Friday, September 23, 2011

Research Power Hour

When faculty life is insane (the ENTIRE month of September for most of us), our research agenda can begin to fall behind. It happens. We simply have to grade certain items, or we get pulled into committee meetings now that a new semester is under way, then we find ourselves presenting at conferences (or planning them)...the end result is the same. We are left struggling to get that "research" time. Research time, for me, cannot be a few moments grabbed in between meetings. I truly need time to sink into my research, to wallow into it, to have the literature or data wrapped around me. I can't just stick a toe into Lake Research and find progress has been made. I have go all in. I have to jump. I have to swim.

I need at least an hour of uninterrupted time to make productive advances with my research. Those hours are really hard to find as I near tenure review time. This scares me since, at this point in my career, I need to be the most productive.  So, I came up with dedicated time frames for research. And, though I protected them valiantly, I am a mere non-tenured faculty person and there are many things outside of my control (such as meetings called by those who far outrank me). I watched as my research time became less and less prioritized. This had to end!

Enter the Research Power-Hour. Okay, so I made up a cheesy name--but it does reflect the reality of what I now do. I look at my trusty iPad calendar EACH morning and wiggle in at least an hour of time every day. Then, while at the office, I click on my timer app (used for speech classes but handy in the office and kitchen). I have a pre-set time frame, aptly titled "research power hour" and hit start. The first two minutes has me silencing the phone, closing all email account notifications, and posting a note on the shared office door (in a really obnoxious red) saying "do not disturb." And then I put my head down and work.

Often, I am moving along so well that the hour ends and I can hit reset and do another hour (since I'm not distracted by emails and phone), but I do have days where I have to rush right to class, meetings, or open the door and communication channels for office hours. It may not seem like a lot of time, but since implementing my daily calendar reviews and the power hour of research I am able to keep my head above water despite the complete insanity of the year leading up to tenure consideration.

There are some folks who can do this by blocking time at home, but with my teaching schedule I can't get home in between classes and I have so many committee meetings that it is ridiculous. This little solution has helped me continue projects that would otherwise sit for months or end up using every bit of the weekend to try and push a project forward. And, the power hour technique helps me to avoid that guilt.

We know the feeling. That back-of-the-mind-I-should-be-working-on-some-research-right-now-but-somehow-have-to-do-eight-other-things feeling. That has been the best part of the research power hours for me. I find that I don't panic all day and all night about what I'm not doing or how unfair it is that my research time was stolen by Dr. MoreImportantThanMe scheduling a last minute meeting right in my desired time frame. Instead, I can quiet that voice and trust that each day I will make some progress.

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