Busy? Let’s call another meeting!

I hate meetings, pure and simple, I have said it now!  I think that most meetings are a huge waste of time and I was refreshed to read the other day that others think the same.  In fact this piece set me thinking of my past as a senior university leader.

I hate meetings not just because I am introvert, and serious one at that, but because they rarely achieve anything and in my experience at least in the University sector are about the information cascade rather than real strategic decision-making.  In my experience decision-making is made by a very small group of University managers and is often strategically self-evident any way so needs little discussion, I should know because I was once one of them.  Consultation and debate rarely change in a meaningful way decisions that are made by these elite, although they would fiercely deny it as a truth.

My mother once said to me that you make a decision in an instant but spend hours, weeks or even years agonising over it and second guessing that initial instinct.  Malcom Gladwell is superb on this subject in his book Blink.  It is the same in universities where the elite (Vice Chancellors and their deputies of various types), make the decisions and rarely do those decisions change.  They manipulate consultation consciously and unconsciously, after all they have to seek a consensus from an academic body known for arguing about most things and prefer that consensus to be modelled on their own.  In fact I have only one concrete example in 26 years of academic experience of a VC changing their mind in face of academic debate.  It was Sir Paul Curran while he was VC at Bournemouth and he backed down in the face of academic opposition from Senate which in most Post-1992 Universities is only advisory.  For me it was a defining moment in a truly academically led regime, not without its faults don’t get me wrong, but such academic collegiate leadership at the highest levels is now rare in UK.  We have lots of good managers but true academic leaders are few.

I digress so back to my hatred of meetings.  There are those who love meetings and away days and the like, extroverts to a tee I am guessing.  I once was appalled to hear a colleague in a leadership meeting many years ago express their love of meetings: “gets me out of the office and lets me catch-up with the gossip”.  I want to be in my office analysing and writing, not wasting time on gossip after all I am a researcher at heart, and one who also enjoys his teaching despite being an introvert.  University meetings conflate three elements in my experience: (1) an important touch point for staff and teams (even an introvert accepts this); (2) information cascade and project monitoring; and (3) very rarely a decision point.

These three elements require very different things and most meeting chairs prefer to focus on the former two elements because in truth, except at the most senior levels in a university, few real decisions are actually made just referred up.  Call me cynical but in my experience this is the truth and also a source of huge irritation for those not part of the decision-making elite.  Isolating the first two elements from the other agenda is done at a chair’s peril because it exposes this, yet is essential to making meetings effective.

Now I have little positive to say for billionaire self-publicists like Musk, but the idea of him empowering people to walk out of meetings if they have nothing to contribute is truly awesome.  His idea of asking for meeting papers in concise prose and insisting the first 30 minutes of a meeting is devoted to silent reading of those papers is even better.  Banning slide presentation is fantastic to.  I would go further however and insist that all papers are hard-copy and phones and tablets are banned.  I used to have to attend a Leadership Team Meeting every fortnight with a large membership and a meaningless agenda driven largely by the information cascade.  The papers got so big and everyone had tablets so the move to electronic papers seemed sensible – to save the environment.  In fact attention at meetings fell and the length increased because most people got on with their emails and reading.  A cynic might say that it improved productivity, not of the meeting but in email response times!

Taking the information cascade out of meetings is perhaps the key challenge for any chair and to hold a meeting as a default is a logical solution since most delete corporate emails and bulletins.  While PVC at Bournemouth several years ago we set up a research blog as the information cascade and to replace static and tired information based web pages.  The archive became that resource over time.  The daily digest still pop’s into my email and I follow the links and read what I need.  I never managed to integrate this with a reduction in meetings however with an agenda focused on key decisions which is something I regret but could have been done easily in hindsight.  Open online discussions are something to consider.  The team outside my office door, who are not led by me, have stand-up meetings which is an interesting innovation and while PVC the most useful team meeting was a half hour over a coffee every Monday morning.  Called the prayer meeting by those who felt excluded (it took place in a campus coffee shop) it actually was useful as touch point each week for a team.  There are lots of innovations possible here with the aim of separating out the functional requirements for meetings as long as they are driven by a desire to reduce the total hours spent in such activity!  I would say that off course because my computer is where I want to be.

If you are a student reading this, then forgive the cynicism.  You are the next generation of meeting attendees and chairs and I beseech you to learn by our mistakes!

