“The Clock Watching Microbiologist”

Time management can be difficult in microbiology. There is so much going on, and so much to know. It can be easy to get lost in time warps and suddenly find that yet another Christmas is not far away! I wouldn’t say I am the best in the world at time management, nor do I always practice what I preach, but here are a few things I try to adhere to in order to free up a bit of time for myself. I am essentially quite a lazy person, so I put in a fair bit of time facilitating this personality trait!

Be very selective re voluntary work: A lot of people are too busy simply because they take on work that they strictly do not need to do, particularly from sources external to their core work/job. I try and only take on work where I am very interested in the issue or which would be really beneficial to me. The rest gets politely declined.

Pick and choose your policy reviews: This is not dissimilar to the above. If you are on any committees related to your work you will be asked, with relative frequency, to review some policy or other. I would always ask myself “Am I the person on this committee who is the most suited/appropriate for reviewing this document? If not, I don’t. I also believe that if you are going to take the time to review a policy then you must always feedback and try and improve on what is there already. Otherwise it is wasted time.

Only check emails 3-4 times per day: Morning, lunchtime and late afternoon. Switch your mailbox off completely in between. Get rid of email alerts completely. Someone else’s important is not your urgent. I also believe in the mantra that the more emails you send, the more you will receive, and thus the more work you will end up with.

Zero inbox policy: This works very well for me. I go through each of my emails and either delete, file in a folder or put into my outlook calendar and schedule whatever time is needed to do the work from the email. My inbox has almost always only single figure number of emails present, much less stressful…. I have seen too many people while away hours and days trawling through historical emails in their inbox. It’s a bad habit to get into.

Multiple breaks: I tend to work hard for half an hour and then take 5-10 minutes break, throughout the day with the exception of lunchtime where I get out of the lab/hospital for half an hour. I hardly ever work late.

Delegate: I try and delegate work wherever possible, in a diplomatic manner, and without pushing my luck too much! This is one I sometimes find difficult, but I have improved a bit over the years.

Prioritise: I always set myself a goal of doing one thing per day related to my own goals (not other peoples), which I then prioritise as far as possible over everything else. Otherwise you end up following other people’s agendas (for them), not your own.

At the end of the day it is not time management I have a big problem with, it is energy management. I do a fair bit of stuff outside of work, looking after 5 children, training for ultramarathons, learning French etc. Sure I often have a free hour or two in the evenings, but usually the only thing I am fit for is drinking beer and watching TV!


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