How we work (s03e12)

In this episode, your hosts talk about some reflections on how they work and what they've learned in their career (up to now!).

How we work (s03e12)
Photo by Ash Edmonds / Unsplash
This is the transcript of the Open Update. Find the original audio on

[00:00:00] Chris Hartgerink: Hello and welcome back to the Open Update for Liberate Science. I'm Chris Hartgerink, joined by my lovely co-host, Sarahanne Field.

[00:00:07] Sarahanne Field: Hello.

[00:00:08] Chris Hartgerink: And this week in the Open Update, we thought we'd take a bit of a different track, not talk so much about abstract notions but to talk a bit more about how we work and how we think about work.

In a research space, but also more in general, regarding personal boundaries at work. What does it mean to progress in your career, what does that do with how you show up at work, how you do things, and what the impact is? And simply to have an open discussion about how we work and learning maybe from one another what we can improve.

If you are interested to jump on in, if you have opinions, which I bet you you have, we have the Signal group. Please be sure to share whatever lessons you've learned over time and where you think, we can learn something from you, maybe.

So Sarahanne, when you get up in the morning, what's the first thing you do to get a successful day? I'm notoriously bad at checking my calendar these days.

[00:01:09] Sarahanne Field: One thing that I'm really into is to start a day off well is to do a run in the morning, but the gap between the idea in theory and the idea in practice is, is quite large cause I have two small children and so, you know, getting up and getting my shit together and being able to get that done is, is difficult.

If I get my run out in the morning, then I feel really good. I'm like, I already accomplished something for the day. I don't have to worry about planning it in for later on in the day or, you know, worrying about the rest of my schedule.

[00:01:44] Chris Hartgerink: I try to, you know, sit down with my piece of paper and think about what I wanna achieve for the day and I should look at my calendar to make sure I have like a full picture. And I know it's the best to actually do this the evening before so that you don't have to do it in the morning and you have like a bit of time to mull it over.

But for me, I'm pretty much the kind of person who goes "oh, now it's time to get started," open up my laptop and I get sucked into whatever is open at that time, which ends up being emails and, and that's not to say I encourage doing that. I think that's not something to encourage more this question of also how do you, how do you channel your focus?

And I've been thinking about this a lot in terms of how do I structure my day? Also how does the structure I have in my day affect the work that I do? Even though I'm my own boss, I have zero reason to work from nine to five or nine to six and not at different hours, I end up doing it anyway. And I noticed that this has been affecting the, the way I work. I'm very much somebody who works when, when the wave hits. The train is a very good structure to do that in, but to sort of go with the flow of the, of the energy levels instead of to force it.

Although I must admit that, creativity sometimes, I'm not personally a fan of saying it has to happen. Creativity, needs to be forced for me more, so I'm full of dualities and contradictions in in that way.

[00:03:19] Sarahanne Field: When you say you sort of. Surf the wave of, of the work mode, as it happens. That's extremely recognizable for me.

I have a lot of trouble getting my brain into gear before about 11:00 AM and so it's, gonna be one o'clock and I'll have been doing things here and there, a couple of odd jobs and emails and that sort of thing, and then all of a sudden I'll feel this need to work, and I'll be like "oh, yes, let's do this."

It's difficult because a bit like you, I have freedom to my schedule. With my postdoc, I work remote most of the time, and so that means that I am the master of my own time. So I need to, basically schedule my own day, which I find challenging, to be completely honest. But that's gonna change. I've got this faculty job coming up where I'm gonna need certain times, gonna need learn to use the time that I have when it occurs. So I'll need to learn some new habits, you know.

[00:04:20] Chris Hartgerink: Riding the wave indeed requires that option to do it, but it also requires a lack of organization, which I'm not necessarily too proud of because I think what happens is that I keep a lot of mental space for all the tasks that need to happen, and I'm breaking them down in my head continuously.

But then at the same time, it keeps owning so much space in my head that I actually don't get to use those resources to do the work, but it's to manage the work, unnecessarily so. I'm trying to find a way to manage projects much more so it's more like a buffet, so to speak. I feel like planning could benefit me a lot, but at the same time I'm also getting a lot done.

But one of the things that I have noticed is also the aspect of, email , it becomes this rabbit hole, of course, as many people know it to be. What I've started doing is scheduling those emails. So that they only get sent out, the next morning so that I don't have to pick this conversation up today, because then the person replies to my email because they're sucked into their inbox.

For me it's also this reflection of what are the actions that I take and how do they affect what the workload is?

[00:05:38] Sarahanne Field: You've probably come across this too. I've seen in people's, email signatures where they'll say something along the lines of, I am maybe not replying in normal work hours. Please don't feel the need to reply. Except in a time that suits you or something to that effect that, it's always interesting to me.

