As a student I did two things everyday that developed my research skills.
I wanted to know as soon as someone did something new in my field. I was curious about new developments in science and technology. Straight after lunch I would go to the library scanning A-Z of latest journals and read anything of interest. Sometimes I would be in the library for 15 minutes but if I found something really interesting then two hours would be too short. I always carried a note book to write down interesting things I was reading. As a result I was the most informed student in my group. This gave me interesting topics to talk about with friends, fellow students and academic staff.
I also spent time in quiet places where I could think about my project and note down any ideas for new experiments and interpret things I had read or analyse graphs and tables. I also freed my imagination and asked questions about what would happen if I did various things that I did not have facilities and capabilities to do in my lab. This habit developed my planning and analytical abilities. It also opened my mind up to search for people who could do what I wanted. My mind was tuned into collaborations and linkages naturally. I would go to a conference or meeting to another university and seek out people and facilities that could help me to do new experiments.
In this blog post I want to emphasise the importance of regular reports.
So, what are the benefits of doing a weekly research report?
1. You will have a written record of what you have done during the week.
2. The report will help you to reflect and analyse your efforts and the things you have done.
3. You will have things to discuss with other research students and supervisors so that you get valuable feedback.
4. Your ability to write will improve and help you towards writing transfer reports and thesis in the future.
5. It will help you to develop focused creativity.
6. The report will help you monitor your own progress and keep you on track.
7. It will highlight your strengths and weaknesses.
8. The report will improve your efficiency and will save you time when you have to do longer reports and write your thesis.
Reading makes a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. Francis Bacon
How to do weekly reports? Here are some ideas
1. Decide a report structure that works best for you and your advisor. Keep the structure simple.
2. When I was working in industry my manager only had few minutes to read reports. My report included
a) what contracts have come in? How much they are worth? Who are the clients?
b) what contracts are you bidding for? How much and with who?
c) what are the chances of securing the contracts?
d) what can you do to increase the value of the business?
3. Write the report in your own words. Polish the grammar and the language. Give it your best effort.
4. Keep your report short and limit it to 2 pages.
5. Have 3 subheadings
a) Work completed
b) What do the results mean?
c) What are you going to do next? Why?
6. Have a fixed deadline for the report eg Friday 12:00. It will give you focus. Always stick to your deadline. Never be late.
7. Send your report to your supervisors for feedback or post on private blog.
8. Always reflect and act on the feedback and advice given.
9. Enjoy writing your weekly report.
The discipline of writing something down is the first step towards making it happen. Lee Iacocca
As a species we have always been obsessed with finding hidden treasures in search of wealth, success and happiness. Man has struggled, toiled and risked his life to find the hidden treasures such as gold, silver and companionship.
For as long as I can remember I read books, studied science and technology, practiced martial arts obsessively and watched sports to find the secrets of being a master or a champion. The more I learnt about a subject, skill or sport the essence became more obscure and difficult to find. I was going crazy with all the information. I desperately needed to make things simple.
To get to the heart or the essence you have to strip away the unessentials. Peel away the outer layers or the skin to get to the juicy fruit. Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee captured the essence.
“It’s not the daily increase but a daily decrease. Hack away at the unessentials to find the truth” Bruce Lee
Strive to make things simple and focus on practice to achieve mastery.
“Things must be made as simple as possible and not any simpler” Albert Einstein
Once you have identified the essentials or the essence of any skill, knowledge or sport focus intensely on mastering them.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” Bruce Lee.
Let me illustrate with 4 examples
1. Essence of Sports
There are hundreds of moves, forms (kata) and drills to learn a martial art such as karate and perform efficiently and effectively to earn a black belt individually and with an opponent. However, the essence is only a few techniques.
Punches – straight, up and round (from left to right and vice verse). In boxing they are called left jab, right cross, hook and uppercut
Kicks – front, side, roundhouse (front and back)
Attack and evasion — move forward, backwards and sideways
To win in combat you must do these movements faster, stronger and longer than your opponent and at the right time. This is simple but not easy. You much practice daily to develop the speed, power and endurance. The key to mastery is repetition.
