Western Journal of Nursing Research
35(2) 155 –176
© The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permission:
Journal of Nursing Research XX(X)Chase et al.
© The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permission:
1University of Missouri–Columbia, USA
2Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA
3University of Kansas, Kansas City, USA
4University of Nebraska, Omaha, NE, USA
5South Dakota State University, Brookings, USA
6University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
7University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, USA
8University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, USA
Vicki S. Conn, S317 School of Nursing, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
Strategies for Research
Jo-Ana D. Chase1, Robert Topp2, Carol E.
Smith3, Marlene Z. Cohen4, Nancy Fahrenwald5,
Julie J. Zerwic6, Lazelle E. Benefield7, Cindy M.
Anderson8, and Vicki S. Conn1
Researchers function in a complex environment and carry multiple role re-
sponsibilities. This environment is prone to various distractions that can de-
rail productivity and decrease efficiency. Effective time management allows
researchers to maintain focus on their work, contributing to research pro-
ductivity. Thus, improving time management skills is essential to developing
and sustaining a successful program of research. This article presents time
management strategies addressing behaviors surrounding time assessment,
planning, and monitoring. Herein, the Western Journal of Nursing Research edi-
torial board recommends strategies to enhance time management, including
setting realistic goals, prioritizing, and optimizing planning. Involving a team,
problem-solving barriers, and early management of potential distractions
can facilitate maintaining focus on a research program. Continually evaluat-
ing the effectiveness of time management strategies allows researchers to
identify areas of improvement and recognize progress.
WJNR Editorial Board Special Article
156 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
Time Management, research productivity, efﬁciency
Many researchers face the challenges of competing demands, interruptions,
and internal and external distractions while working to build and maintain
a successful program of research. Time management, defined as deliberate
actions aimed at the effective use of time to achieve specific, goal-directed
activities, is a skill necessary to maintaining scholarly productivity (Claessens,
van Eerde, & Rutte, 2007). Furthermore, the benefits of effective time man-
agement may extend to improved job satisfaction and stress-related outcomes
(Claessens et al., 2007). Strategies for time management fall into three broad
categories: time assessment behaviors, planning behaviors, and monitoring
behaviors (Claessens et al., 2007). Using a variety of personalized strategies
in each category is essential to effectively manage time. Members of the
Western Journal of Nursing Research editorial board have shared essays of
time management strategies contributing to their research success. These
strategies are summarized in Table 1.
Robert Topp (Marquette University)
A researcher’s productivity within an academic environment is often mea-
sured in terms of “deliverables” produced within a unit of time. These
deliverables are outcomes of a researcher’s scholarly activity and are often
considered quantifiably and qualitatively. The nature of these deliverables
vary between institutions but commonly include publications, presentations,
proposals submissions, funded research, service as a reviewer or editor, and
mentorship of students and fellow faculty. A common misconception is that
productivity is directly proportional to the time spent completing a deliver-
able. There is some truth that increased time focused on the development of
a deliverable generally predicts the quantity and quality of the product. This
definition of productivity also includes the unit of time. In fact, occasionally,
the time spent developing a deliverable produces a curvilinear relationship in
which excessive pondering and time spent dilutes both the quality and quan-
tity of the deliverable. For example, two researchers produce the exact same
high-quality deliverable, say a manuscript for publication. If the first
researcher produces his or her manuscript in 3 months, he or she would be
considered more productive than the researcher who produced the manu-
script in 6 months. Thus, time is a critical component of research productivity
in an academic environment. In addition, effective time management directly
contributes to an individual’s productivity as a researcher.