Physical Geography Coursework 2018/19: Top Tips

So to re-cap you have to take Pangea Ultima (+250 Ma) and from first principles work out what the climate zones, ocean currents and perhaps vegetation were like.  The exercise is about working from first principles (Topic Two) what the climate of this future Earth would look like.  So working from the Earth’s heat engine where should the heat deficit and surplus be?  Apply the current model of atmospheric circulation taking care to think about relief and land-sea temperature contrasts.  Just like the conceptual content in the linked blog post, try to sketch out the main climate zones on the future super continent.  Are there places on the future continent that will have similar climatic conditions to locations today?  If so you might like to find some weather data on line and add this to your map or description.

Now think about ocean currents.  Where would be the subtropical gyres be located?  Where would you have areas of up-welling and down-welling?  Think about areas of deep water production and up-welling; would there have been a thermohaline circulation?  What would the inland seas have been like?  The biggest challenge is to think about the impact of monsoons.  In the past Pangea experienced mega-monsoons.  You might finds some literature to guide you here – try some simple Google Scholar Searches on ‘Pangea and Mega-monsoons’.  I suspect that Pangea Ultima will be a supercontinent of extremes, what do you think?

The best way to explore the above is to print out a few of the outline maps provided on Brightspace and annotate them with pencils or crayons sketching out what you think it may be like.  Keep a simple decision log for each conclusion; why have you drawn the climate zone as you have, what the alternative options?  The decision log will help you justify your conclusions when you come to write it up.

When you have one or more maps with your predictions sketched out it is time to turn to one of the two suggested drawing packages – Illustrator or Inkscape – and draw up a neat or ‘fair copy’ version for inclusion in your report.  There are a couple of videos on Brightspace to get you started.  If you have too much information on one map it might be wise to produce more than one.  Add labels and annotations before exporting as an image file such as a jpeg.

Now you are ready to start writing.  Past in your figures into a Microsoft Word or Google Docs file and add captions.  The first figure/map will be Figure 1, the second Figure 2 and so on.  Make sure the caption explains the figure so it is readable independently of the text.  For example:

Figure 1: The main climate zones for Pangea Ultima (+250 Ma), with the principle ocean currents indicated. 

In the text when you refer to this figure you will say something like:

In Figure 1 I have indicated the main climate zones for Pangea Ultima, not the zonal pattern from the equator to the poles.

Or

The main climate zones predicted for Pangea Ultima (Fig. 1) show a simple zonal pattern. 

Note the use of the capital letter for Figure 1 where it occurs outside parentheses.

Here are some links to guidance on writing figure captions: One, Two, and Three .

You can’t really start writing until you have your maps roughed out (you don’t need to wait for the perfect finished copy), but once this is done then the structure should follow as indicated below:

sect

The diagram indicates the relative size and importance of each section the content of which is given in the below:

  • Section One: You need a few sentences of introduction.  Something about the task, different reconstruction  of Pangea Ultima, sources of error in these reconstructions.  Why is such a task useful and how have you gone about it? [Indicative size 100 words]
  • Section Two:  What are the key principles or earth systems that have informed your response?  Where have you gained information from? [Indicative size 200 words]
  • Section Three:  This is the bulk of your answer and should be linked to your maps.  Describe what you have depicted and justify it.  The decision log may help you remember what you thought at the time.  You need to focus on the why as you describe your map(s).  The maps do bulk of the description so don’t replicate unduly.  [Indicative size 400 words]
  • Section Four: What are the alternative scenarios that you could have chosen?  Where are the sources of uncertainty?  What are the counter-points to the argument made in Section 3.  Are there some assumptions which may not be valid or need to be acknowledged? [Indicative size 200 words]
  • Section Five:  A brief summary/conclusion to tie up your submission. [Indicative size 100 words]
  • Section Six: Reference list.  Only list out references you have cited and if you have cited none then there will be no section 6!  Follow the BU style guide.

Once you have completed a draft bring it to one of the drop-in sessions to get some formative feedback.

Writing a Literature Review

Call me old and cranky if you like, but I have read a lot of bad literature reviews in my time.  I know I am in for a challenging read when the chapter or section is actually entitled ‘literature review’!  I was asked to provide guidance to a group of student recently, so after a quick Google which yielded loads of information but also a lot of conflicting advice I decided to reach for my keyboard.

A literature review is a description, explanation and above all else a synthesis of existing literature on a topic.  I place emphasis on the synthesis part; this is where the marks are to be found if you are a student.  So what does synthesis actually mean?  Well a synthesis is a combination of components that form a connected whole.  A pile of bricks is not a synthesis, but a house is.  Equally a chronological description of the literature is nothing more than an annotated reference list.  By contrast a useful literature review is a document which: synthesises common themes; synthesises literature either side of a debate; or scopes the unresolved issues or research gaps.

