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Minimum Viable Productivity For Academic Work

Minimum Viable Productivity for Academic Work

I recently came across the idea of “Minimum Viable Productivity” in Enough, the podcast. Minimum Viable Productivity, MVP in short, stands for the opposite of hustle culture, turning in work that is “good enough” every now and then, and creating space for rest and recovery.

As I’m going through a period of upheaval in life, I already defined for myself that I need to “lie low” for a while. The idea of MVP resonated with me, so I dug a bit deeper.

The references on this topic are scarce. One article deals with the minimum requirements for a personal productivity system, which does not really align with what I was looking for. The other article recommends to accomplish two things of our task list as the minimum to achieve MVP.

MVP is deeper though. If we are resisting the urge to do as much as possible, then we need to take a step back and reevaluate why tasks are on our list in the first place.

From that perspective, I’ve been thinking about MVP in an academic context. With our ill-defined job descriptions, it’s difficult to quantify what we need to do to meet the minimum requirements. But at least, we can try to turn the culture of doing as much as possible upside down.

So, I’m asking myself: What is the most important work that needs to get done?

I haven’t come up with a solid system yet, but at least, I know that there are five categories to evaluate in terms of work:

  • Writing: This category is ill-defined. I assume that I am expected to publish about two papers per year. I’ve set myself the goal of submitting 5 papers this year, which is already quite ambitious – and certainly ambitious from an MVP perspective.
  • Research: In this category, I have the deliverables of projects that have their deadlines, and grant applications. The part of grant applications is ill-defined as well – nobody will evaluate how many proposals I worked on. The only part that gets evaluated is how many proposals got funding.
  • Teaching: There are new courses to prepare, students who need feedback, and a course that needs some updating. While my job in Ecuador should only be 1.5 hours of teaching-related activities per week according to my job description, I teach already 3 hours, and then there is grading and class preparations and more that needs to be done. MVP could look like taking on less thesis students, perhaps.
  • Service: Service is by and large volunteering work. From that perspective, I should only keep moving forward the commitments I made in the past, and not take on any more work. I also limit myself to a certain number of paper reviews per month.
  • Admin: MVP means that I try to keep up to date with emails, but also unsubscribe, ignore, forward, etc mails that I should not reply necessarily.

What would it mean for you to do the minimum work necessary? What does minimum viable productivity look like for you?

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