Chase et al. 157
Table 1. Time Management Strategies
Strategy Implementing Time Management Strategy
• Develop long-term scholarship goals
• Develop intermediate and immediate activities to achieve long-
• Link goals with a defined process
• Identify goals/objectives that are measurable and attainable within
a structured time limit
• Determine what is under your direct control as you will have the
most ability to complete these goals
• Periodically review goals for
• Achievement/lack of achievement
• Factors that facilitate or act as barriers to achievement
• Create daily “to do” lists and check off as tasks are done
• Break complex tasks, such as manuscripts, into manageable
components with defined deadlines
• Amass resources prior to beginning a task
• Create detailed timeline of activities
• When you end your work session, make an agenda of “to-do”
items for the next session while it’s fresh in your mind
• When you finish a writing session, jot down notes of what to
write in the next paragraphs
• Automate some processes (e.g., sign up to receive automated
notices of funding opportunities or research papers)
• Identify and seek needed assistance early in the process
• Use an electronic file management system for an organized
approach to work
Prioritize • Acknowledge the primacy of your work
• Arrange your objectives/goals in order of priority
• Work on highest priority goal first and consistently until you
have achieved the goal or have temporarily exhausted available
• Write down priorities—if request or opportunity is not in line
with priority, say “no”
• Learn when and how to say “no” (see Table 2)
• Schedule blocks of writing time
• Schedule far in advance of deadlines
• Choose days that tend to be less demanding than other days of
• Create a recurring schedule with scholarship blocks
• Use an electronic calendar
158 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
Strategy Implementing Time Management Strategy
• Make electronic calendar available to others so they may see
your availability (outside times blocked for scholarly productivity)
• When meeting with others, schedule time-limited appointment
• Consider scheduling a “research sabbatical” aimed at completing
selected research tasks
• Select opportunities that advance research program (e.g., student
• Engage your clinical teaching and service in support of your science
• Remove undue drifting to other “interesting topics”
• Develop a way to work with multiple students on one project
that also contributes to program of research
Involve a team • Delegate work to divide labor among team members
• Seek early peer review for potential revisions
• Actively enlist support to facilitate research productivity at the
• Plan rewards for achieving “to-do’s”
• Reward completion of parts of large projects instead of waiting
until the entire project is finished
• Create a work environment that is free from external distractions
• Schedule work in a “secure” or cloistered setting
• Create a physical space where you keep your materials “set
up” and ready
• Turn off visual and auditory interruptions (e.g., email/text alerts,
• Determine potential internal distractions and create a separate list
so when these distractions develop, they can be briefly recorded
and dismissed from thought to focus on the work at hand
• Avoid multitasking as this leads to unnecessary distractions and
does not increase productivity
• Honestly appraise barriers
• Discuss possible solutions with mentors and peers
• Trial barriers management strategies and assess for effectiveness
Balancing life • Get adequate rest, sleep, and regular physical activity
• Set aside time for relaxation and downtime
• Reassess of research productivity after instituting potential
solutions—continuous quality improvement
• Reassess major goals at least quarterly
• Consider using “productivity” or “project management” software
Table 1. (continued)
Chase et al. 159
A common trinity of phenomena can divert one’s ability to effectively man-
age his or her time and be an effective researcher. The word trinity is used
because these phenomena are defined separately but seem to manifest in
combination. These phenomena include procrastination, attending to inter-
ruptions, and a lack of discipline. Procrastination often begins by attending
to an interruption from work, which is accompanied by a lack of discipline
to maintain focus on the original activity. The interruption and lack of focus
allow one’s attention to be drawn to the distraction and result in further pro-
crastination, which begins the cycle anew. Procrastination is postponing or
needlessly delaying a high-priority unpleasant activity in favor of a more
pleasant but low-priority activity. Attending an interruption is defined as the
temporary cessation of a goal-directed activity, which distracts productivity
from the desired goal. Some examples or sources of interruptions for
researchers include email, phone calls, text or instant messages, and visits
from coworkers. The average knowledge worker, which includes research-
ers, has been observed to switch tasks every 3 min, and once sufficiently
distracted may require up to an average of 30 min to resume the original task.
