Julio E. Peironcely is a PhD student in Metabolomics and Chemoinformatics at Leiden University, The Netherlands. In his free time he writes for his site juliopeironcely.com about his research, academic life, social media, and lifestyle design. You can follow him on twitter @peyron.
This is the first part of two that reviews 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book that provides advice relevant to PhD students and post-docs.
I have lost a lot of time during my PhD. On the one hand I waste time as everybody does; on the other hand, I waste time searching for the best tool to organize my time.
Initially I thought that I was not using the right tools to manage my projects, tasks, and time. Therefore, I tried all sorts of analog and digital tools, like a Moleskine, the GTD methodology, the pomodoro technique, , Remember The Milk, Google Tasks, Evernote … you name it.So much wasted time searching for the tools, implementing them in my workflow, and testing them. Can you imagine all I could have achieved if I had instead just, well, worked?
But something did not feel right. Once the new system was implemented I would not stick to it, by not creating the habit of using the tool and using it effectively. I would move on the next tool and start all over again.
I had to change myself.
I came to realize there was something deeper that needed to be changed, something within me. But all those time management books were talking about externalities that after hard experimentation were far from my control. This was when the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People came my way. This book goes further than time management. It is about defining who you are and who you want to be. It presents the tools you need to define the rules you want your life to be based on. Although it is not aimed at PhD students and academics, it should be included in the Top 42 Books For PhD and Graduate Students.
I found out that these 7 general principles, outlined in these two posts could help me to be more effective during my PhD and in any writing projects I undertake.
Independence or Self-Mastery
Before you can affect situations or change people, you should start changing yourself. The goal is to base your self-image on what you do and not on what others might think of you. This is what the author calls going from dependence to independence.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Of all the things that occur daily, some affect you. They form the Circle of Concern. Within them, there is a smaller set about which you can do something, this is your Circle of Influence.
If you spend time focusing on what occurs outside your Circle of Influence, you are being ineffective and reactive.
Being proactive means focusing on what lies inside your Circle of Influence. As a consequence, you gain a sense of control and you expand your Circle of Influence to areas that were outside your reach previously.
For PhD students and academics: Do you think you and your colleagues don’t read enough papers? Start reading a paper a day and soon after organize a journal club, even if it is with only one buddy. If you stick to it, you will see that others will follow.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
So now you are focusing on your Circle of Influence. How do you stick to it? You would continue doing it if you feel that you don’t have to but you want to. It will help if those actions form part of a mission that you decided to start.
You need to discover your personal values under which you want to operate. Write them down in the form of a mission statement, where you define also your long-term goals. When faced with a decision ask yourself “Is it in accordance with my core values and does it to get me closer to my ultimate goals?”
For PhD students and academics: When you die, how do you want others to remember you as a scientist? Those definitions will form your mission statement as a PhD student and academic. Write them down, they will come in handy later on. It could say something like: “I want to be remembered as a PhD student who finished on time and who wanted to improve society by doing research in an ethical way. As a colleague that enabled his students and peers to do better science…”.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Depending on urgency and importance, tasks can be categorized in 4 groups: non-urgent non-important, urgent non-important, non-urgent important, and urgent important. On which should you focus? Sure? Think twice.
You should focus on important things that are not urgent. One might think that urgent and important should be the chosen combination, but this combination brings stress.
You should plan your weekly agenda so you allocate enough time for important non-urgent tasks, since these will get you closer to your long-term goals.
For PhD students and academics: Preparing a new poster for a meeting next week might be urgent, but not important if the meeting is not relevant to your core values (ahem, you anticipate it is a useless meeting and you go because it is mandatory, ahem). Therefore, present an old poster and spend the time reading those papers that will help you understand your field and do better science.
Allocate time every week to supervise your students or if they do not ask for the meeting, brainstorm new ideas for their projects.
Part 2 will follow next week.watch this space