This is mainly advice for myself but I may as well take you along for the journey. Being a clinical academic requires you to be hugely flexible in your role, but deadlines are never flexible and papers/applications do not write themselves despite my crippling need for them to do so. Target setting and planning can help us all achieve our goals for 2021 even if the world crumbles down around us.
Planning your year
Pick your desired method of planning your year, be it electronically or on paper. You can also do this in a Gantt chart format if you prefer.
- Write out your deadlines for the year that are non negotiable. For example grant deadlines- NIHR deadlines are typically April and October, HEE/NIHR around June time. Obviously check these for the year ahead, I don’t know everything (though don’t tell my partner that).
- Add in commitments that you cannot change (conferences, teaching, courses, visits etc.). You can also add clinical commitments to this if they are the same week on week. Otherwise you may need to add this as you go.
- Write out your ideal deadlines. These are things you would like to get done by a certain time but are not set in stone. For example “I want to submit a paper by March”. Try not to introduce too many things that are outside of your control into this goal. For example don’t say you want a paper published by a certain date because there are too many unpredictable confounding factors that will make this goal unachievable (such as peer review process, revisions etc.). Consider adding a month onto these goals because you are definitely being too hard on yourself.
- List out all the extra bits that you would like to do but aren’t urgent or overly important. These are things you can pick up when you have an hour spare (Alexa Google “hour spare”).
- Block out time in your schedule to write and think. You need space to do these things and you cannot do this without your complete attention. Add extra thinking time when approaching deadlines, to avoid a panicked frenzy. This time should be protected. No emails, no phone calls, no staring deeply into the abyss.
This could be done day be day or week by week depending on how you work best. Think about what is your priority for the day or week. This should be your primary focus when you are on academic time. You can do this by plotting an urgency/importance graph. Which I have made in a pretty little attachment for you — see image below. This can be done for all of your tasks or specific training or events you need to get to. It can help you visualise your tasks and allow you to get to them in order of importance. Pin this up somewhere for you to refer to whenever you need it, or save it to your desktop for easy access.
The beauty of prioritising this way means that you will already know what’s most important to get to when your time is limited (say a global pandemic breaks out and eats up all your time for example). This mindset helped me through 2020, and allowed me to submit a PhD and postdoc bridging programme application, however I could have definitely done this with less stress and more lunch breaks. That’s why I am entering 2021 with a clear idea of how to prioritise my important activities especially around clinical commitments.
Prioritising in this way can also help you get a handle on how much extra stuff you take on. If you see the urgent and important section filled to the brim, you might need to practice saying no to new things that crop up. It will enable you to be sensible with your time rather than agreeing to something and then struggling to balance it all.
Make your goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed). Pick a realistic time frame and include only things that are in your control. Think of barriers that might stop you achieving this goals and prepare ways of conquering this barriers. That way once they crop up you already know how to handle them.
Lastly-- don’t be too hard on yourself. Be realistic about your goals and forgive yourself if you don’t make them. Here’s to a productive 2021 🥂