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Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Making ChoicesSaying no,

Making ChoicesSaying no, saying yesOne of the simplest things you can do to streamlineyour life is also one of the hardest for manypeople—learning to say no. Remember, you cannotdo everything, please everyone, be availableto everyone, and at the same time be a successfulscholar. There are certain tasks to which youmust say no, and others for which it is fine todeliver a less-than-stellar performance. Makingsuch choices will allow you to focus on doingan outstanding job in what is truly important toyou. Establishing these priorities depends on theintermediate- and long-term goals you have setfor yourself.Saying yes judiciously will make it easier for youto say no to things you do not want to do. Since inmost jobs you must accept some administrativeassignments, try to make them work for you.Explore the options, and sign up early for dutiesthat either interest you or will work to your advantageprofessionally. This may give you leverageto turn down administrative duties that have lessvalue to you.Maximizing returnsGiven the ever-increasing demands on your time,it is impossible to do everything perfectly. Decidewhich projects need to be completed to near perfection(e.g., your grant application) and which donot (e.g., a draft of a manuscript you are reviewingfor a collaborator).DisconnectingPart of saying no is also not being available ondemand. Today’s technological “conveniences”are often needless interruptions to concentration.Any sound strategy for time management involveslearning to disconnect and become the master ofthose tools rather than their servant.Managing YourTime Day-to-DayMany people find long-term goals easy to set—for example, “I want to be a professor by theage of X.” More difficult is the daily multitasking—managing the flood of small chores that canthreaten to drown even the most organizedprofessional. This section covers how to makethe most of the time you have.Finding Some Extra TimeTo be able to focus and think creatively, you needblocks of uninterrupted time. Here are some tipsto help you do this:n Get your email under control. If you are luckyenough to have administrative help, have an assistantscreen messages and flag time-sensitive onesfor you. You can also print email messages thatrequire a personal reply and hand write responsesduring short breaks in your day. Then have yourassistant type and send them later. If you do nothave an assistant, set aside specific times of theday for reading and responding to emails or takehard copies of your emails home and read them inthe evening.n Use a telephone answering machine or voice mailservice.n If one is available to you, invest in a family cellphone plan—one which provides a few familyphones and makes calls between them inexpensive—tomake sure you are available for familycommunication and emergencies when you havesilenced your office phone.n Close your office door or come in early. A signon your door that reads “knock if important” letsyour students and colleagues know you are in andworking but do not want to be disturbed. Workingduring the early hours of the day, whether at theoffice or lab or at home before the family is awake,might buy you precious focused time away fromclamoring students and colleagues.n Close your lab door if you are still working at thebench yourself. Securing uninterrupted time in thelab is important if your advancement depends onwhat you can get done with your own handsduring the day.74 excellence everywhere

n Make and keep appointments with yourself: Finda quiet hideaway for thinking, writing, and readingand use it on a scheduled basis. This practice trainspeople to expect that you will be inaccessible atpredictable times.You might select some milestone during the year—your birthday or name day, New Year’s Day,or some other day that normally provokes somereflection—and use that as a day to considerwhether your career and life are going in the rightdirection. Similarly, in addition to your regular dayto-dayconversations with them, it can be useful toestablish for yourself a time each year for assayingyour spouse and family to be sure that you understandwhether you are moving your life and theirsin ways that conform to what matters most to you.Rotating Your TasksIf you tend to find it difficult to focus on onetask for long periods, you can turn this potentialweakness into a strength through multitasking.Always have several things to work on (e.g., theintroduction to a grant, a paper to review, or arecommendation letter to write), perhaps threeor four, and cycle through them with increasinglengths of time. Make sure they are clearlyarranged on your desk so that you do not wastetime figuring out what you should do next.Setting PrioritiesOn the basis of your goals, decide what you needto do and when, and follow the ‘keep it simple”rule. A grid that allows you to rank short-termclaims on your attention according to urgencyand importance can be a useful tool (see TimeManagement Grid below). Try to control the noturgent/not important quadrant. You get relativelylittle value for the time spent doing tasks in thisquadrant. The urgent/important quadrant puts youin crisis mode, where few people operate best.For maximum efficiency, you should be spendingmost of your time in the upper right-hand quadrant,on tasks that are important but not urgent.If it is important but not urgent, remember yourpriorities and schedules:n Plan ahead and know your deadlines.n Set aside blocks of time for specific tasks.n Break large tasks into smaller tasks.n Delegate tasks.n Complete tasks on time.Time Management Grid not important importantnot urgenturgentMost EmailDiscussing weekend plans, the day’s weather,the latest gossip, etc. with lab membersWatching World Cup matches (though in somesituations clearly this is important and urgent!)A rumbling stomach 20 minutes before lunchRinging telephoneA salesman who wants a minute of your timeOngoing experimentsPreparing to speak at an upcoming meetingWorking on a grant that is due next monthMaintaining strong relationships with family,friends, and lab membersAn earthquakeA grant due tomorrowAccidental exposure to pathogenTime Management Grid – Adapted from Stephen R. Covey’s time management matrix in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: PowerfulLessons in Personal Change.managing your time75

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