Kissy-Smoochy Research Advice

For the last three posts, I focused on how to complete projects you hate (accepting the hate, strategies for motivation, and strategies for survival). Today I’m switching gears to discuss projects we love. Here’s a quick question for you: What’s your favorite current writing or research project?

If you answered right away, I hope it was an internal response because people will start worrying about you if you talk to yourself. Also, if you answered right away that’s great news; it means you have at least one fulfilling and intrinsically motivating project. Today’s post is aimed at those of you who are still struggling to identify a favorite project.

First, let’s develop some insight into why you’re not excited about any of your work. Take a couple of minutes to sit back and reflect on the kinds of work you do, and why none of it is floating your boat.

My guess is that most of you will answer that you just don’t have time to add on any additional projects right now, and that the ones you are working are higher priority than anything fun. I disagree on both counts. First, finding time (even 30 minutes a week) to work on a fulfilling project will help keep you fresh and happier when you are working on the rest of your piles of dung. Second, taking on an extra project that you enjoy and find satisfying will help you continue to grow professionally. Think of it as a long-term investment in your career. Maybe it’s not something your supervisor is demanding this instant, but it will likely come in handy later.

Here are steps for finding that next great project.

  1. Make a list of projects or tasks that you really enjoyed… the ones that you got carried away with, and time just flew by. For me, I love reading new articles, so a lot of my recent favorite projects involve searching through databases for obscure papers (see graphic). I also love data analysis, so I’ll write that down. Hopefully jotting down this list will start to get your blood flowing. Just like in couples’ therapy… one of the first questions we like to ask is, “How did you fall in love?”
  2. Spend 10 minutes to brainstorm ideas. These can be based on your answers to step one, or maybe completely novel. What do you want to share with the world?
  3. Schedule 30 minutes to write an outline or a task list for one of the ideas. You don’t need to spend an entire day. Just start with 30 minutes. Think of it as a first date. Repeat.

Let me know if this process works for you, or what else you’d add. Now go enjoy the honeymoon period!