Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

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Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

#5 Steal This Best-selling Author’s 3-3-3 Method for Managing your time

Read time: 5 min.

Managing time successfully doesn’t just happen by chance.

Doing research takes time. When I started my PhD next to my full-time job, I quickly realized there was so much to be done. Properly.

Search, read, design, collect data, code, analyze, write, discuss, edit, review, submit, publish… And repeat.

At the same time, my job as a consultant requires having lots of various interactions with research stakeholders across Europe, Middle-East and Africa. Such interactions involve international traveling.

The fact is that we all have 24 hours each day. But it seems some people manage their time better than others.

If we’re at work or school for 8 hours, and sleep 8 hours, then we have 8 hours to spend on other things. And much more during weekends/holidays.

Considering that we need to spend enough time with our families and friends, there is still plenty of free time every day during our lives.

What does my ideal workday look like?

This is a question everyone should try to answer.

If you don’t define what a productive day is for you, you will never feel like you are doing enough.

There is one time management technique that I use and recommend:

The Bukerman’s 3-3-3 method

This technique was proposed by Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It’s a simple system for working smarter, not harder.

The key thing to do here is to identify and prioritize tasks based on their importance and impact on your research/work/personal goals.

Here is how it works: for each workday, you set aside:

  • 3 hours to work on an important current project (This could be for example, literature review, writing, collecting data, coding, or analyzing data…). More on this in upcoming newsletters on how to plan and structure various research activities.
  • 3 urgent but less time-consuming things (including customer meetings, and meetings with my supervisors)
  • 3 “maintenance” activities (like e-mails, but also reading, micro-learning, and all areas of life: time with family, spirituality, going to the gym, housekeeping, etc.)

Try it now. Write down your 3-3-3 plan for tomorrow.

The way I do it is as follows.

In my calendar, I have time slots blocked for various activities on specific days & times.

This makes me responsible for using my time as I want and as I need according to what I want to achieve in terms of time spent with my family, work, research, and health.

Times of peak energy

Something else I consider is my energy. Managing time is critical but managing energy is equally important.

Some of us are more energized in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Understand when your peak energy times are. For me, the morning is when I would block enough time to do the high-priority tasks.

Avoid context switching

Blocking these times by type of activities helps me focus and concentrate on 1 single task at a time. By doing so I avoid switching from one context to another. Multi-tasking when doing research or any important work is not a good idea.

My advice is to group similar tasks together. Answering emails, data analysis, and literature reviews each get their time slot. This is the best way to boost efficiency.

Break down large activities into small and achievable tasks for the day.

Obviously, it would be unrealistic to plan to write a full manuscript in a few hours.

For instance, whenever I start writing an article, I focus on one specific section like the introduction.

At the end of the 2 or 3 hours spent on writing the introduction, I know that I would have made decent progress. This ensures that I get a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day getting closer to achieving the bigger goal.

Eliminate distractions

There is so much noise surrounding us taking time from what’s important to us. I see several types of distractions.

  1. Notifications from mobile apps. Simply turn off unnecessary notifications. You don’t need to know every time someone shares something in a group chat. You may set specific times to check these apps/websites once you take a break.
  2. Overcommitting. It’s easy to say yes to everyone to take part in all types of different activities. Be selective in accepting additional commitments to avoid doing stuff that is not essential.
  3. Try to work in a dedicated space. You know that this is the space where work and science happen.

Breaks and going forward

Once the time set is up, take a 5 to 10-minute break to recharge and celebrate the work done, big or small. Just do something fun before jumping to the next task. This helps to maintain the overall productivity.

After a few days/weeks of using the 3-3-3 method, it will be time to reflect and adjust.

What works well? What could be improved? Review the times you blocked and the priorities you set.

“I don’t have time” is an easy excuse. Time is scarce. No one can buy back time. So, we need to be careful how we spend it. It’s best to think of time as something in our control. Ideally, and as much as possible, we need to choose what we do.

Give a try to the 3-3-3 method and let me know how it goes.

Happy researching!

*Ps: If you have any time management tips, hit reply or comment on my website to share them! *

Quote of the Week

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. – William Penn

My favourite things this week

1- I spoke with several research managers from Qatar and time management is not only a researcher thing. They were interested in saving time when analyzing a huge amount of unstructured research data. Again, knowing what needs to be done is the first step to breaking it down into smaller and more manageable tasks.

2- Recently, I conducted a webinar for various research stakeholders from Ivory Coast. I had several great discussions about scientific research, publishing and research management and analytics.

In case you missed it:

Talking about managing time, two weeks ago, I wrote a brief practical guide on how to use VOSviewer to map scientific literature when doing a literature review. This tool helps me save time by visualizing potentially relevant publications/authors in my field or topic of interest.

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