I've sort of toyed with the idea of putting that on my own signature. I definitely work irregular hours. You know, I have ADD which means that sometimes my brain just turns on at weird times, and sometimes I'm like, oh, gotta send that email and it'll be at 11 at night or 12 at night, you know? And that happens to me pretty often. And so it, you know, I'm certainly the kind of person hours, but at the same I also think I'm working with adults who, I assume will be able to just set their own boundaries.

[00:06:25] Chris Hartgerink: Here the aspect comes in like, what stage of your career are you in, right? Because if you're an early career researcher, you don't necessarily have a lot of powers and nobody's being influenced per se by your behavior? Not as much, at least, but if you are a supervisor, what's the role modeling behavior that you showcase? Because there's plenty of research in that field specifically, but also in meta research on, you know, if supervisors pre-register their work, the PhD students are more likely to pre-register work or replace that with anything else.

And you probably get the same outcome also because they push people. To do these things, of course, but also because the role modeling really matters and regardless of whether you choose to be a role model, and you don't need to be an inspiration to be a role model, it's just your behavior models, what other people, do and especially, uh, uh, If you have a certain amount of power over somebody that's gonna affect them.

So I think moving further in my career also, it's reflecting on, well, what is the position that I take and how does that affect how people might perceive my behavior? And I know people can get very, anxious about how do people see them. It's something I, I've done for a very long time myself, but also this aspect of, you know, when I go to conferences, I understand that I run a business, I'm outside of academia. People might look at me very differently as a result. So I'm very cognizant of, well, how do I behave in these spaces?

So for example, at any leadership training that you might attend, they will always say, if you have drinks at the end of an event, a social event, and people, who you have power dynamics with are there, be sure to the first drink, take a non-alcoholic drink to signal it's okay, to role model, it's okay to not drink alcohol in this space because otherwise it might set a completely different tone.

It's so important to think about this, but I see so many people not doing that. Like, ah, you know, I'm not that important, or who cares? But at the same time, it does have an effect.

[00:08:49] Sarahanne Field: I like your idea of scheduling emails to say, 9:00 AM the next morning, the next working morning or whatever. But I work with so many people in different projects that are at different time zones than me, and so, I don't assume that my email would end up in someone's inbox at any particular time.

Not only am I terrible with time zones, but my 11:00 PM might be someone else's. Reasonable time in the morning. I find that if I think about that too much, I just get confused. The more international your group of collaborators is, the more that is difficult to negotiate.

[00:09:25] Chris Hartgerink: Yeah and in that sense, this is, this is exactly the point of How to be cognizant of your work also means that the context changes and that changes your behavior. Like in that sense, it would actually be detrimental to wait sending an email because it might then mean it arrives at 3:00 AM for somebody or for parts of the team.

So, you know, you can't please, if you have a whole team, you can't make it work for everybody most likely. But the thing is thinking about what are the boundaries of the people involved? And I really like how, how I read somewhere that boundaries are continuous negotiations between people.

It's not just your own. It's like setting a boundary requires negotiating. Okay, well what is that boundary for me with, for example, with you? And to then highlight that and then maybe, you know, the next day or the next week, that boundary has shifted because the situation has changed. One day I might not appreciate jokes about my first gray hair, and the other day it's fine. And so this assessment and talking about, well, what is it that people need in this certain space is so incredibly important.

[00:10:33] Sarahanne Field: I think that that's a really nice illustration talking about negotiating boundaries between people. It's a bit like your, the fence you share with your neighbor. You can't just change the fence without your neighbor being part of that decision, or at least in most cases. But, you know, I think especially in academia where the culture has got issues, where there is this culture that is bad for some people's mental health. Being really clear with communicating, and making sure that boundaries are clearly set out and that we're respecting one another's boundaries , those things, they're just so, so crucial.

[00:11:07] Chris Hartgerink: So Sarahanne, and with respect to how we work together on this podcast, maybe we can reflect a bit on that. It's bit meta to talk about how we work and the How We Work podcast episode. But you know, one of the things that I've noticed is we have a lot on our plate at any given time.

We're doing this podcast pretty much on the side, and so how we also show up for one another whenever something happens. I, I very much appreciate that. Where it's the, oh, you know, we usually record on Mondays, but then something happens or there's a double booking and then, you know, let's just shift it around and not really having this, no, it has to happen on that day and it has to go this way.

I think that's, that's a very good thing.

[00:11:52] Sarahanne Field: One thing that it just sort of, I grab onto when you say that is showing up for each other, and I think it comes back to something you mentioned just before, is helping each other with boundaries. In a discussion a couple weeks back, I was saying to you, I really need to say no to more things.