Interruptions and the requisite recovery time have been reported to consume
28% of a worker’s day (Aloher, 2008). Finally, discipline is defined as the
ability to motivate oneself to attend to a task in spite of the presence of dis-
tractions. Qualities associated with discipline include hard work and persis-
tence. Therefore, a lack of discipline is the lack of motivation to discount
distractions through the use of hard work and persistence.
This combination of procrastination, attention to interruptions, and lack of
discipline not only results in activities that commonly do not contribute to the
original goal but also requires the individual to spend additional time reori-
enting to the original task. For example, a researcher with poor time manage-
ment skills is engaged in a search for a manuscript addressing topic X. During
a search, the researcher receives an email from a colleague which contains a
manuscript on topic Y which, although unrelated to the original topic X,
piques his or her interest and he or she decides to read the manuscript dealing
with Y instead of continuing to search for articles on the topic of X. After
reading the topic Y manuscript, this researcher must then reorient to search-
ing for manuscripts on topic X and account for the time spent reading the
topic Y manuscript. This example illustrates how attending the interruption
from a colleague combined with the researcher’s lack of discipline to con-
tinue his or her search for a manuscript on topic X contributed to the researcher’s
delay in task completion or procrastination. Both novice and experienced
160 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
researchers are constantly confronted with the trinity of procrastination,
attending to interruptions, and a lack of discipline that diverts their ability to
effectively manage their time and to be a productive researcher.
Peck (2003) was one of the first to recognize the negative effects that pro-
crastination, attention to interruptions, and a lack of discipline have on pro-
ductivity. To paraphrase this author “Life (conducting research) is difficult
and includes pleasant and unpleasant activities. We can either moan about
these unpleasant activities or work to complete them.” Another way of think-
ing about this is if one engages in less procrastination, less attention to inter-
ruptions, and increased discipline during the unpleasant activities, these
activities will be completed more quickly and allow more time to indulge in
pleasant activities. If one engages in procrastination, attention to interrup-
tions, and poor discipline during unpleasant activities, these types of activi-
ties will seem much longer to complete and in turn compound the perception
that the task is unpleasant. This pessimistic perspective of a research career
can be addressed through developing the skills of effective time manage-
ment, minimizing procrastination and interruptions, and enhancing discipline
particularly when engaging activities the researcher finds unpleasant.
Time Management Techniques
There are a variety of approaches to time management that minimize pro-
crastination, minimize interruptions, and enhance discipline particularly
when engaging research activities. Time management involves allocating
time to activities that will help achieve goals. Approaches to time manage-
ment include monitoring, setting goals, prioritizing, planning, delegating,
and analysis of time spent. Specific examples of these approaches are listed
• During the time you have allocated to work on a task, keep a log to
identify how you actually use your time (be honest)
• Identify common examples of your habits of procrastination, attend-
ing to interruptions, and a lack of discipline.
• Identify and record all the objectives you wish to achieve. Each of
these objectives needs to include a measurable component for the
outcome and a time limit within which the objective will be obtained.
Chase et al. 161
• Once you have recorded these goals, determine which are under
your direct control and are realistically attainable within the time
limit you have determined. For example, the goal of having a coau-
thor revise a section of a manuscript in 2 weeks is not something a
researcher has direct control over.
• Once all of the goals to be achieved within a unit of time have been
identified, arrange them in order of priority.
• Work on the highest priority goal first and consistently until you
have achieved the goal or have temporarily exhausted the available
resources to achieve the goal.
• Avoid “dual tasking” or working toward two or more goals simul-
• Make daily “to do” lists each day and cross off items you have completed.
• Break tasks into components you can handle within time available.
• Effectively use all of your time. Always have something to read
with you. Other examples include reading on the bus or while wait-
ing for your teenage daughter or son.
• Amass resources prior to beginning a task.
• Minimize opportunities for interruptions. Work is an activity but is
often thought of as a place. Some of your best work may not be com-
pleted in your office. Pay attention as to where you are most creative
and where you can best focus. Your office may not be the most effi-
cient place to work (e.g., work in the library or an abandoned office,
turn off your cell phone, disable the Internet, place a sign on your
office door indicating you are unavailable for a specific time).