“Repetition is the mother of skill”. Tony Robbins
If you notice the top tennis players in the world they will only have one or two shots where they are better than anyone else. They are the best at either at the serve, forehand, backhand, serve and volley with an occasional drop shot. The rest depends on speed, power, endurance and timing.
2) Essence of strength
To develop great strength focus on just 3 exercises. Do 5 repetitions and 5 sets 3 times a week with maximum weight you can manage.
i) Bench press
iii) Dead lift
Make sure you warm up throughly and concentrate on low repetition with heavy weight. As your muscles get stronger add a little more weight. Eat more protein and vegetables. Get plenty of rest.
3) Essence of doing a PhD
To do an excellent PhD find out what has already been done and do something new. You then have to write it up in a theses. The essence involves doing 3 things daily
i) Read 1 paper, article or page
ii) Plan and do 1 experiment.
iii) Think about your results, compare them with other people and write up the experiment.
These 3 things make up for over 90% of what counts. The rest is easy and involves training, seminars, meetings, conferences, presentations, viva and discussions.
4) Essence of Learning
To remember new information or learn any subject whether it is science or humanities or languages is simple but requires effort. Follow these 3 steps
i) Associate what you want to learn with something you already know in a ridiculous, exaggerated and weird way.
ii) Picture it in your mind. See it, feel it, smell it, touch it and hear it.
iii) Repeat frequently
You must apply these three steps to the right materials. Choose the material using the Pareto Principle commonly known as the 80/20 rule which dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavour come from 20% of the input, material, or effort. When you apply it to learning a new language then you can understand 95% of a language and hold a good conversation is a few months of focused learning. However to learn 98% of a language may take 10 years. To learn English it will take you a week or two to learn the 100 most common words.
About half of all written English involves these 100 words and the first 300 words make up 65% of English Language. This can be applied to other languages such as Hindi and Urdu. To develop vocabulary beyond the most common 300 words focus on reading about subjects that you are most passionate about. Reading news papers or something you have no interest will make you quite after a while. Use the language as a vehicle to learn more about a subject. If you have poor material then you will be rubbish at the language you’re trying to learn.
It is difficult for westerners to learn Indian languages. The words, sounds, structure and pronunciations seem weird. My sister-in-law, a native American, learnt to understand and speak fluent Hindi and Urdu in a few months by watching Bollywood movies everyday. She never attended any classes or used language tapes or books and shocked the whole family with her fluency. Her motivation was to enjoy the movies. She loved the fancy costumes and exotic locations in these films. By the way the stories are always the same. Once she understood the basic grammar she acquired vocabulary surprisingly quickly just by watching popular Indian dramas daily. She has picked up all the culture and customs along with the languages. She cooks great Indian dishes as well.
If enjoy the material then you will invest the time and get a very return on you investment of effort. Focus on the essence, commit to mastering the fundamentals and in no time I’ll see you at the top or on stage accepting your PhD.
Why do you do research? What made you become a teacher, doctor, dentist or a researcher?
For most of my life I set goals in research. In the early days it was to complete a set of experiments in a given week. Write the up results in my laboratory book. Prepare, research and deliver my presentation.
Most of the time I wanted to please my PhD supervisor, who I had total respect for, to make hm happy. He was my idol. Whilst I owe 90% of my success to my supervisor’s guidance and training, he was a tough task master. He demanded high standards. In my 3 years with him he did not praise anything I did or said something was good. I felt like a hopeless failure. I had no hope of passing my PhD. Even though I was married to the most beautiful girl in the world with 2 gorgeous children during my studies I was really married to my PhD. I thought about it 24 hours a day. I dreamt about my experiments and papers I was reading. I followed a strict army type regime.
Do you try to please people all the time? Do you feel that no matter how hard you try you can’t succeed?
As I progressed my goals become; write 6 papers a year and present at 3 international conferences. Gradually they became more and more demanding such as complete a book in 6 months. I was crazy. I had great determination and drive to achieve the goals that I had set. My friends thought I was successful because I achieved most of my goals. More than 80% of the time however I felt like a terrible failure. Most of the time I did not complete the tasks that I had set myself. I was not disciplined enough to write for 8 hours or finish a chapter in a week or stick to my exact plan.
Do you set tough goals and then beat yourself up when you don’t live up to your expectations?
