Over the past few months a group of research students with very short time scales, lack of experience and little support have been meeting to complete their entire research and write a PhD thesis. They are going to have to do things they have never done before. They will have to learn new material and acquire new skills of productivity to achieve their goals in such a short timescale. The only way to compress time is by total immersion where there is no room for interruptions or excuses and you are focused on only one thing. Therefore, I organised a series of boot camps to provide an intense and focused environment. The boot camps included:
- Writing a research paper.
- Presenting a paper at a conference.
- Preparing and writing a systematic literature review and getting it published
- Writing a PhD thesis
These boot camps last for 3 days with strict set of rules, thinking patterns and timings, enabling the participants to get the maximum benefit. Focus on productivity is the only rule, however it is reinforced by highly desirable rewards for and strict penalty system for non-compliance to the process during the boot camp. These boot camps are highly specialised and delivered by a team of experienced academics and practitioners. In the boot camps we use a modified version of technique that I going to describe below.
On my research group blog I often give advice based on my own experiences and share ideas that have worked well for me over the last 25 years in my career. I am always open to learning and improving myself regardless of the source of information. Whenever I meet someone regardless of his or her level of education, status, age and experience I am always looking to learn something that I can apply to my life and improve it.
I learned this method from Israr Ahmed, one of my PhD students from Pakistan and shared the technique with the group. I found it to be simple, fascinating and widely applicable. I gave it a name and called it the “Four Stations” technique. It originates from a famous Sindhi scholar Mirza Kalich Beg hailed for his prolific contribution to the Sindhi literature. He was born in 1853 lived until 1929 century. Mirza authored an amazing number of books on a wide range of subjects, which are classified under history, novels, drama, articles and research. He wrote over 457 books in his lifetime. His productivity was amazing averaging over 9 books a year over a period of 50 years. This is amazing as it was achieved before word processors, computers and editing software. Mirza has no access to technology, blogs, Google and on-line communication with other writers and his audience like we have in our society today. Let me summarise his technique, which if applied correctly supplemented by the tools and technology we have available can result in amazing productivity.
How does the Four Stations technique work?
Here are 10 steps you can use.
- Set up 4 desks in your work area or have 4 different work areas.
- On each desk have the information, tools and requirements for one book.
- Daily work on 4 books at one time.
- Move from one station to another every 2 hours.
- Keep up your routine daily.
- When you finish one book then replace the material you had for the previous book with the material you are going to use for the next book.
- At anytime you will be working on four books at a time.
- Don’t start any more book projects; however if one is completed then replace it with another one. You will only have four books going at any time at various stages towards completion.
- Every time you move desks you have progressed on the previous project. This will give you a great sense of achievement.
- Move onto the next desk if you encounter a stumbling block such as information you need but don’t have at hand, encountering writers block or anything that is not allowing you to flow in your writing.
What are the benefits of the “Four Stations” technique?
- It provides focus for your efforts.
- It organises your materials and outputs into an area where it is clearly visible.
- It eliminates writers block.
- It you get stuck with one book then instead of wasting time worrying about the problem you move onto the next book. This allows you to make continuous progress and optimise the use of your time.
- When you come back to the station where you had a problem you are looking at it fresh. Your subconscious mind will have been working on the problem and you will have a ready solution.
- Your will work on the problem with renewed energy and vigour.
- It injects variety into your work so that writing does not become mundane and boring. Projects always remain fresh and interesting.
- It keeps your enthusiasm up because you will see the books being complete in quick succession. This will boost your confidence and energy levels.
- It eliminates procrastination and keeps you moving forward towards your goals.
- It eliminates wastage of time worrying about things that you may not have any control over.
Where else could you apply this technique?
- You can apply the Four Stations technique to any area of your life.
- At work you may have multiple responsibilities. You can organise these into four blocks that you can work with continuously. Four stations technique works well because you can allocate sufficient time to the most important areas and progress continuously.
- In your personal life you have four things that you want to improve simultaneously. Create four stations for
- Health station
- Financial station
- Family station
- Personal development station
Make these stations sacred and only work on the project area you have assigned to until it is complete. Completion is the key. Most people have numerous ideas and start things and leave them unfinished causing stress and anxiety. Focus on completion before you move onto something else.
Try this technique for a month and watch your productivity sky rocket and let me know how you get along. Look forward to learning about your experience.