The Professors’ Experiences: Insights from the Interviews

From the perspective of planning, we consider professors as the most experienced in “juggling it all.” With more substantial leadership roles and management duties, the way they Plan and Execute as Planned includes both their personal goals and a responsibility of supporting and mentoring the people they lead. The responses to the interview question - “In your role, how do you plan and execute as planned?" - revealed the importance of having an approach to planning, of using organisational tools and of dedicating daily time to their health and wellbeing. Some of the strategies mentioned in the interviews with the professors were:

  • • Waking up early (4:30 AM or 5.30 AM) to dedicate time to academic writing
  • • Exercising first thing in the morning to focus and plan their goals
  • • Utilising their Annual Review to reflect on set goals
  • • Setting up external deadlines
  • • Blocking out time for specific goals
  • • Taking time off to recuperate and re-energise
  • • Making lists and annotating them all in one source of reference
  • • Setting long-term goals to keep focussed

To illustrate these strategies, we grouped them within three themes and offer the following excerpts from the interviews (Table 11.1).

All three professors also highlighted the need for flexibility and the maximum use of the little time they might have between tasks to dedicate themselves to their writing and their own projects. This correlates with the findings from the study of Dutch professors by Koens et al. (2018), where the participants stated that the focus on developing others’ careers and university strategies in their workloads left little room for their own academic pursuits.

Discussion: Energy and Productivity in Running the Academic Marathon

The early career and mid-career academic journey maps and insights from the interviews with the professors reveals that being productive as an academic entails different approaches to Planning and Executing as Planned. We also observed that the type of workload and tasks involved different types of commitment and energy. Neuroscience literature tells us that the human brain is approximately 2% of the full body weight but consumes 20% of our energy (Koch, 2016; Mattson, 2012). Planning is part of the energy we use to be productive, and we need strategies to ensure we plan in the best way possible. Kogon et al. (2014) explain that people draw energy to be productive from three sources: their passion for the task, their sense of achievement and from their body.

TABLE 11.1

Professor Interview Excerpts

Approach to Planning

Tools for Getting Tasks Done

Maintaining Health and Wellbeing

Professor A: I set short-term and long-term goals. So. if you get a long-term goal, you sketch out the process, of how many months or years it is going to take to achieve that goal. In the past, 1 ’ve made like a five year plan... then you have the micro goals to get you through those five years. Something like, what you ate going to publish, how you are going to pitch your teaching and research ...

Professor A: / make like a list, multiple lists in Word, that sometimes 1 don 7 adhere to. And sometimes 1 put it in my whiteboard to knock down. For instance, as my research is now kind of falling into a secondary thing, although I’m trying to get it done, that is what 1 actually put in front of my screen, like these are the research metrics 1 need to do ...

Professor A:... 1 go swimming in the morning, and that is when 1 get to think on stuff. When I’m swimming 1 think and 1 keep it in my head. And then 1 organise my day when lam having a swim, or if I cycle to work

Professor B: PPR [performance review] is actually a surprisingly useful tool, because it does make you look back on everything once a year... it helps me keep up to date and reassess what I’ve [been] doing, what I've progressed in. And in terms of actually making a plan, that is not something that I think there are tools for.

Professor B: So daily tasks first. So 1 have a notebook, which is great, and 1 keep it with me, and it works ... Ihave all my notes from meetings, and notes l need to remember, and notes from people 1 meet and then 1 have a list and 1 cross them out. So that is my main method.

Professor B:... / do getup at 5:30 AM and go on the treadmill and do all my reading. So 1 do marking, reading, editing on the treadmill. So I’ve put everything there and 1 have my red pen.

Professor C:... Iknow that 1 respond to deadlines really, really well... It’s not about research first, sometimes ... 1 will sit and look for calls for papers for special issues, because it’s an external deadline [1] can respond to every few months ... then I’ll work towards that.

Professor С: 1 prioritise and set goals so I’m very much focussed on outcomes. So, okay, 1 want to achieve this, what is the outcome? So I’ll block out time during my week to do things, but 1 know, more importantly, 1 brow myself so 1 brow how 1 respond to things.

Professor C:... / try really hard to take a Friday...a month balance my academic jobs and actually maintain my sanity ... and so everyone's got this whole sanity and timing in a different way. But then you're a researcher, you know you're smarter, you can be much more productive doing great good hours and then recuperating.

The first source of energy is passion, which is related to our intrinsic motivations. A definition of intrinsic motivation in relation to productivity is the motivation to perform an activity for its own sake in order to experience the pleasure and satisfaction inherent in the activity (Deci et al., 1989). The second source of energy is achievement; this is related to our extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivation in relation to productivity is focussed on attaining a desired outcome through the activity rather than on the activity itself (Gagne and Deci, 2005). The third source of energy is our body; the most productive people care for their health and wellbeing and include an exercise or meditation routine in their daily lives (Hunter and Scherer, 2009). Our academic journey maps and interviews show that Design academics are motivated by tasks that are meaningful to them, and therefore they Plan and Execute as Planned to accommodate such tasks no matter their workload. This observation is also supported by research which suggests that meaningful work motivates people when they believe they have responsibility for the outcome (Dysvik and Kuvaas, 2013). Academics’ intrinsic motivations are driven by their passion for their work, and therefore their careers are driven by their desire to achieve their goals and the rewards at different stages (for example, academic promotion). Intrinsic motivation and passion are key components of running the academic marathon, and the way that academics navigate Planning and Executing as Planned is influenced by the way academics manage their own wellbeing.

At the early career stage, an academic’s intrinsic motivation is often to establish a career and take on opportunities, and their ability to do this is limited by their high teaching load. Their energy is invested in getting the teaching load planned, prepared and delivered. In our academic journey maps, we found similar patterns between the experiences of an early career academic from a decade ago to one currently in this stage. Early career academics employ their extrinsic motivation of targeting their important goals by networking more than in the past, being very adaptable to the changing environment and by actively participating in interest groups (such as Shut Up and Write) in order to get work done. Their academic journey maps show that they need a constant investment of energy throughout the year to accomplish their workload and goals.

Our mid-career academic journey maps demonstrate that a more experienced academic might plan and get things done because their energy is invested in multiplying opportunities to work on meaningful tasks around their research brand and leadership roles. Different career paths are observed for those who are driven more by their teaching and mentoring experiences and those who are more interested in leadership positions. Their internal motivation drives their energy, which helps midcareer academics to deal with the constant struggle to fit it all in. For mid-career academics, external motivators are about moving on to the next level of the academic career (the professorial stage). Their wellbeing and emotional state is impacted by time-consuming tasks that converge during key pain points. Mid-career academics employ both online and offline tools to manage tasks and have a deep interest in setting career goals. Their lack of time makes them more selective of the networking tasks they engage in.

At the professorial stage, these academics are driven by their intrinsic motivation of being leaders and mentors for the people they lead. They feel responsible for their team’s performance and their time is invested in developing courses of action for others. Their external motivations are vested in achieving university-wide performance metrics, and they are limited by the little time and opportunity they have to work on their own projects. While strategies for planning and executing are simpler and are shared by collaborators and their teams, their personal wellbeing is paramount for them to remain focussed and to accomplish their work. A commonality from the interviews of all three professors is that they know how they work, and, therefore, they are not trying new approaches, tools or strategies.

In the next section, we present our seven strategies for Planning and Executing as Planned. Some of these strategies include known approaches; we present them below in the way they work for the Design academic. These strategies that come from our own practices are now supported by the understanding gained from surveying and interviewing our Design academic colleagues and their different patterns of work.

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