Luckily for me I did not broadcast my goals, so other people did not scold me or look at me as a failure. In my mind however I was useless and always disappointed myself. The other thing I did was to compare myself with other high flying academics. This is a no win situation. No matter who you are if you compare yourself as scientists to Harold Kroto or George Whitesides or CNR Rao then you will be inferior and feel like a failure. On that scale 99.999% of the scientists are failures.
Do you compare yourself to role models that you can never exceed? Do you play golf and compare your skills to Tiger Woods? Do you play cricket and think you can be better than Sachin Tandulkar?
I got fed up with feeling like a failure since I worked extremely hard and achieved way more than anyone from my family or community could ever accept.
After a major health scare I decided to change my attitude. I decided that I would not change the things that I did everyday. However, everything I do from now on will be for fun. At first this scared the hell out of me. Why? I thought that I would lose my drive and then I would then really be a failure. I constantly asked myself how can I have fun and do this thing well. I let go of expectations. My new motto became how can I have more fun than ever before whilst being focused on the task at hand? When I completed tasks I felt like a success and my energy levels exploded through the sky like a rocket. This attitude split over into other areas of my life such as relationships, social life and health.
I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun – Thomas A. Edison
- If you go for a run or walk to exercise do you constantly evaluate yourself? Do you get annoyed at yourself for not going at a fast enough pace or completing the distance in a given time? This makes you feel terrible. If you do it purely for fun however you will feel great and successful. You will still get the benefits of exercise.
- Do start writing a paper but get only half way through it. Is that a failure or success? It’s a failure if you wanted to finish it in one sitting. If it was fun and you had a wonderful time then you’re successful. You can always go back and do the second half later.
- If you start a blog and commit to writing something everyday and miss days. Are you are a failure or a success? If you are writing the blog as something that is going to be fun and useful for people to read then you’re a success even if you’re posts are not as frequent as you planned. So the goal is to have fun writing on your blog. You will write more often if its enjoyable for you.
- Having fun as a priority shifts everything. It determines whether something is a success or failure. It changes your attitude. Your mood improves and you’ll smile when you’re doing things instead of frowning.
- Enjoy life and have fun doing everything. Fun and focus equals success and happiness. Make sure that you focus on the fun first and watch your success soar.
Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game – Michael Jordan
To succeed as a researcher you need to do certain things regularly. You need to keep your lab book up to date, write things down as you are doing them so that all the essential details are correct and you don’t forget. You want to write up your results at the end of the day, summarise your research papers. Fill in you’re training log regularly. Write down your research tasks daily in your planner.
What you need to do to be a good researcher is not rocket science. Ask your supervisor or someone who is an excellent student in the year above you. But knowing is not enough you must do to succeed. Knowledge is potential power but its regular action gives you results.
The biggest reason people fail is that they don’t stick to what they know they should do. And they don’t keep doing it. Lifting weights or exercising once in while won’t make you strong and fit. You must make it a routine to have the strength and fitness that you can be proud of. This is obvious, isn’t it. So why don’t people do it.
How do you find the way to keep doing it?
If your goal is to write a 1,000 words or write up your experiment in the evening. The vital key to forming a habit is not how many words you write or how much exercise you do but whether you do it at all.
The key is to start. That’s the hardest part for me. I have so many distractions that starting is the hardest part. However once I get going then I know I’ll finish. My momentum just carries me over the finishing line.
The most powerful key to forming a habit is to start each day.
If you want to write a 1,000 words just get your notebook and pen and start writing. Don’t wait until you feel like wriitng. If you want to walk for exercise just get your trainers on and step out of the front door and go.
Just start and you’ll get good at doing what needs to be done.
Sometimes you know that you must do something but don’t feel like doing it. You face resistance. You don’t feel like writing. You don’t want to exercise. What do you do?
Why don’t you start?
You may be watching TV and its nice and comfortable. Forcing yourself to write in your lab book is painful. We all seek pleasure and comfort and avoid pain and discomfort. It is human nature.
It’s harder to start than keep doing what you are currently doing. To exercise you need to get your kit on, get in the car, drive 3 miles, get out of the car, get changed, warm up, exercise, have a shower, get changed and drive all the way home. It’s too hard and takes too long. I’m busy and have loads of urgent and important things to do now. I’ll do it later. If you think like that you’ll never exercise.