• Plan rewards for achieving “to do” items on your list, including
planned unproductive activities (e.g., Facebook for 10 min, reply to
nonurgent emails for 10 min, walk around the building for 10 min)
• Handle snail mail and email items only once.
• Update your curriculum vita as you make achievements.
• With each request for a different role at work, ask yourself “Will
my participation in this activity contribute to my prioritized goals?”
162 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
Cultivate the ability to say “no” to opportunities that don’t directly
contribute to your prioritized goals.
• Identify tasks that only you can complete and tasks that could be
accomplished by support staff. Learn to delegate all or part of the
tasks that don’t require your exclusive input.
Analysis of Time Spent
1. If an objective is not being achieved within the expected time frame,
identify possible barriers and work to minimize the barriers in the future.
2. Periodically reevaluate your habits of procrastination, attending
to interruptions, and a lack of discipline. Have you been able to
A productive research career is predicated upon effective time manage-
ment. Effective use of a researcher’s time contributes directly to his or her
research productivity and allows more time to pursue pleasant activities.
Procrastination, attending to interruptions, and lack of discipline commonly
contribute to ineffective time management and result in low levels of
research productivity. The researcher can minimize the negative impact of
these drains of productivity through monitoring activities, setting goals, pri-
oritizing, planning, delegating, and analysis of time spent on a task.
Carol E. Smith (University of Kansas)
Research productivity is gauged by written activities such as grant submis-
sions, publication, and evidence-based policies. Productivity in writing
research grants, reports, and articles is influenced by an intricate series of
written work and the time required to perform these tasks.
Thus, research is based on taking the time to keep writing. Time must be
scheduled before calendars become full of meetings, committee, or nonre-
quired teaching obligations. And for effective writing, scheduling in blocks of
2 up to 8 hr of time is necessary. Typically it’s best to double the time first
thought necessary for a specific piece of writing and then schedule that “dou-
bled” time writing in your calendar. Also note on the calendar exactly what is
to be written in that time (i.e., article outline, aim page revision, etc.). Not
wavering from this writing schedule of blocked time and topics is important.
As research writing is valuable time well spent, you must take a stand and
say “No” to other competing nonessential activities, then using that time
efficiently (without interruption) is key. Interrupted tasks take 50% more
time to finish and have 50% more errors. Make it common knowledge to
Chase et al. 163
coworkers (put up “Do Not Disturb” signs) you are not available during writ-
ing times. But also be aware and control your own self-interruptions such as
flipping between books, articles, web browsing (i.e., looking for a reference).
It is much more time efficient to jot a reminder note to look for a citation than
to stop your writing to look for one. Other interruptions that stop the flow of
words include when phones or emails are answered.
One of the most useful tips that numerous faculty have said that they are
so please to have coached themselves on is “when to stop writing.’’
Specifically, when you near the end the time you set aside, you will know
what you are going to write about in the next paragraphs. So instead of writ-
ing those last few paragraphs, just jot down notes of what to write in them.
Then when you begin writing at your next blocked calendar session, you
won’t let yourself waste time by rereading or trying to determine the writing
flow. Thus, each blocked session can be started with immediate writing.
Making short notes can keep your progress going and provide the track to
pick up the next time. Some writers use outlines to keep the flow but most
find outlines change too frequently to be helpful. Rewriting outlines often
wastes time. Another productive time-saving approach is obtaining peer
reviews periodically as your writing becomes more unclear to you, others
revisions can save you many “blocked” hours of rewriting.
Other time-saving ideas are using project management software for sched-
uling of overall tasks such as data entry, preliminary analyses, institutional
review board (IRB) recertification, and writing time blocks. Go over this
scheduling monthly and delegate any tasks you can. Time can be gained from
using other software, which provides results for required reports that are sim-
ple and automated. Also employee “performance” software increased from
US$100 million in 2001 to US$2 billion in 2005. Have your research office
provide this kind of “productivity” software for your work.
