Measure it to manage it

One of the more life-altering moments in my second year as an assistant professor was reading Jean Peccoud’s Perspective article in PLoS Computational Biology “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. It is short and I highly recommend that you read it directly. In brief, the lessons it imparted and that have had a long term effect include:

  • Grant writing took Dr. Peccoud the same amount of time, regardless of the return on investment (i.e. a $20,000 grant takes as much time as a $200,000 grant) — so prioritize your time based on the possibility for return.
  • I use Toggl to monitor my components of effort: research (writing papers, managing projects, training students), teaching (preparation, teaching, helping students), service (to the department, to the university, to undergraduate vs. graduate advising and training), and scientific expansion (seminars, meetings with visiting scientists, reading papers).
    • This significantly altered my view of how I was spending time and made me realize I needed to reign in the service and teaching components, in order to place enough time on the research and science components.
    • I discovered when I was effective at what parts of my job, based on my activity versus effectiveness. That led me to section certain parts of my day to certain tasks and to protect that time. If you write better at one part of the day, use that part of the day for writing. If your lab is freshest to talk about research at a part of the day, use that part of the day for checking in with the lab. If after lunch is less effective for any of these tasks, set your office hours or meetings during that time.