How do you get started?
Make it really, really easy to start. It should be easier that what you’re doing now. How do you make it easy?
Focus on the first smallest thing you have to do. To exercise just step out of the house. To write just get a pen and write anything. Even if its crap just write. When things are easy then you won’t have any barriers to starting. Do it wherever you are. Start with the easiest most simplest step. Make it easy to start and hard not to start. To exercise, get your shoes on and get out of the door. Once you are outside it’s easy to keep walking.
Learn to enjoy it. Once you love it you’ll want to keep doing it. Don’t miss a day. Do it everyday.
For years I’ve been telling people to break down big tasks into small chunks. Take small 5-10 minutes breaks after every 30-40 minutes of intense activity such as writing a paper or a chapter of your thesis. After every intense activity you need a rest. The time you take to recharge your batteries is critical to productivity and success.
If short breaks increase your productivity why would long breaks kill it?
I used to write a monthly 1000 words column on “Advances in Surface Engineering” as the resident expert for a magazine called trade Finishing. I was desperate to raise my profile and be known as the expert in the field. When I got the invitation I had ideas for 2-3 articles and thought it would be good for my career. I could always makes an excuse if I couldn’t come up with new ideas every month.
It took me a month to finish my first article. The process was slow and very painful. I felt like a rubbish. I just made the 9:00am deadline. Generating ideas, narrowing them down, writing the article, editing and refining. I waited a week to see my article in print. I was euphoric with joy and happiness. I believed that it takes 4 weeks to write a good article. Now I had only 3 weeks for the next one. Sparked by my initial success I was determined to submit the article on time. It did not matter how hard I had to work. I brainstormed new ideas, used mind maps to capture them on paper and then narrowed down to 3 ideas. It took me a couple of days to decide which one to research, write and submit. I finished the article and submitted exactly at 9:00 first monday of the month. I felt certain I can write the article in 2 weeks. The next one took 2 weeks and then shortened to 1 week. For several months I gave myself a week to complete my column. I became comfortable that 1 week is the optimum time.
In the summer I had a family wedding to prepare. Asian wedding preparations go on forever. Parties, discussions, shopping etc got in the way. I did not think about my column. The wedding was over and we all had a great time and things went according to plan. Then it dawned on me that I had to submit the article tomorrow morning. I had only about six hours to research, write and submit the article. I was determined and worked all night. I came up with the idea, researched it, wrote and perfected it. By 9:00am it was submitted. I made the deadline and felt incredible. My confidence hit the sky. Cockily I thought I can write a 1000 word article in 6 hours.
For several years I wrote my articles on sunday evenings and never missed a deadline. Life has a way of teaching you. My son fell ill on sunday night and I had to take him to hospital and stayed overnight to look after him. I came home for a few hours to have breakfast and go back to stay with him. At about 5am I phoned the hospital and the nurse told me that he was sleeping peacefully. I remembered that I had to submit my column at 9:00am. I started to think about writing the column. I felt that there was no way I could write a good column in about 2-3 hours but felt the urge to try my best. My mind froze out everything that was happening and focused completely on writing the article. As if by magic the words just flowed and the article seemed to write itself. My fingers seemed to be moving by themselves. The finished first draft was almost perfect, I read it once and then submitted. I again hit the deadline and submitted by 9:00am. I felt incredible and knew with absolutely certainty that if I was committed then 1000 words/hour was realistic and the first draft will be perfect. When challenged to write I got faster. My writing just flowed. Ideas came out of nowhere. It got easier and easier.
Since then I have written numerous papers, books, reports and articles. The more I wrote the faster I became. I wrote the column for 4 years and the editor remarked that I was their most consistent writer and readers really enjoyed my columns. This felt good.
Then I moved onto other challenges and did not write for 6 months and then I had to write a research paper for a conference. I just could not write anything. I sat down to write but nothing happened. I was frustrated and angry. I thought, “I’ve lost my ability to write”. I got writers block. This makes sense doesn’t it. If you run everyday then don’t run for a month, you’ll feel soar and painful. You are bound to feel resistance to running. So if want running to be easy then run everyday and keep running. It’s the same with writing, if you want to write easily then write something everyday. It doesn’t matter what you write. Even if you write crap just write.
