Becoming a successful researcher requires being able to balance the importance of both hard and soft skills. Yes, you need your subject matter expertise and a wide array of background knowledge in order to competently complete your research and offer instruction on an academic level as your job requires. But if you don’t have time management skills down pat before you begin loading your plate up with to-do tasks and personal and professional requirements, you are going to quickly become overwhelmed.
Time management strategies aren’t typically taught in courses intended to prepare you for your career, but they should be. Without the ability to differentiate between priorities and manage every minute of your workday, researcher burnout is right around the corner for many people. That’s where methods like the Pomodoro Technique come in handy and, if you didn’t learn it in school, you can learn it now.
Researcher Burnout - It’s a Real Thing
Researcher burnout has been around for centuries, but with the increased awareness of mental health issues in the spotlight lately, it has gained visibility. Burnout can happen in any profession, but in high-pressure, high-stress fields like academics and research, it is more common. In the practice of medicine, in particular, the burnout level is significantly high, whether it’s as a clinician or a researcher.
Because of the prevalence of burnout and the increasing spotlight on its significance, many institutions are implementing measures to reduce the potential of their students and faculty to get to this level. Part of these steps include offering instruction on how to recognize the symptoms of burnout, how to avoid it in the first place, and then how to deal with it if you do end up in the throes of a burnout situation.
In addition to understanding burnout in general, some institutions are teaching time management methods, like the Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
There are multiple time management strategies that might work for you, including the Pomodoro Technique. Invented by Italian researcher Francesco Cirillo, it’s a method that helps an individual improve their efficiency by becoming more conscious of their time utilization.
Through this technique, the user follows a few basic steps:
● You start with a priority task that you need to complete.
● You then choose a set amount of time, typically around 30 minutes, and set a timer.
● You focus solely on that task until the timer goes off.
● After a short break, less than five minutes, you choose another task (or continue the same one) and repeat the steps.
● Do this for four sessions, which equates to just about two hours. Then reward yourself with a longer break to get up and stretch, eat lunch, etc.
● Keep track of your sessions using a notebook.
Because this technique breaks long, drawn out projects or an otherwise mundane workday into small chunks, it makes them more manageable. If you know you only have to work for less than half an hour before you break, it’s less likely you’ll get distracted.
This strategy also helps you to start understanding the time you spend on certain tasks better. When something usually takes you an hour but you can do it in 25 minutes with the timer, you know you’re letting yourself get distracted otherwise. On the other hand, if you’re completing a task thinking it should only take half an hour and it takes a lot longer, you may need to think about the reason why and whether it’s efficient for you to take on that job. If you can delegate it out, you can save a lot of time and increase your efficiency.
Using this technique lets you break down your academic workload into smaller, manageable chunks. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of research and only come up for air occasionally. With the Pomodoro Technique, you don’t have to be cognizant of time; you only have to remember to set the timer.