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Settling In: The Researcher's Guide to Your University

Topic 4.1 Priority management

There is never enough time to do all the things we wish to achieve. This is especially so for those in research roles, where the daily routines of conducting research and integrating other work elements can often come in conflict with the long-term priorities of building a research profile, seeking grants, and publishing. Time management is not simply a matter of scheduling the necessary time to get tasks done. It is also linked to the development of clear priorities and goals. This section therefore examines the need to have clear priorities which assist in guiding the work to be undertaken. It will also explore how you can focus on what is really important to ensure you achieve the optimal outcomes possible. Effective time management does not operate in a vacuum. It is framed by the priorities and goals that determine which activities and tasks should be undertaken or minimised. If we do not have a strong understanding of what is important it becomes very hard to determine which activities should be emphasised. And in that situation, it is likely that whatever comes onto the desk will be given the highest priority. That can result in you being regarded as a very good worker who always responds promptly, but it can be very detrimental to your overall career and personal needs, which require more careful management of the long-term goals as well as the short-term demands.

Optional activity

Before we explore your career aspirations, it is important to consider how you wish to work. Each of us has different needs that must be met. If you are a parent, you may have to balance your research and other professional work with child-rearing duties. Elderly parents, personal pastimes, or health needs may also be factors you must take into account. Your philosophy of life can strongly influence your goals and priorities. Do you wish to only work a certain number of hours a day? Are you focused on high performance and high productivity to build your profile? Are you keen to keep a balance between your professional work, personal life, health, and social activities? What is your life philosophy? What are the most important things you value? If you had freedom to work only on the things you wish to do, what would they be? What types of roles give you satisfaction and enjoyment? What are the key things you wish to achieve from your life? Jot down some thoughts on the Priority Management worksheet, which you can download from either of the links below. This worksheet contains the items listed on this webpage that invite your responses.

Priority Management Worksheet (MS Word file)
Priority Management Worksheet (same file in rtf format)

My life philosophy is: ……………………………………………………..

 

As you set out your life philosophy you may have been struck by the disparity between your ideal view and the reality in which you currently reside. A major challenge for those in academic roles is to balance the competing demands of family, personal needs, and career ambitions and demands. The capacity to do so is, however, most critical to our long-term sustainability as researchers. This topic will offer you some perspectives on recognising and addressing your needs in a more sustainable manner to encourage long-term wellbeing as a researcher and an individual. The first step in managing your work role is to ask what do you want from your research career? Where do you hope to be in 2 or 5 years? Enter your thoughts on the worksheet:

In 2 years time I will be ……………………………………………………………….

 

 

 

In 5 years time I will be ……………………………………………………………….

 

 

 

These statements help to establish what is important to you. Using these two perspectives, it becomes possible to identify where your research and work focus should be. It could be that you need to focus on more rather than less things. This makes prioritising even more critical as you need to clarify what areas should be allocated time and what should be very critically re-evaluated. Professional reflection and review is an important strategy in both research and professional practice. It enables us to examine our various research activities from a more comprehensive view and to explore what needs to be done to move us toward our next goals. As a researcher, you will have a range of priorities to manage at any one time. Table 4.1 depicts some possible priority areas. As you explore these, consider where your focus is currently directed. Is this a well-balanced focus? Will it achieve the goals you noted earlier?

Table 4.1: Research priorities and typical tasks

Priority areas

Typical activities

Priority focus

Ongoing research activities /
project management

Research project tasks and management, e.g.

  • Emails
  • Research experiments
  • Record keeping / reporting
  • Financial management
  • Supervision of research staff
  • Data analysis
  • Discussions with colleagues
  • Archive management
  • Postgraduate supervision
  • Team meetings
  • Interacting with other university staff
  • Monitoring new trends and issues

 

 

 

 

Operational /
Short-term

 

 

 

 

 

 

University allegiance

  • Contributing to university activities
  • Identifying the research agenda and linking your research to those priorities

Strategic research tasks

  • Publications development
  • Grant writing
  • Meetings with research collaborators
  • Reading research publications
  • Reviewing achievements and goals
  • Maintaining curriculum vitae
  • Sustaining a mentorship relationship
  • Initiating new contacts

 

 

 

Strategic / Career

Career management

  • Developing new research / professional skills
  • Attending conferences / research events
  • Interaction with the media
  • Developing and maintaining a web profile
  • Contributing to the discipline
  • Undertaking national roles / contributions

Personal lifestyle
management

  • Parenting or elderly parent care
  • Relationship management
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Spiritual / emotional needs
  • Social connectedness
  • Hobbies / external interests

 

Life

 

 

This is only one element of your likely work activities. If you are a teaching research academic, you could construct a similar grid for your other work roles. The grid assists in identifying the activities that contribute to the long-term development of your research career. The operational activities are not less important, but need to be balanced with the strategic processes that maintain your effective positioning as a researcher committed to a sustainable research career.

In many cases, researchers get caught in focusing on the operational or short-term activities that must be undertaken. While these are most important, they are not the only focus you should maintain. It is essential that you integrate time for the long-term priorities as well as the regular management of your daily research operations. Your mentor can be of great assistance in helping to clarify what strategies might be of highest priority. An early career researcher might, for example, need to be very focused on getting new articles published in high impact journals, a monograph published, some book chapters, or a sound piece of creative work. A more senior researcher might be aiming to build stronger collaborations with industry or other researchers beyond the university or discipline.

Make sure you have a very clear sense of priorities to support your long-term career. These should be compatible with your university and other groups with which you are affiliated. Thus, to manage your work role, the following principles are important:

  • Be clear about your priorities and make sure they reflect your personal and professional goals
  • Review your priorities regularly to ensure they remain relevant and realistic
  • Use your mentor to assist with identifying your priorities
  • According to the Pareto Principle, about 20% of your activities contribute 80% of your results. The rest of the time is spent on largely unimportant activity. Keep focused on what is important and don't lose sight of it in managing the demands of urgent but potentially low-priority activities
  • Keep your goals at the forefront. Try putting them on a whiteboard so that you see them every day. Keep a list of achievements to monitor your progress. Update your list and curriculum vitae whenever you have something new to add. This is highly motivational and ensures your goals are regularly reviewed.

Now is a good time to take stock. Take a minute and identify the priorities that you should be emphasising over the coming year. Record these on the worksheet as well. Your identified priorities may include elements that are currently not managed. We will look at how you can accomplish this balance in the next section.

Priority areas

My priorities for the coming year

Ongoing research activities / project management

 

University allegiance

 

Strategic research tasks

 

Career management

 

Personal lifestyle management

 

Other priority areas

 

Make sure you keep your worksheet with your Induction Interview Checklist, as it will be useful for the supervisor meeting and for your meeting with your mentor.

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