As a student make sure you read research papers everyday. Allocate 30 minutes to an hour to read and feed your mind. In addition make sure you write about your results everyday after laboratory work. Summarise papers you have read in your own words from memory. The more you read and write the better you will become. These are essential skills.
Read and write every single day. Eventually it is no longer a skill but its second nature.
Just read and write anything. The subject doesn’t matter. Quality doesn’t matter. What matters is to do it everyday.
Are you fully focused on what you are doing? Are you using your innate ability to the maximum? How can you get the best out of yourself and your time?
Just a few days ago I was working with a student on a very tight deadline. He was obviously extremely stressed out about his progress and ability to complete the work on time. If he misses the deadline he will have to pay £3,000. The imminent deadline and the prospect of the penalty should focus his mind like a laser and shut out all distractions. However, during our discussions he kept answering the phone, checking for text messages or quickly answering text. This was annoying and made me lose focus several times from important messages I was trying to convey. Despite my commitment to support my desire to help diminished every time there was an interruption.
This reminded me of a time earlier in the year when I visited my best friend Steven and his dog Slim. Steven offered Slim a bone. Slim was highly excited and desperately wanted the bone but did not want to drop the toy he had in his mouth to get the bone.
“Slim you can’t have both the bone and the toy at the same time” Steven said.
We are also like Slim. I am no exception. My desire to check text messages and e-mails is all consuming. I can’t resist the urge. We try to stay on top of e-mails and texts whilst trying to write a research paper or a thesis chapter. We are not willing to let go to focus on the gold. We are crap at communicating because we are talking to a friend and whilst texting. Just like Slim I often sit in front of the TV reading a research paper. When I think about my behaviour it is stupid but I try to be clever and justify it by saying I am spending quality time with my family. My wife is an excellent cook and spends hours preparing meals for us. Like an idiot instead of really enjoying and appreciating the meals I am planning tasks for the next day. Even when I go out for a romantic meal with the most important person in my universe I am thinking about work. How sad is that?
What a tragic life? I should practice what I preach however just like Slim I want to have two things in my mouth at the same time. In my younger days I used to think I can hold several things in my mouth. That’s a big fantasy and we all think we can do several things at once. Your mouth might be moving but can you really taste the food. You are switching back and forth from one things to another. If you don’t focus your mental laser how can you burn a hole in the most important task you are trying to do now. You must focus on one thing at a time. We all know that and as kids we used magnifying glass to focus rays of the sun to burn holes in paper. We know the value of focus but don’t practice it.
If you focus on the one most important task now that you love then you’ll be in heaven. If you do that you will be living a full screen 3D multicolour life. Focus on one thing at a time and let it consume 100% of your attention. You will love it and achieve amazing results. Let everything else fade away.
For example, when I write I go to full screen mode and hide all the editing icons. The only thing I see is the text. This eliminates distractions and lets me focus on writing. I am more productive. You can do this with anything. If you eat then just eat and enjoy the deliciousness of the food. If you are talking to a friend then really enjoy the company and turn off the phone. If you are surfing the net then just do that and nothing else. If you go to the movies with the love of your life then squeeze as much joy and happiness as you can from your time together.
For students, if you are in the laboratory doing experiments then give that 100% attention. If you writing your transfer report focus exclusively on that. If you are reading a research paper then only do that. Don’t be like Slim trying to play with the toy and keep the bone in your mouth. You will do better with only one thing in your mouth. Give 100% of your attention. Put your mind in a full screen mode. You’ll have more fun and be more productive. Let everything else fade into the background. This is simple in principle but it is far from easy. You need to develop your concentration muscle. You can only do that progressively. If you set a task to write for 4 hours in one go you’ll be bitterly disappointed. Start small or nano. Begin by doing 15 minutes at a time and then build up slowly. Add only 5 minutes next time and work up to 45 minutes stints. Have a break and repeat. It is much easier to do four 45 minutes sessions than one long writing marathon. Practice will help build your focus muscle. Start now and practice.
I practice meditation and at first even one minute of undivided focus on my breathing was so hard. Try it for yourself. Now after years of daily practice I can manage 30 minutes. If you let go of the toy you’ll really be able to taste the bone. Hopefully we are little smarter than Slim. Smart thinking is single thinking in full screen mode.
