Time Management Tips from Francis Crick

Academic researchers nowadays are asked to participate in a multitude of tasks outside the core remit of a scholar, which have succinctly been summarized by Scott Hawley as “to learn, to write and to teach.” Deftly handling requests for participation in “non-core” activities is an art, but is essential if one wishes to maintain an active research programme. While it is clear that email and computers have made things worse,┬áthis problem is indeed not new and we can look to history for good strategies to cope with it. Chris Beckett writes of:

A response strategy [Francis] Crick adopted in the 1960s to cope with an enormous post and to make a serious point playfully was the occasional use of a pre-printed postcard offering a number of reply options. The seventeen listed (see Figure 3) are a faithful reflection of the requests he regularly received.

Francis Crick's all-purpose reply card.

While I don’t expect to have opportunity to use many of these myself in the future, and there are some that I don’t agree with rejecting outright (e.g. read your manuscript), this list serves as a checklist for non-core academic activities and a useful reminder of what we didn’t go into science for in the first place.

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