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Beat the Heat: Maximizing Summer Productivity

Inspecting Johnson grass leave

Jocelyn Holt inspects the underside of Johnson grass leaves for the presence of sugarcane aphids, an invasive insect that also damages grain sorghum plants. (Photo credit: A.W. Sharp)

By Jocelyn R. Holt

Jocelyn Holt

Jocelyn R. Holt

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.

I often think of summer as the busiest time of year. Even though it is a time when I have a break from taking classes, teaching, or both, summer means that as an entomology graduate student I need to focus on research and writing. But, before diving into summer at full speed, here are some tips I use for maximizing summer productivity:

Structure the Week

Having a plan for what I want to accomplish each day of each week helps me stay on task. This means prioritizing what needs to be accomplished and chipping away at small pieces of large projects that might otherwise feel overwhelming. For example, every Sunday I figure out what I need to work on for the week. So, if I schedule molecular work on Wednesday through Friday, at the beginning of each day I review what I still have left to do from Monday or Tuesday and see where I can fit it in. Although I may not finish everything on my list each day, I can feel a sense of accomplishment for what I have done and keep focused on what still needs to be done by completing chunks of different projects through the week.

Write and Read on a Schedule

During the fall and spring, I like to write in the mornings before I set foot in the lab. For me, this time happens to be when I am most free from distractions. With summer fieldwork, experiments, and DNA extractions, this schedule is not always possible, so I am flexible in when I schedule writing and reading. Whenever you choose to write and read, make sure to be as consistent as possible each week. Consider using 30-minute chunks of time each day to work on a specific project or grant with blocks of time for writing only followed by time for editing only or looking up references. I have found that slow and steady writing progress helps relieve some of the stress of binge writing for a deadline. And, in the end, if the writing plan did not work smoothly for a project, there is always the next project to get better with.

Plan for Summer Experiments and Data Collection

Before starting an experiment or beginning data collection, make sure you have all of the necessary supplies. Although this may seem obvious, enthusiasm has a way of getting the best of us, and supplies may take longer than expected to pick up or re-order. Consider making a mental or physical checklist of everything that you need to begin. I remember an experience when I was getting things prepared for a week of DNA extractions and the stockroom was completely out of liquid nitrogen. I had to wait a week for more liquid nitrogen to be in stock. Another time it took three months for me to test out a new DNA extraction kit that was on backorder! While I waited, I made specimen vouchers, wrote, prepared specimens for future extractions, and worked on other projects so that I could still get things accomplished. Remember that even with the best of planning, things often take longer than anticipated.

Searching for ants

Jocelyn Holt looks for ants crawling across the river rocks. (Photo credit: A.W. Sharp)

Account for Travel

Whether it is travel for a conference, to visit family, or for a vacation, be aware of how much time it will take away from research. I know when traveling that I will be unable to run experiments, collect data, or do DNA extractions. However, I can still write, read papers, prepare presentations, and answer email. Although I generally take my computer with me when I travel, I also recognize the importance of taking time to recharge. Scheduling a weekend or long weekend away from work and email helps me re-energize and power through another stretch of summer.

Participate in Professional Development

Summer is a great time to find professional development opportunities. Over the years I have attended seminars, participated in conferences, and attended short courses that I might not be able to fit in during the rest of the year. I find that selecting professional development activities related to my research provides me with new skillsets and offers a unique perspective on novel research areas. This information makes accomplishing projects easier while also stimulating ideas for potential future projects. In addition, it provides an opportunity to meet people and form future collaborations.

Stay Healthy and Keep Hydrated

The summer is generally when I finally make time for doctor’s visits such as an eye exam, dental cleaning, and yearly wellness check-up. I find that both my physical and mental health are key in increasing my overall productivity. After a long semester, this is a great time to catch up with friends, start exercising again, or pursue a hobby. When I take time to catch up with friends, take a walk, or do something fun, I feel both physically and mentally recharged. And if for some reason that one project takes longer than anticipated to complete and derails the rest of the day’s plans, I can use the next day to try again. I know that double-checking data, analyzing data, and writing often take longer than I expect. Instead of getting discouraged, I prioritize these tasks and roll-over unfinished work to the next day. When I stay hydrated, make time to sleep, and eat regularly, I have the resources I need to power my mind, body, and beneficial microbes.

I hope that these tips help inspire you to structure your summer in a way that results in maximum productivity. Remember that a little bit of planning along with taking care of your physical and mental health can go a long way!

Jocelyn R. Holt is a Ph.D. candidate in entomology at Texas A&M University and is the 2018-2019 chair of the ESA Student Affairs Committee. Twitter: @JocelynRHolt. Email: holtjocelyn@tamu.edu.

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