1. Just get going for now you don’t have to get it perfect.
Do you wait for everything to be perfect before you start on an important task? Do you have to wait to do something because the time is not right? Do you delay things because it’s the wrong place?
These are just lame excuses that we all make because we are too scared to act. It’s easier to delay or put things off, however if you keep putting things off then you will feel the ultimate pain of failure. You feel like a dagger has pierce your heart because you know that success was within your grasps and you are the only one to blame.
“You don’t have to get it right, you have to just get it going” Mike Litman
i) If you have something important to do then break it down into tiny steps that are easy to do.
ii) Get started now on the first easy step
iii) You will find that you will build momentum and confidence that will keep you going even when things get tough
iv) As you do things you can improve and perfect you skills and abiliies. Your ability and confidence to tackle bigger goals and tasks will increase.
2. Work harder on your skills and abilities everyday than you do on the job
Do you work very hard on your job but you don’t seem to making progress? Do you have 10 years experience? Or do you have 1 years experience 10 times? Are you improving daily?
A lot of people work hard and long hours on their jobs but don’t experience long term success. If you work on developing your skills and abilities you will be able to do a much better job. Just like a carpenter if your tools are sharp and honed then you will easily be able to make objects of a higher standard. If however your tools are blunt the quality of you work will be poorer. So its much better to spend some time sharpening your tools before you start on the job.
“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job” Jim Rohn
3. Don’t go to bed at night as the same person who woke up in the morning
Have you made any progress today? Do you feel satisfied with the day? Have you made a contribution to the world?
Make sure that before you go to bed you have learnt at least one new things during the day. If you are a research read a new paper and learn something from it that you can apply to your life. Learn a new technique or work on a new skill. When you wake up tomorrow you will be a better person and more effective in things you have to get done. We all have a basic human need to grow and contribute. If you are growing daily you will be able to add more value and contribute great things to people, the environment and your work.
“Become a man of value instead a man of substance” Albert Einstein
Can you explain your project in one sentence? If not then your explanation is too long. When you have an important mission or project or goal then you want to tell as many people as possible. Everyone you meet regardless of their level of education or background should know what you do or what your project is all about.
When you are doing your PhD then you will be reading lots of papers written for scientists or experts in the field. In general, the more you learn something the harder it is to explain in a way that they will understand it or more importantly feel. You think that your project it more important to the world than it actually is and due being totally absorbed in your work you can’t explain it without going into unnecessary and pain details that they don’t actual give a damn about.
I am very interested in a technique known as chemical vapour deposition (CVD) and I become obsessed about learning as much as I could. So when someone asked me what I did, I would go into details about the technique, deposition and gas handling systems, kinetics and transport models used to explain what’s going on in reactors, laminar flows, turbulent flows, homogeneous and heterogeneous reactions, adsorption and desorption, and various measurements with XPS, Auger spectroscopy, etc. I was so excited and jazzed to be talking about CVD that I almost forgot the original question.
Meanwhile, my friend or colleagues eyes would be glazed over and rolling. I could feel that they were thinking; what the hell is this guy talking about? They were frustrated and bored listening to me talking about details that they didn’t care about for what may have seemed like hours to them.
I had years of experience and read thousands of papers and was trying to explain it in a short session of 5 minutes or less.
Then I started showing them people what CVD is by using examples:
Here is a drill which cuts 1,000 holes in a materials and if I put a thin coating of diamond on the surface with CVD it can drill 10,000 holes. It last longer and performs better. I would get them to put a drill in a CVD reactor, press a button and then remove the drill later with a coating on it.
They saw what CVD does.
They didn’t care about the details they just wanted to see the benefits.
If people ask me what I do now, I say; “At UCLAN We develop nanomaterials or nanosystems that improve people’s health and our environment.”
Even though a lot of thought goes into our projects into developing new nanomaterials and systems for asthma, cancer, solar energy etc we always start with our basic core idea.
So it’s important at the beginning that you show people the benefits of what you are doing so that they are fascinated enough to want to learn more rather than tell them everything all at once and bore them with details.
So what do you want to tell everyone? How can you do it in one simple sentence?
