What's your highlight?


Lyn Lavery

The thesis process is often referred to as an “emotional rollercoaster” – when things are going well you feel good about your thesis and yourself. Unfortunately the reverse also holds – when things don’t go to plan you inevitably start to think negatively. There are also stages of the process that can be a little dull – often this is important work that needs to be done, but it’s either menial in nature or is the type of task that we don’t particularly enjoy. These types of tasks don’t quite trigger the same excitement you had when you initially decided to enrol in your thesis!

One of my favourite books is Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Each Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. One of the ideas in their book is ensuring you have a “highlight” for each day, and I think this would be an excellent strategy for coping with some of the ups and downs of the thesis process.

A highlight is something that you want to prioritise or protect in your day. The idea is that when you look back at the end of the day and ask yourself what your highlight was, you should always have an answer. What I particularly like about the concept of a highlight is that it sits between the immediate tasks you need to do and your long-term goals. The authors sum this up by stating:

We believe that focusing on these in-between activities—in the space between goals and tasks—is the key to slowing down, bringing satisfaction to your daily life, and helping you make time. Long-term goals are useful for orienting you in the right direction but make it hard to enjoy the time spent working along the way. And tasks are necessary to get things done, but without a focal point, they fly by in a forgettable haze.If intelligent people can’t understand data, something’s wrong with the way the data is being shown to them.

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

When choosing a highlight for each day, keep the following in mind:

  • It should be something that will take between 60 and 90 minutes.
  • Ideally it will move you towards a long-term goal, but it’s fine to have occasional highlights in your week that aren’t goal related.
  • Highlights can be work-related or personal in nature.
  • When choosing a highlight, you might select one based on urgency, task satisfaction, or enjoyment.
  • Sometimes highlights will be activities that are already scheduled in your calendar – if they aren’t, make sure you schedule them in, or they might not happen.
  • Your highlight should be something that will set you up to feel good about the day ahead.

I like to have a mix of different types of highlights during the week – last week my highlights included facilitating a Shut Up & Write session for our Research Accelerator membership, doing one of my favourite yoga classes, catching up with a couple of good friends on Zoom, and writing this blog post. You can see from this that I had a mix of personal and work highlights, some were urgent while others weren’t, and some were chosen for their enjoyment.

If you’re struggling with productivity or have lost your research mojo, join me for our annual virtual event, Research Accelerator 2021. In the meantime, try choosing a highlight each day for the coming week and assess how well it works for you. Happy highlighting!