End of a cycle
We are currently at the end of a cycle that is bringing a lot of changes in the world (see Ray Dalio). Before a new order and a new era come, there will be most likely difficult times for quite a few years. This process started in 2008 with the financial crisis and we thought for more than 10 years that the financial crisis was just a blip in a continued path of growth and prosperity. But this was just due to the central banks that used a patch for the crumbling system. The patch is not good enough though and it is the whole wheel that needs changing.
The creation of artificial money into the system got even worse with the Covid crisis and we are now left with a disastrous economical situation where the inflation is at 10% and the inequalities keep increasing. Everyone is starting to feel it at a personal level, in particular in the academic sector where the salaries are much less than inflation and we are going into a direction where in 2 year time, our acquisition power will have reduced by at least 20% (unless you are promoted in the meantime which is also a good reason to work hard!).
Be in command of your career
There are good reasons why many people, including myself, worry about their future and the future of their family. This is a big distraction that, if you are not careful, can lead you to being highly unproductive at work.
I am struggling with it but I would like to try to offer some solutions. If you are part of this Success in Academia group, that means that you care for your career, and you wish to reach a healthy work-life balance while being able to develop successfully your ambitions and goals within your work.
Having this awareness and desire to be in command of your career is already an indication that you are in the right direction and that you will be able to manage better than anyone else those turbulent times.
A 5-step process
I would like to propose a 5-step process to stay focused and productive in this period:
- Step 1: Have a vision to aspire to.
When you have negative thoughts or are surrounded with people who bring you down and are not helping you to stay positive, it is important to know which mountain you want to climb and which direction to take. So, write down what is your vision, what are your aspirations in your work, what is your main motivation for doing the work that you do. What brought you here and why do you stay? What do you enjoy and what makes you excited every morning? Having a clear vision is key to find consistency in your work.
- Step 2: Define your short-term goals.
Think about the goals that you need to achieve in the next 3-6 months that will move you in the direction of this vision. Be ambitious but not too much, something that is achievable in a few months’ time, taking into consideration the other constraints you may have at work or at home. Typically, you should define 1 or 2 objectives and not more than 3. That could be submitting your new grant proposal, or submitting your new paper on the amazing results that your PhD student had obtained, or it could be preparing the content of the module you need to teach next semester.
- Step 3: Make a plan of action for the next 3 months.
Once you have defined your short-term goals, it is time to break those down into small tasks that will take you less than a week to execute. For example, if you want to submit a new grant proposal, think about the different steps you need to make before submitting: like defining the topic, the novelty, the objectives, presenting the outline to your inner circle to get some initial feedback, completing the literature review, writing down the methodology, the expected impact, etc… Define each of those steps and estimate the amount of time it will take you to do. Effectively, you need to do a Gantt chart even though it does not have to be that formal. I would advise you though to schedule each task in your calendar by blocking some time off on specific days and try to ensure that you have always at least one task that should be finished by the end of the week.
- Step 4: Execute in a weekly manner.
Although this is the most difficult part when you procrastinate (see our article to avoid procrastination), if you have done thoroughly all the steps before, this becomes the easiest part. You only need to concentrate on executing the plan that you established in step 3. You don’t need to think of the future, nor of the past, just think of the present and the tasks that are present each week. This is the ticking box exercise where you do your best to accomplish the tasks that you have assigned to yourself week after week.
- Step 5: Evaluate your progress and repeat.
At the end of each week, evaluate your progress. See how far you have progressed since the beginning of this cycle and take time to enjoy your results. Celebrate with others when you think that you have reached some milestones. At the end of the 3-month period, you should have achieved all your tasks but if that is not the case, do not worry. Just acknowledge that you have made progress and that you may have been too ambitious or reflect on why you were not able to be productive some weeks (the reflection is an important part of the learning process to avoid making the same mistake in the future but there is no need to feel depressed about it). Then, repeat the process.
I hope that this is a message of hope and that you will manage to see the rainbow while it is raining. If you need any personalised help, we are always here to help you.