Simple resolutions for 2019

Lyn Lavery

I love the start of a new year – a chance to set fresh goals, and thanks to the holiday period, a bit of extra time to make progress on any new resolutions made. However, as we all know, new year resolutions don’t always work out the way we intended, usually because we are too ambitious when setting them. I’m a huge fan of keeping resolutions as simple as possible, so here are five resolutions to consider implementing now that the work year is underway.

1. File the pile

How much time did you waste last year looking for misplaced files? Whether you’re working with electronic or paper files, we’re all guilty of letting our filing system get out of hand – there’s a good reason that The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up was a bestseller! If you’re desperately trying to find more time in your busy schedule, why not start the year by having a bit of a clear out?

Put 15 minutes aside each day for the next fortnight to organise your files, and ensure you have the recycling bin and shredder nearby to destroy any files that you no longer require (you’ll be surprised how many of these you have!). Be hard on yourself when you come across files that fall into the “I might need this one day” category – they’re usually just clutter. If you’re really unsure about throwing a paper file away, remember that you can scan it before disposing of it, and then store it in an application such as Evernote – this has the added advantage that you can search for a file if it’s needed again.

2. Eat a frog each morning

I’m not suggesting a diet-related resolution here – eating frogs is actually a useful time management technique. If you’ve ever had the experience of sitting down to check your email first thing in the morning, only to realise three hours later that the most productive time of your day has disappeared, then make frog eating part of your daily routine.

The idea comes from Mark Twain – he suggested that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you’ll know that’s the worst thing that will happen to you all day. The popular time management book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracey suggests that your “frog” is your biggest and most important task. For many of us, this is the task that we are most likely to procrastinate over. It’s also potentially the task that could make the biggest difference to productivity or propel you towards completion of a larger goal.

Brain Tracey’s book has some excellent tips for frog eating (e.g. if you have to eat a live frog, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long). For researchers, I have a couple of my own tips:

  • Don’t eat a frog that’s too large – tasks (and frogs) are easier to achieve when they’re bite-sized. ‘Work on my PhD’ is too large and not specific enough, but reading that journal article that you’ve been procrastinating over is achievable in one sitting.
  • Reward yourself for eating your frog – here at Academic Consulting we keep Freddos (i.e. chocolate frogs) on hand for when we finish a particularly difficult task.
3. Learn something new

Chances are there’s a more efficient technique for achieving some of your day-to-day research tasks. The problem with this is that we often “don’t know what we don’t know”, so it’s difficult to identify where improvements can be made or how to go about them. A good starting point is to think about the everyday tasks that you perform and choose something you think you could improve. Do you spend hours struggling with document formatting, are you still using manual methods for citing your research literature, or do you find coding in NVivo time-consuming because you’re not confident using it? Once you’ve identified an area for improvement, put some time aside for self-study or book some training to upskill – you might find some useful courses listed on the Academic Consulting training schedule.

4. Move

As researchers we spend a significant amount of time sitting down, despite an increasing amount of research outlining the negative effects of this on our health, posture and concentration. If a standing desk isn’t in your budget, make a resolution to move more during the day. This could involve setting a timer to remind you to get up from your desk (you could pair this with the Pomodoro Technique for time management), standing up when you’re taking a phone call, walking the long way to the restrooms, or even standing up and sitting down each time an email arrives (perhaps not so ideal for those with high volume email accounts!). Not only will your body thank you for it, but you’ll notice a boost in your concentration power and productivity.

5. It’s not all about change…

It’s easy to get swept away by the idea of making changes at the start of a new year, but surely last year wasn’t all bad? Take the time to review last year and decide on something you did well in relation to your time/stress management, productivity, or health. Now, resolve to keep doing it this year – nice and simple!