I really need to start being a bit tighter with the things I say yes to and that I do. And, you know, you've checked in a few times since then, just making sure how I'm going with keeping to those boundaries and encouraging me when I meet those boundaries. That's, that's a really big part of that.

The co-authors and collaborators and colleagues that I appreciate the most are the people who are really clear with their own communications, their own needs, and are are flexible for mine as well. You know, I think most people work well when others are, are flexible with them, with their needs.

Coming back to that, the culture in academia, I think flexibility is a huge benefit in coauthor teams. So I'm working with Quala Lab. They're a qualitative research focused, group. They're not located anywhere. It's a virtual group. And we meet, in theory every week.

And there are projects that are getting done and they're in, the expectations are very low of everyone. Show up to the meetings. If you can fine. If you can't join in with what, you can, don't have to join into every anything. The boundaries are very clear: do what is good for you and we'll respect that.

But it's also very flexible and I find I'm really, I love that atmosphere and that feeling that I can kind of come and go as it suits me, and that I'm not, you know, required to do anything. I feel like that works really well.

[00:13:33] Chris Hartgerink: It's interesting that you say that because I find that, flexibility for me is, even though it sounds very good, In collaborations or in working with together with people, I find that flexibility creates too much ambiguity and a mismatch of expectations. And so for me, what I try to do very much with it's Creating clarity, it's a form of boundary setting, I guess.

I've had this with, if I would, do a visit to an organization to discuss whether they would be interested in supporting our project or not, because there's a certain investment in that, to then also say, Hey, this is the purpose with which I am thinking about planning this, is that something you see potential in as well? If not, I won't be offended, but I would like the clarity so that not I come over and then subsequently nothing comes of it, which is just a very, it's, it's disillusioning. It's disappointing and it also feels like, We're leading people on.

And so what I notice in that is also that it requires a lot of emotional maturity for people to be able to say no to things, to be direct. And I'm very direct even for a Dutch person, and to feel confident to say when you're uncertain about things, because a lot of, in business, especially I think in academia as well, there's a lot of posturing happening around, you know, I'm so important, or I know so much and people become overconfident. The emotional maturity has really helped me to be better in how I work with myself, but also with other people over time. And that also means recognizing, you know, and when you set up a program or a schedule, for your running in the morning, it's ideal.

It doesn't always happen that way. You shouldn't be too harsh on yourself when you don't live up to your own standards. And at the same time, also recognize that what works for you today might not work for you in a month or in a year. So also being flexible enough to switch out bits and pieces.

And of course that becomes. Incredibly complicated. When you're working with a team and you have a piece of software that you use that worked at some point for, for, you know, 70% of the people. And then it doesn't work for the people leading it. But yeah, being in touch with, With your feelings. Sounds like it's completely outside of the space of work, but I find it's much more valuable. I've been doing therapy for a large part of my working life and it's been more, much more helpful than having, you know, more technology at hand.

[00:16:14] Sarahanne Field: That's, that's a really, really cool sort of way of, of focusing on this is sort of knowing yourself. I think that for me is something that's helped me really, I guess, progress in my own, not not only my personal life, but also my working life. So knowing how I work, but also as you say, you know, having confidence and maturity to be able to set boundaries.

I think those two things for me, working together. So knowing how I work, knowing what my limitations are, and be really clear with others about what my boundaries are. I think those two things for me are sort of, have been, have been crucial to, to doing better, and, and to having a sort of a work life that's really enjoyable, and functional.

Also just having friends, like getting your, your people basically having friends who help you with your own boundaries and remind you to take care of yourself. You know, stuff like that I think is probably for, for me, just serving in terms of closing comments for me, that would be the third pillar is, is to have people around that not only respect your boundaries, but help you keep your own boundaries and, and help you sort of check in on yourself every, so often as well.

[00:17:23] Chris Hartgerink: Well, that's a perfect way to close this out.

So with that, one slight exercise, if you're listening, if you wanna pick it up. Setting your own boundaries, I encourage you to do it, but next time somebody says no to you or says, Hey, no, that. That doesn't fit within my boundaries. It's something that we very often feel defensive about or uncomfortable about.

Don't know what to say, like when you get a compliment. And I've decided saying, well, thanks for maintaining your boundaries. And that's just a very, very good way to showcase that you appreciate that people are doing that and it encourages them to do it more often. So maybe, maybe try that out.

Thanks for maintaining your boundaries. thanks for listening to us, and we'll be back in two weeks. Peace.

[00:18:09] Sarahanne Field: It was a long, it was a long one. Yeah.

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