Write down one sentence now and tell everyone.
Are you stuck at the same level? Is your life, income and achievements similar to your friends? No matter how hard you try, do you find that you cannot find a way to break through to the next level.
I have been stuck at various levels during different stages in my life. On numerous occasions I felt that there was a glass ceiling and I would never break through to the next level of achievement or happiness. This glass ceiling is perceived in the mind. It is not real even though it feels like it is.
Five characteristics have helped me throughout my life to be happy and achieve things.
i) I always try my best in anything I do
ii) I am always looking to learn from people around me and from my negative experiences
iii) I read a lot of books by people I admire or on subjects I want to learn
iv) I am grateful for everything I have and all the people around me.
v) I am honest with myself and everyone else.
I developed these characteristics when I was very young even before I can remember. They must have come from my parents and early school teachers.
How do you get to the next level?
Try these 5 tips and see if you can break through and get to the next level.
1. Write an article or a paper that people at the next level will appreciate and admire. This will get you noticed by people at a higher level.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing” Benjamin Franklin
One of the things that got me noticed by academics when I was in industry was that I wrote articles and papers that were practical based on my industrial experience and investigations. I wrote an article in Royal Society of Chemistry trade magazine then named “Chemistry in Britain” titled “Engineering the future with lasers”. I received numerous phone calls from academics from all over the UK.
My most productive research partnership is with Prof Mark Jackson from Purdue University in the USA. How did this collaboration start? I wrote an article in “Materials World”with the title “Gem of a Surface” based on research we were doing on the chemical vapour deposition of diamond films. Mark rang me and asked if he could visit me. I was delighted and when he came he brought some micro drills and asked if we could coat them for him. We coated them and he tested them and we wrote few papers together at first. When Mark moved to America he asked if we could continue collaborating and again I was delighted at his request and interest. My connection with Mark catapulted me from a scientist who was known in the North-West of England to someone known on the international stage. We co-chaired international conferences, wrote books and host workshops.
We wrote several books together and then we got noticed by the really top scientists in the world. The forewords to these books were written by world’s eminent authorities and noble prize winners. This took us to an even higher level.
This illustrates the power of writing to get to the next level. Learn to do it well. Practice and you will get better and improve your skill and consequently level.
2. Join a body or society that brings you in contact with people at a higher level.
I also applied for prestigious membership of Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Materials at the level of Fellow. I read somewhere “go for the best first, second best is always available. I skipped normal membership and applied for the highest level of Fellow. I was asked to attend an interview to be awarded Fellow of Institute of Materials in 1998. Writing FIMM and FRSC elevated me to the status of being an established authority in the field, someone who had made significant contribution to the profession.
3. Join groups with people in them who were at a higher level. Their mere presence will help elevate you.
4. Communicate with people in higher networks. This is easy now you can access almost anyone by email.
I wrote to people in government, advisors to presidents, prime ministers and eminent scientists. Most of them wrote back and offered their advice. They sensed my sincerity and reached out to me and offered guidance and encouragement. I have obtained several posts in my career where I was head hunted by people I communicated with by email. I try my best now and do the same for younger people trying to get to the next level.
“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed” Napoleon Hill
5. Speak at conferences, workshops and meetings of people in higher levels. Rehearse well and prepare the best you can and offer some unique insights. When you deliver well at these meetings then you will be welcomed into their circles.
When I was working at VSW Scientific before I was an academic I spoke at prestigious universities. I spoke at Liverpool, Salford, Oxford and Cambridge Universities on molecular beam scattering. I had unique knowledge about these systems due to working at the company and designing uniques systems and experiments.
“Aiming for the moon and missing is better than aiming for the ditch and hitting it”
Don’t feel there is something wrong with the level you are at, everything is fine at your level. If you have big dreams and goals then you will want to transcend several levels to achieve what you want. Don’t forget your friends take them with you on an exciting journey moving from one level to another in the elevator of life. There is great merit in aiming for the top.