It is generally agreed that there are two type of context in which you would need to review the literature.  You may be set an assignment in which you are asked to review the literature on a subject.  Essentially this is an essay (usually with sub-headings) which demonstrates that you have found, read and understood the scientific writings on a subject.  The emphasis here is on peer-reviewed journal articles and edited chapters, not web-sources or text books, although this can vary between disciplines.  In a student context is just another assignment to be conducted within the rules set out in the assignment brief or to be clarified by your tutor.  In a professional context there are scientific review papers which aim to promote a discipline and define future research agenda within it, or simply to bring together a dispersed and obscure literature.  There is an important sub-set here which is the systematic review.  This is common in medical disciplines.  For example there may have been several different medical trials of a particular treatment over a number of years.  A systematic review finds all this data, reviews its quality, provides analysis of this data and draws out a conclusion about future practice from that data. They are designed to provide a complete, exhaustive summary of current evidence relevant to a research question.  The emphasis is on using and synthesising published data on a subject.  We are going to set them aside here because they have their own rules and methodologies.

Apart from a student assignment or a dedicated review paper the other context in which one must review the literature is at the start of a dissertation, thesis or academic paper.  This is a key part of the introduction and does not need to be sign-posted with the words ‘literature review’.  In my view it is crass to do so.  In a PhD thesis where the scope is much greater it might form a standalone ‘state of the art’ chapter, but in almost every other context it is simply part of the introduction.  The aim here is to demonstrate:

  • The rationale and context for your research question demonstrating that others think it is important and timely to study as well.  The work of offers is used to support your claim that it is interesting, important or timely.
  • That you are not simply replicating published work but contributing to a knowledge gap or refining a question that you understand. That by contributing new data, or taking a different approach, to an unresolved issue you are advancing knowledge or practice.
  • That you know what you are talking about! That you are using common methods, definitions, terms and approaches.  That your reader identifies with these terms and understands any variance you have adopted from the established norms.

So let’s look at a literature review in the context of it being simply an extended introduction.  There are two key statements or paragraphs.  The one you start with and the one you end with!  You need to start with a broad focus or ‘hook’ that attracts your reader.  It is not quite a newspaper headline like the Sun’s distasteful ‘Gotcha!’ headline of 1982, but its aims are similar to draw the reader in and make an initial point.  Why is the study important?  Why is this paper or dissertation worth reading?  What will the output be and how will it advance knowledge or practice in the area of study, or at least hopes to?

The final paragraph should loop back to the ‘hook’ and define the question, scope or aims/objectives.

“In light of the work by Tilman (2015) and Bird (2018) who collectively re-define this question and showed how it could be re-evaluated by contributing new data, it is timely to ask . . . . .  As a consequence this study aims to contribute new data to this debate by . . . . . . This aim will be realised through four objectives which are: . . . . . . .”

So we open the introduction with something broad that draws the reader in and then narrows the focus down to the research question in hand.  Now between these two points – the start and the finish – we need to place the work in context.  We need to define key terms, provide relevant background as appropriate, scope previous work in the field to help reader understand context of your approach and how your work will contribute.   This is the literature review.  The overall form of the text should be triangular; you start broad and progressively sharpen and focus the argument (or point) until you hit the reader with your aim.  And that aim should be sharp and make the reader sit up and say: “yes that makes sense, yes that will add something, wow that is well argued and justified.”  Reviewing the literature is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

So how do I go about it?

Let’s break it down into a series of steps:

Step One: Find your literature, download and/or print the papers.  Any academic search engine will do, my preference is Google Scholar.  Work hard to build up the literature you can find and use the reference lists in the papers you do find to ‘snowball’ other literature.

Step Two: Read critically.  By this I mean read in an engaged fashion, not just being critical of what you read.  Interrogate the article for information relevant to your question and focus only on what is relevant to your question.  Use what you read to guide and prioritise your reading.  For example if one paper keeps being cited then it is clearly important; find it and read it.  Writing one page summaries of papers can really help here (Fig. 1).

journal9

Figure 1: The one page summary of papers can really help.  You can keep them in an online note book or hard copy doesn’t matter but the idea is that you shuffle them in any order or set them out to find patterns.

