The Productive Researcher Hardcover – 11 Oct 2017
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In The Productive Researcher, Mark Reed shows researchers how they can become more productive in a fraction of their current working day. He draws on interviews with some of the world's highest performing researchers, the literature and his own experience to identify a small number of important insights that can transform how researchers work. The book is based on an unparalleled breadth of interdisciplinary evidence that speaks directly to researchers of all disciplines and career stages. The lessons in this book will make you more productive, more satisfied with what you produce, and enable you to be happy working less, and being more.
The hardback edition has the title and design imprinted on a fabric cover, hand crafted by a book maker in Yorkshire. It contains spectacular colour photography throughout. Chapters are accompanied by close-up images of trees that build up to the forest metaphor that concludes the book. These are bookended by wide perspective canopy images that accompany the front matter (from which the cover design is derived) and concluding chapter. The overall effect is a touch and feel that makes this a book to savour.
Mark Reed is Professor of Socio-Technical Innovation at Newcastle University and Visiting Professor at Birmingham City University and the University of Leeds. He has over 140 publications that have been cited more than 10,000 times. He is author of The Research Impact Handbook, which he has used to train over 4000 researchers from more than 200 institutions in 55 countries.
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Mark Reed’s book of practical tips for becoming a (more) productive researcher has two strengths which make it particularly effective. It is written with sympathy and empathy for the researchers of the title, and (more importantly) it is based on general tips for a productive and happy life, which here get a specific application to research. This aspect is crucial, because it means that the tips presented here have proved their use in other areas of life, and were only ‘waiting’ for an application to researchers specifically. Readers can therefore be sure that the book’s techniques work.
That’s also a warning, though, in a way: this really is a self-help book, targeted at researchers. This means that researchers may find they have to ‘bear with’ feeling that there is a little too much cod psychology here. That’s a note that I wrote myself early in my reading. ‘Say yes to say no’, ‘Do less to do more’ and other phrases sound a bit glib and slogan-like. Before the end of Part One, though, I’d cottoned on to the nature of the book, so I was no longer annoyed by what I’d perceived as a lack of focus on productivity tips—but I had felt that to start with. So beware! Reading this book could change your life, professional and not, but you must give it the chance.
The Productive Researcher is easy to read because it is short, because it is written in fairly informal language, and because it is well-structured. Part One is ‘theory’ and Part Two is ‘practice’. In Part One we are introduced to the central thesis that productivity can be a by-product of basically being happier with work-life balance, and it’s more satisfying that way. Throughout, we get examples of how it has worked in the author’s own life. Finally, a fairly short section lays out key findings from Reed’s interviews with a number of researchers who are famous in their fields for being productive. Part Two applies the ‘theory’ of Part One to practical situations in a researcher’s life: how to write a literature review in a week, how to spend less time with e-mail, meetings and social media (and yet achieve what you need), and others. The book is well-structured, with short chapters, chapter-end summaries of key points, and regular exercises to help the reader put the book’s lessons into practice. I did most of the exercises as I went along, and I can feel that my working day has been changed. For example, at one point readers are advised to do first, each morning, something that relates directly to their values (for example, something to do with research), before doing anything that they just have to do because it comes with the job (like e-mail). At the moment, doing this is giving me a real boost each day.
The restructure of my day leads me to the limited disadvantage I found with The Productive Resarcher’s techniques. I am finding that they make me more productive, but I also feel that they work better for researchers (and others) who have a lot of control over their working day. People who have that sort of power are either senior in their field, or (in the case of academics) on research leave, so that they don’t have to deal so much with the competing demands of research and teaching and admin. I have really got a lot out of this book, because I was able to read it during my research leave, and that gave me the freedom to do the exercises and change things. I hope that the benefit will last after the end of my leave. I think so—but I’m not sure whether I would have been able to get so much out of the book, or even read it in the first place, if I hadn’t been on leave to begin with.
Another reviewer has also criticised the book for a limited view of what ‘productivity’ is, and a bias perhaps too much in the hard sciences. It is true that papers perhaps take less time to produce in the hard sciences than they do in the arts, and that citation numbers are perhaps correspondingly higher—but I am a lecturer in the arts, and still found pertinent and useful the vast majority of the advice from the book and the experts interviewed there.
I read the book and wrote this review entirely on my commute. In doing that, I ‘chunked the task’: fit it into smaller bits of time that I had at my disposal, and which were only suitable for certain sorts of task, as advised by an expert interviewed in the book. In this way, the review impinged on my ‘normal’ day almost not at all. Only once did I have to use any time outside my commute—as I couldn’t upload the review to Amazon from my computer on the train. I would never have thought of trying to fit the review into my commute before reading about the ‘chunking’ technique—I would have thought it was too much hassle to use my laptop on my actual lap on the Newcastle Metro—but, actually, it’s not as bad as all that. This is an example of the kind of new thinking, and the work-life change, that Prof. Reed’s book has caused for me so far. Thoroughly recommended.