There was a time when I was super organised. I scheduled meetings every 15 minutes, had a heavy teaching schedule and lots of administration work. I worked extremely hard, replied to every single email I received no matter who it was from and scheduled my day from 8:00am to 12:00pm rigidly. Even though every minute of the day was accounted for even during lunch and coffee breaks I was doing something such as correcting a research papers from a student or advising someone about their future career. Even though I felt extremely busy and got things done I did not feel satisfied or in control. No matter how hard or long I worked my to do list kept getting bigger and bigger. I was running as hard as I could on a treadmill and no matter how hard I tried the treadmill got faster and faster. I could never beat the treadmill. I kept this approach up since leaving university and felt it was essential for me to be productive and useful. It was part of my identity. My purpose was just getting things done. Even though I was successful I was not happy and fulfilled.
How to have success and fulfilment in your life easily?
You’ll find these 12 steps can change your life. They have been adapted to make my life work and you can adapt them to your particular situation.
The key is to simplify your life and avoid complicated and rigid schedules. Focus on people instead of just tasks.
1. Learn to say no and reduce the number of scheduled appointments. Schedule only meetings that are unavoidable and attended only meetings you have to attend. Stopped attending meetings just because your on the circulation list or just because people want to see you.
2.Only put things on your calendar that you must get done, meetings that arise, however you have a choice of things to do. Selected in terms of importance. Leave gaps in my calendar for things you enjoy doing such as going for a meeting with a colleague about research.
3. Focus on the task you are doing exclusively. Immerse your self in just one task at a time rather than multitasking. Do things that you are passionate about and keep to a minimum things that have to do to keep someone happy. Take control of your tasks and set them yourself rather than let other people dictate them. This will make you more effective and you’ll have more fun doing useful work. Choose tasks that were important and challenging.
4. Eliminated distractions. Shut the door. Switch off your phone and email. Clear your desk and only have stuff on it that you need to complete what you are doing. The rest of the world disappears. Get excited about the task and you’ll be in heaven in the process of doing what you love.
5. Look at your goals and to do list and chose the top 3 things you want to do. These will get you closer to your goals. Ranked them in order of importance. If you have a series of phone calls then batched them together and rattle them off quickly. Answered emails twice a day instead of throughout the day. This top 3 list should rule your day and you’ll find a way to focus. Start the day with the most important task and then moved to the second and third things on the list. Focused on a single task and try your best to get it completed. Focused intensely on finishing the task. Don’t jump from one task to another. This is hard because things keep coming to mind that seem more important, attractive and enjoyable. Once you have prioritised don’t change your mind in the middle of a task. Review your priorities after completion of what you are working on.
6. When you have many tasks then they are difficult to organise. Work on making your task list small. Have fewer items on the list and organising will be easier. Three tasks are easy to organised but 30 tasks are more difficult to deal with. Focus on reducing the number of tasks. Eliminate as many as you can, delegate those others can do, postpone ones that can be done later and don’t others you are committed to but aren’t important. Focus on the most important things to you and your organisation.
7. You have three most important tasks that you must do and then you will have a list of tasks that can be done quickly and easily. Don’t focus on these and neglect the most important ones. You can batch tasks together so that you reduce switch over time.
8. You can batch things like phone calls. Don’t make calls throughout the day. Have set times when you make calls. If you can also controls times you receive calls that will allow you more time to focus on the task at hand. You can route phone calls to your answer machine. This way you won’t be interrupted in the middle of the important work you are doing.
9. E-mail seems to be taking over people’s lives in offices now. You can batch your emails so you check them twice a day and answer the quick ones. You can answer them at 11:00am before lunch and 4:00pm just before going home. Don’t let emails prevent you from finishing the most important tasks.
10. Some meeting you can’t control, however those you can try to schedule them at the same time as batch just after one another. Set a specified time and agenda and don’t over run and always start on time. When you batch meeting together you will have bigger blocks of time to work on important things such as writing a paper.
11. Try to do research on website together as a block. If you have to research several topics on the web then do it together as batched tasks.
12. Your time management tools must also be simple. Use a calendar, Google Cal is good and it is very simple and available anywhere. Most systems have calendars with them and also space for taking notes. Have a simple note book to write things downs. You will have you top 3 tasks, batched tasks and your notes and information you need or will write down at meetings or from internet, papers and calls as you do your research. Index your note books so that you can find the information you want quickly.
Follow these steps and get a life full of success and fulfilment. Success and happiness do go together.