Step Three: Looking for patterns.  How do the papers you read link together?  Can you group some of them as saying the same sort of thing?  What are the big themes?  There are lots of ways of doing this, but think of detectives working a case in a TV crime drama.  They usually have a wall or a board full of images, maps and items, may be with ribbons or lines drawn between key elements.  They are visualising their data looking for connections and patterns.  You can do the same.  Use a white board to jot down some key themes and list the papers under each.  Or use the floor or a large table and create piles.  Basically any way of trying to see your literature not in date order (or in the order you read it) but in terms of a new pattern.  This pattern provides the structure for review and the individual paragraphs within it.  You may find some gaps in your reading at this stage and need to go back to the earlier steps.  In facts steps One to Three often occur in parallel.

Step Four: Drafting.  Set the papers aside and turn to your keyboard.  Start by jotting down they key themes and then elaborate these into sentences and paragraphs.  Cite references from memory where you can, but don’t write from the papers themselves.  Write freely.  It is all too easy to slip into copying sentences or paragraphs consciously or unconsciously – don’t!  The reader wants to see your perspective on the literature not someone else’s.  Remember the triangle as you write – start broad and end up with a sharply phrased point at the end.  With your draft finished review it carefully looking for gaps and inconsistencies and remember that any given paper may appear several times under different themes.

Step Five: Refine and polish.  This is all about the fine detail.  Are you citing the right papers in the right places?  Have you spelt the author’s names correctly?  Are the dates correct and in the right order?  Do all the text citations correspond to a full reference in the reference list and vice versa?  Do the sentences make sense?  Does your argument or succession of paragraphs build one upon another and sharpen the focus broad to point?  Does you aim follow clearly from the succession of paragraphs?  Success is all in the detail once you have found the big themes and pulled them out.

Frequently asked questions

So what is enough?  Well if it’s an assignment then look to the brief or your tutor for clarification.  Typically they may use words like ‘review the main or key sources’ or ‘review the significant literature and developments.’  They are clearly asking you to be selective in what you include.  Alternatively if words like ‘comprehensive’ appear you have your answer.  For a dissertation you need to be pretty comprehensive is my personal view, but remember you are not describing each paper but finding the themes and citing the relevant literature to that theme.

Can I cite material cited in other papers?  The simple answer is no.  Only cite and discuss what you have read yourself.  How do you know that another person has read and interpreted it correctly?  So if I can’t get a key source?  You should try to get it or leave it out; it’s that simple.

Can I cite web sites and textbooks?  It depends a bit on the subject and level but basically not often.  There may be a defining manual or textbook for a subject especially in an area of practice and off course this may feature heavily in your review, but where ever possible go back to the primary sources.

Should I cite old papers?  Yes just because its old does not mean it is not key to a debate or seminal in the development of a subject area.  It is often harder to get older material however, many of the big publishing houses have back catalogues that stop in the mid-1990’s this does not mean it not worth pursuing.  Material that is not accessible electronically is not by default rubbish.  If a debate has lots of recent discussion then your focus will be there, but that is not always the case.

If a whole paragraph is based on one source where does the reference go?  Again there is no perfect answer but generally not at the end.  Start by saying something like:  “The work of Smith (1988) is key here.  They studied the question closely by conducting the following experiments . . . .  The key conclusion in Smith (1988) is that . . . . . The work of Smith (1988) was developed by Thompson et al. (2005) who modelled the system using . . . .”   Basically make sure the reader knows that it is Smith’s work that you are talking about by reminding them regularly.  If you only have a few sources, either because that’s all that was written or because you have not found more, then the same names will be used a lot and it is what it is.

When I have multiple citations against a sentence what order should they go in?  Date order and if they were published in the same year alphabetically, so:  “The idea that the literature view was key to the development of academia has been widely discussed (e.g., Bogs, 1967; Simons, 1988, 1989; Briggs et al., 2002; Smyth, 2002).”

Natural Philosophy

It has been said that those who see and tackle the big questions are those outside the core discipline.  Take Alfred Wegener for example, of continental drift fame, he was a meteorologist by trade yet his contribution to geology (perhaps not in his life time) was far greater.  If you live firmly within the paradigms and norms of a discipline it is hard to think heretical thoughts and to question fundamental principles.  This is one argument for the power of multidisciplinary research and education.

I got my PhD in Edinburgh way back in 1991 working with Geoffrey Boulton and David Sugden two of the leading glacial geomorphologists of their generation.  A PhD is an academic calling card and a big deal at the time, but I have never really used the title and I am still Mister Mister Bennett according the bank.  I like what my PhD stands for however, Doctor of Philosophy, and in my case natural philosophy.

