lifehacker thing going the rounds where “productivity heroes” share their habits and in turn invite others to do so. I don’t know where I stand on the productivity scale, but I do know I’m one of the most disorganised researchers I’ve personally ever come across. This is great for teaching – it means I can be a sort of living Awful Warning to my research skills students – but whether it makes me a good candidate for productivity hero is definitely questionable.

But how could I resist Andy Priestner’s invitation – nay, command?

So here we go …

Location: Cambridge University Library

Current gig: Research Skills and Development Librarian

Current mobile device: elderly iPad (no camera!)

Current computer: Toshiba laptop with a missing plus key. (It got stuck on endless repeat and I eventually got fed up, prised it out of the keyboard and chucked it across the room.)

One word that best describes how you work: Chaotically.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?: Spider Solitaire. In times of stress I play it obsessively.

What’s your workspace like? I should do some shredding. And some filing. And some general desk entropy measures. I’m sure I had a chair once.

What’s your best time-saving trick?: I have no time-saving tricks at all. I drafted a ton of self-deprecating reasons as to why not before I realised that this is not an embarrassing omission or a character flaw: it’s a deliberate policy. I don’t want to save time. I want to spend it – wisely, profitably, joyously, frivolously. I want to seize opportunities, take on new projects, meet and create ideas with people, walk all 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I could save time easily by doing none of these things. But what would I do instead?

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?: The stash of scrap paper that I cut down to A5 and hold together with a bulldog clip.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? My Moleskine 18-month weekly notebook diary.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?: Well, I’m pretty shit-hot at Spider Solitaire.

What are you currently reading?

  • The Oxford Book of English Poetry
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh
  • The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy – Malone Dies – The Unnamable (that’s been ongoing for a while now)
  • Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn (with rising irritation)

I guess another time-saving strategy (see above) could be just reading one book at a time, but why would I want to do that?

What do you listen to while you work?: The general conversation in our open plan office – by turns funny, informative, supportive and just plain bonkers. It’s the best office environment I’ve ever worked in.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?: A very highly-functioning closet introvert.

What’s your sleep routine like?: Erratic.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see Helen Webster answer these same questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?: “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”(Full disclosure: Thich Nhat Hanh didn’t actually say this to me personally.)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?: Metaphors around ‘being productive’ are often based on motion: spinning all the plates, juggling all the things, dashing around getting things done. In contrast, every research skills session I give is based on stopping and being still for a little while. They’re an invitation to pause and take stock, to look unjudgementally at how you do what you do.  Paradoxically, the best way to be productive as a researcher may be to periodically stop doing and allow yourself to reflect on where you are:

“Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

(T.S. Eliot)

 

Image by Rama V, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0
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Research Skills: a five-year retrospect

Image by Luz Adriana Villa, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

It’s Annual Report time again and my savvy colleague Alex suggested: “You’ve been in post five years. Why not make this a five-year report?”

So alongside the figures for this year’s Research Skills Programme, I’ve put together an overview of how the programme has changed in ethos and direction over the last half-decade in response to changes in the wider HE landscape.

It made me a bit sad that the feedback I got on my teaching didn’t make the final cut for the divisional report, which is another reason I wanted to put this document out here * shameless self-promotion klaxon *. But I also think that the work my colleagues have put in to the tour leaders’ Peer Training and Support scheme deserves more attention. This is what I wrote in the report:

The scheme requires commitment on both sides. It is not merely about passing on wisdom in a one-way relationship, but about dialogue and sharing of experience between the partners …. Participants on the scheme have to date responded with zest and enthusiasm, willingly making time for their own and their colleagues’ professional development in an outstandingly positive way.

That bit didn’t make the divisional report final cut either, so I want to shout about it here instead!

 

Image by Luz Adriana Villa, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0