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I am a Psychology Professor, and This is How I Work

Today, I am hosting an academic who would prefer to remain anonymous.

Current Job: Associate Professor
Current Location: Pseudonymless City, USA (at least that’s what I call it on the blog. It’s a somewhat rural college city, popn’ 200,000)
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: 2014 MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

I’m an academic clinical psychologist who is not currently practicing but in the past has done private practice work on the side. I currently do consulting work here and there as well. My research falls under the umbrella of abnormal psychology and functioning, but I can’t really say more than that with my pseudonym. On my blog I say I am an “Agricultural Psychologist” which is a the pseudonym for my research niche I created to allow me to blog about it.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
– Mailplane, which is a software that allows you to manage multiple Gmail accounts at the same time. 2 years ago I switched from using Apple Mail to having all of my email automatically forwarded to a gmail account dedicated to work. This allows me to search for things more easily and not waste time filing. I have a label called “Needs Action” that I use to mark emails as they come in. Once a week when I’m making my schedule for the week I review my “needs Action” emails to make sure they get replied to or assigned to my to do list. I also combine Mailplane with Boomerang, which allows me to schedule emails for later. There is also a new feature that tells you the “answerability” of the email as you write it.
– I use Scrivener for larger writing projects because it allows me to break my documents into sections and drag and drop them into a new order if needed. I can also store my research materials within the same program and color code things. I use it for grant applications and I’m currently using it to write a book
– both SPSS and NVivo are musts for me as a mixed methods researcher
– When I am having difficulty focusing I use the Pomodoro technique and the free timer available at
– Related, I keep minimal interesting apps on my phone, because I know I will find it distracting. I often leave my phone in another room or my purse during work hours so that I don’t get distracted by texting other people. There is no email program on my phone.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I primarily work from my home office, because I find it too distracting on campus. Over the years I have found I am unable to write on campus, in particular. My home office consists of my desk and nothing else except a white board and one cupboard where I hide my office supplies. I need minimal clutter in order to work. I have a very large window that faces East and some plants in the windowsill. So it’s very sunny and empty and I love it.

On campus I have the standard assigned psychology office – 1 small window, uncomfortable furniture that came with it. I dislike it but am not willing to spend my own $ on new furniture at this point in my career. I also have a lab at work that was renovated by my university as part of my hire where my grad students all work and I can meet with them to do analyses together and where they run participants through experiments.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

1) Know yourself, your habits and your personality well and this will probably be the best recipe for you to be productive. Everyone has certain times of the day they do certain work best, their own level of tolerance of working in larger chunks vs. shorter periods of time.
2) Be willing to invest $ in your own productivity. I used to try and “get by” with what I had but then realized spending the money on things that helped me get my work done – subcontracting tasks, buying a computer monitor to connect to my laptop in my home office, software for my MacBook instead of schlepping to the free lab on campus – was an investment in my own career.
3) Learn to accept that there will always be something you are behind on and limit interruptions. There will always be more emails to answer, but is that the best use of your time?

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I have an Evernote notebook that lists ongoing projects and what stage each project is in. I also use a whiteboard in my office to keep track of what manuscripts need to be finished and what stage of writing they are in. This tends to be a list in priority order and I aim to work my way through them. At the beginning of each semester I use Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s “Every Semester Needs a Plan” webinar from the National Centre for Faculty Development and Diversity (but she also has articles about it on Inside Higher Ed) to map out what my research goals are for the semester. I then map these goals on to the weeks of the semester. Each week I have a “Sunday Meeting” (from the same webinar but also available on Inside Higher Ed) where I review my “Weekly Brain Dump,” a list I keep in Evernote where I jot down my ongoing to do items as I think of them during the week. I add anything from my semester plan that needs to be done to the list. I then map that list on to my weekly schedule. Related, after a few years of being really discombobulated about the number of projects I had on the go, I reprioritized and made a plan. I now only research 2 areas and this means I don’t forget projects anymore. My philosophy is that if I can’t easily remember the projects I have on the go, I have too many of them.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
These are old school “technology” but I use a Passion Planner for my weekly schedule and to do list. I also have a large supply of the specific highlighters I like and the specific pens I like (I do a lot of my research work on paper, because of the mixed methods).
I also use a white noise machine in my on campus office that allows me to focus over noise in the hall and from the offices next door to me.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I am good at seeing seemingly disparate areas of research and connecting them together. Must of my research is unique because it is influenced by areas that others would not expect.
In addition, I think I see myself as a writer not an academic and as a result of my passion and practice I consider myself to be a very skilled writer.
In addition, having a life outside of being an academic is very important to me. I think this space and time to refresh allows me to be efficient, creative, and innovative.
Last, I design my research by research question not method. As a result I have a lot of breadth in the research methods available to me and this makes fewer areas “off limits”

What do you listen to when you work?
Spotify, where I keep a library of playlists that allow me to focus. I listen solely to Baroque when I write and it has conditioned me to focus better.
Sometimes I listen to white noise or sometimes I simply put earbuds in without any actual music.
For some tasks, like editing or blogging, I like to go to coffee shops and enjoy the background noise. The app Noisli has a coffee shop setting I sometimes use at home.

What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Dark Money by Jane Mayer. I read several books that have nothing to do with work every month. I no longer work evenings and I read for a minimum of about 30 minutes before I go to sleep. I’m prone to insomnia so I have a really rigid bed time routine that helps me keep it at bay!

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am extremely introverted and like many introverts this has taken me a long time to accept about myself.
It influences my working habits in two ways. First, I know that I need to keep stimuli to a minimum or I become frazzled (In addition too many stimuli prevent me from being able to do the deep work I need to do as a writer). So I keep my email closed unless I’m checking it, I don’t check it more than a couple of times a day. My phone is set to give me very few notifications and most of them have no accompanying noise. Second, it means that I am easily overwhelmed by too many meetings in any given week. If I am overwhelmed, I don’t get as much of the really important work done. So I only meet with my lab members when they need me to, not regularly by default, and I try to limit the number of service obligations to what I can handle without ignoring my own research. I need to look at my weekly calendar and see some open stretches of time or I am stressed and unproductive.

What’s your sleep routine like?
Often terrible! I unplug from all of my devices about 90 minutes before I want to sleep, minimum. I also use the night filter on my iPhone. I make sure to read before bed and do a sleep related meditation if needed. I have a tendency toward biphasic sleeping when insomnia is happening, and I do my best to just get out of bed and accept it. This means as much as possible I avoid meetings first thing in the day in case I’ve been up working already in the middle of the night and need more sleep. As much as possible I try to wake up without an alarm clock.

What’s your work routine like?

As much as possible I treat being a professor as a 9-5 day job. I write first thing in the morning for an hour minimum so that I make sure it happens. I generally do concentration-intensive tasks in the morning and things that require less focus in the afternoon. I check email at the end of the day only as much as possible and reply to only what is urgent. Everything else I respond to 1-2 times/week. If I check email outside of 9-5 I use Boomerang to schedule a reply so that I at least condition others not to expect evening or weekend emails from me. I also divide my week up into 2 days/week of dedicated research time, 2 days/week dedicated to teaching and 1 day for my admin and “busy work.” On my research days I work from home.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
I’ve received a lot of advice but what resonates with me the most lately is from Hope Jahren’s book Lab Girl: “I don’t take advice from my colleagues, and I try not to give it. When I am pressed, I resort to these sentences: “You shouldn’t take this job too seriously, except for when you should.”

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