The art of saying no

Working as a Teaching Assistant and Graduate Candidate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, everyday is full of different tasks and challenges around time management for Meghan Barrett. It was this that first got her using Timular, finding out how much time she spends on each part of the research process, and how much time other things (teaching, service, outreach, mentorship, social) that aren’t part of her research goals take up in her day.

Making sure not being “over budget”

Meghan faced a lot of stress ensuring she was not “over budget” on teaching hours (she only has 20 hours allocated a week) which are often perceived as cutting into her research time. She was also also interested in knowing how long she needs to spend on certain activities for them to feel productive. For example, is 25 minutes a day enough time for writing or does she need to structure her day to set aside two hours to make progress?

The day of a researcher

The first part of her week are taken up by teaching, meetings and service-related tasks with tightly scheduled, back-to-back activities. She leaves Thursdays and Fridays free to undertake research and do other tasks, as it can be difficult to work on research tasks in short bursts of time. Many lab experiments take several hours to run and it helps to have longer periods when focusing on data analysis and writing.

She structures her days the following way:

  • 1. Referencing a continually updated, prioritized list of tasks from class A to C (most urgent to least).
  • Taking class A in hand, she maps out about how long she thinks each one will take (multiplied by 1.5) in a paper scheduler, blocking out time for each activity until the day is full.
  • To keep motivated, Meghan puts more rewarding activities after less rewarding ones to help “mentally push through”. 

She then starts tracking the following activities:  Writing Grants, Writing Publications, Lab Work  (broken down by project name), Mentorship, Outreach, Service, Seminars/Meeting Attendance, Background Literature Reading, Social Activities, Teaching/Grading.
(Read more about how you can create sub-activities here.)

The art of saying no

Seeing the analytics at the end of the week, Meghan is able to show her teaching and research mentors exactly how much time she has spent on things “so I can be fair when I say ‘no more grading this week, I’m at my time limit’.”

The data also helps her realize when her priorities are out of whack and she needs to start saying no to additional service or outreach (which she really enjoys). If she sees she’s spending too little time on her main task, she makes changes to her schedule and activity lists based on real data. 

“As a scientist, I love the analytical reports from Timeular and I value having real-time feedback where I can analyze my time spent over lots of different timescales and see if changes I’m making in my schedule have actually changed my output to better match my priorities.”

Timeular for universities

Meghan believes that Timeular is a great investment for universities who want to help students track their actual time spent on each task. 

“Graduate students and faculty are notoriously overworked, but a lot of those commitments end up being things we don’t get ‘credit for’ by our bosses (especially service, like committees that help the university function and can take a lot of time).”

Getting accurate data on how little time is actually spent on the work the university claims to value most (research) can help restructure departments to reduce unnecessary load and rethink own work structures. 

“I really struggle saying no to service/outreach activities. Timeular has helped me value my limited time by showing me, when I prioritize those things too much, I really do hurt my research progress and my career goals. This has pushed me to develop more ‘say no’ skills.”


Bio

Meghan Barrett is a Teaching Assistant and Graduate Candidate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. She works in the Biology Department and engages in research on the thermoregulation and neuroanatomy of native bees.


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