Natural philosophy is rather a dated term but is one that is powerful in an age where cross-disciplinary science holds many of the answers.  It derives from the Latin philosophia naturalis and is the study of nature and the physical universe.  It is considered to be the precursor of natural science and has its origins with Aristotle.

It has been superseded by the modern concept of ‘science’ with its multiple often isolating pigeonholes such as ecology, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, geography, archaeology and so on.  Yet our world is holistic in which earth systems are linked across many disciplines.  To understand these systems one needs to take a holistic multidisciplinary view, just as Alfred Wegener did.  So I like the idea of being a natural philosopher because it stresses the value of inter-disciplinary study essential to understanding a holistic system.

My first degree is in Physical Geography (London, 1988) and I come from a line of geographers, but in truth I have worked across many disciplines in the last 26 years.  Students like to identify with a subject: we are Geographers why do we need to do chemistry or all this geology nonsense?  The truth is that to understand the natural workings of our physical environment, past, present and future we need a broad grounding in multidisciplinary science and to have the tools to communicate with other specialists.  So being a geographer is something to be proud off, but let’s not confine ourselves to just one pigeon hole!

 

Picture credit: By Frederik de Wit – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons. Scanned by Janke, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2171890

Non-Linear narratives Or Why PowerPoint is bad!

Help this research by taking this anonymous quiz.

Non-linear narratives are fun, because the audience and presenter don’t know where you will end up, or if they do they don’t know by what route (Fig.1).  I used to read to my children stories that required them to make a choice of story direction and we would weave our way through a book flipping between pages as directed.  A good story tellers sitting around a camp fire never tells a story the same way twice and are always a pleasure to listen to even if you know the stories punchline.  Long live the art of storytelling.  Just because we are scientists doesn’t mean we don’t tell stories; off course we do ‘evidence-based’ stories mind, but they are still stories.

networks

Figure 1: A good storyteller can end up in the same place but will get there in a different way each time.

Microsoft PowerPoint and similar presentation tools forces linearity and once you post a set of slides students or your listeners expect you to follow that structure and to cover all the material.  PowerPoint sets a way of thinking which is not always very helpful.  In my experience it hinders lateral thinking and positive digression.  I am not the first person to think this and there is a body of work critical of PowerPoint and also defending it.

My first serious foray into ‘non-linearity’ came in 2017 when the research team, of which I am part, was awarded the chance to present at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition.  This is the premier research engagement session in the UK, with a footfall of over 11,000 ranging from dignitaries attending black tie evening sessions, to the general public and to school groups during the day.  We designed an educational experience around our theme ‘Dinosaurs to Forensics’.  I had last exhibited in 2005.  On that stand we had a large plasma screen with a linear PowerPoint running on a loop.  It was limiting when talking to a visitor, since you would often have to wait for the right slide to appear to prompt a conversation.  In 2017 we needed a teaching innovation that was non-linear.  The solution we came up with was a series of large icons on the display board each with a bar-code.  The presenter had a wireless bar-code reader with which they could zap an icon and an appropriate item or video clip would appear on the plasma screen.  In this way the presenters were able to use the icons to support different conversations or educational messages tailored to the needs of different visitors.  It was huge success.

Now I have an interest in the visual presentation of data and I was hooked on the idea of creating an alternative to PowerPoint that was non-linear, essentially bringing the Royal Society exhibit learning into the classroom.  The concept I had was like an image board similar to something you might see on Pin Interest.  That would be the hub of your lecture.  Behind each picture would be a link to YouTube, to a block of slides or to some other resource.  Essentially it would be like a window into a bank of slides or resources that you could call upon in any order; in a non-linear order.  You would not necessarily use all the slides just those that you needed on that day.  I talked at length to my collaborator in Computer Science (Professor Marcin Budka): could we create a rival to PowerPoint?  Well one day with funding we might just do that – freeware for the non-linear narratives.  However we quickly released that we could create a PowerPoint template that would actually work in a non-linear fashion.  Essentially the home slide is a grid of boxes (a bit like the grid of icon boxes you get in Windows 10), different sizes, shapes and colours.  By clicking on a box you get a slide or slides that relate to that box including any embedded media.  There is a large back arrow on the slide(s) that takes you back to the home screen.  Basically there is no forced linear narrative.

Feeling brave and keen to co-create some educational research with my students I am trying this out on my Physical Geography students in the autumn of 2018.  Wish me and them luck!

I am interested in your thoughts on presentation software and if you would like to contribute anonymously then you can do by taking the following quiz.

Time management and the eye of the storm

Now this is definitely one of those things in which the phrase ‘do as I suggest, not as I do’ applies!  We are talking about time management.  My problem is that I have too much on at any one time, rarely say no to requests to do more and get sucked in to the current project to the exclusion of the others.

There are countless websites YouTube videos with advice and self-help suggestions.  They distil in various ways to working out what the tasks are both urgent and give the greatest reward.  You are meant to prioritise them and there are various matrices to help you do this which all stem from Eisenhower Power Box.

Use it if it helps.  The other method of prioritising and tracking tasks is something being a geographer I call the ‘eye of the storm’ (Fig. 1).  A colleague told me about this a while ago but called it ‘the pit’.  It is a series of concentric rings which you put on a big piece of paper.  At the centre is the stuff you should do now and is urgent, the stuff on the outside is less urgent.  When you get a task put it on a ‘post-it note’ and place it on your poster depending on its urgency.  Every few days review the live tasks and move them accordingly as they change priority.  It is the trajectory that matters tasks that are for ever circling the pit, or in my case the eye of the storm, are less important than ones that are careering with speed towards the centre.  You work calmly in the centre of the pit and keep an eye on the surrounding walls for falling rocks especially those propelled towards the centre by others!  The concept also holds for a hurricane.  Think of the eye in the centre as the calm spot where you work keeping a weather eye on the flying debris heading towards you.

eye

Figure 1:  Closer to the eye the more urgent a task is.  The key is to watch the trajectory of your tasks.  The idea stresses that your work load planning is dynamic and you should review on a daily, weekly basis and move the ships!  To use practically draw some concentric circles on a piece of paper and use post-its instead of ships!

The final bit of advice I have is to think backwards.  We tend when faced with a task to always look forward to the deadline and when it seems far off we are comforted and when it looms panic.  The alternative is to always think backwards from the deadline.  So you have an assignment due in on Monday the 26 November 2018 [and if you are a 2018 Physical Geography student you really do!].  So that is the deadline.  Thinking back from this you can work out a plan:

  • You are going to need if you can to keep clear the weekend before in case there is a last minute panic.
  • The week before the deadline you will need to write and polish the assignment. This might be the week to bring a draft to one of the drop-in sessions, although lots of people may be doing this!
  • In order to do this you will need to have worked out what to say during the week before that to give you a chance to organise the material you need and do the necessary reading.
  • The week before that you need to perhaps attend one of the drop-in help sessions to check your understanding of the task, seek guidance and test our your initial ideas.
  • How does this three week timeline fit with your other tasks and assignments? Perhaps you will need to build in an extra week or a pause while something else takes centre stage?

The idea is that by working backwards you visualise the end point and can plan more effectively.  In a crude way it’s a bit like an Olympic athlete visualising victory and working back from there.  Working forward you often end up with a greater sense of impending doom!  As the Fraser of Dad’s Army fame would say ‘we all doomed! Doomed I say!’  Better to think of the pleasure of a calm and controlled submission and work back from there and you will never be doomed!

Procrastination!

Does the early bird really catch the worm?  Well so I always thought until last year when I was preparing a lecture on time management having just read a fantastic book by Adam Grant called the Originals (2016); brilliant it is and I firmly recommend it to anyone.

In Originals Grant argues that procrastination has its place.  He makes a similar case in a New York Times article.  He cites the unpublished work of one of his students.  Students were asked to produce business plans for a new shop on campus.  Some were asked to start ASAP others after procrastinating by playing video games.   The procrastinators scored as more creative in idea generation.  His explanation was that while procrastinating they were thinking about the project subconsciously and therefore had more considered solutions.

It is not the type of answer that someone trying to encourage students to plan better and start their coursework early wants to read and it has been widely challenged in several blog posts.  Here is another.  What Grant was really talking about is perhaps better described as ‘strategic delay’ and taking time to consider and review all the options before leaping in to action. It may allow you time to gather your ideas, to reflect on the challenge, wait for more information, learn from your peers mistakes’ as they start the task.  The downside is you have less time to complete the actual task and the closer to the deadline the more pressure you may feel and the greater the impact that pressure may have on other deadlines.  So, the truth is probably something like this: planning is good and including an element of ‘reflective delay’ is potentially beneficial as long as something actually happens during the delay (i.e., you are thinking about the task).

Why not have a read of some of the post on this subject and see what you think?