Tenacity and “stick-to-it-tive-ness” attitudes are also key aspects of time
management. Also admitting that writing is hard work and full of frustrations
can alleviate those discouraging reactions that stop writing.
Because ideas and creativity are the backbone of writing, it is important to
use smart problem-solving habits. Problems that get in the way of writing,
including your own multitasking, need to be addressed. Last, writing produc-
tivity is also related to one’s ability to take rejection. Writing is often rejected
but with the need to be revised. So revise!
Marlene Cohen (University of Nebraska)
Existentialists have noted that what we share with each other is that we each
have a body in space and time. Time and time management are so universal
164 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
and central to our lives that many have written about it. Several aspects of
time management for the successful academic are important to think about.
We are most likely to find time to do what we value and for which we have
There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not
be done at all.
—Peter F. Drucker
Helen Reddy’s song “I Am Woman” proclaims that “I can do anything.”
Note she says anything, not everything. (I expect this applies equally to
men.) Learning when to say “no” is important. Setting goals, ideally with
the support of colleagues and administrators, will help you focus and pri-
oritize activities that fill your time. Although we might value volunteering
to review grants for a professional organization, doing that volunteer work
the same month a grant is due may prevent you from achieving your grant
I recommend to you to take care of the minutes; for hours will take care
Part of goal setting is to plan for small aspects of each task. It is useful to
break long tasks into sections. We sometimes put off big tasks because they
seem impossible, rather than dividing them into manageable tasks. An
example I often discuss with faculty is the need to start writing grants well
in advance of the deadline. We have developed a detailed timeline of activi-
ties and when they need to be completed so that the faculty will start in a
timely manner. Perhaps even more difficult is writing manuscripts that have
no deadlines. It is useful for me to schedule writing time as an appointment.
What pattern works for these appointments is individual, but it is important
to think about what works for you. Dividing tasks into portions that can be
managed, and scheduling time to do these tasks, will help you to complete
Chase et al. 165
Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving
but does not make any progress.
—Alfred A. Montapert
Finding the best strategies that work for you is important. Some write best
in short blocks of time—perhaps an hour—whereas others work best with
4- to 8-hr time blocks. Some write best in the morning, whereas others are
most effective later in the day. The only wrong approach is not to start or not
to devote the time needed to the task at hand.
Preparation is also important and varies among people. I heard a professional
writer talk about needing to sharpen several pencils and lining them up on her
desk before she started to write. She noted that this may seem reasonable—but
she composes on the computer! Again, whatever works is what you should do.
No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or
get all the credit.
Having a team is often useful. Team members help in several ways. They
discuss the work, and having different perspectives always improves the
outcome. They also share the work, making your “share” more manageable.
Finally, when the team sets deadlines, they are more “real” because someone
is depending on you for your part. Doing things you enjoy with people you
like also helps with motivation to get tasks accomplished. I have had the
experience of not wanting to work on a project because finishing it will mean
contact with someone I do not enjoy. The reverse holds true as well—wanting
to do something so the reward is discussion with the colleague.
Take a rest. A field that has rested yields a beautiful crop.
—the Roman poet Ovid
166 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
Taking time to enjoy family, friends, and activities is essential to main-
taining a fresh and creative outlook. Perhaps procrastination will result from
failure to refresh yourself. Taking time away may require turning off your
phone, computer, and other such devices. Some traditions actually require
rest. Taking time to get both adequate sleep and exercise is important as you
prioritize taking care of yourself.
A final note to think about:
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
(South Dakota State University)
Every year I write a professional staff evaluation that summarizes my
accomplishments in relationship to the goals I set the previous year. Setting
realistic goals and reviewing them quarterly are two overall strategies that
effectively help me to manage my time. If, after 3 months, I haven’t made
meaningful progress toward annual goals, I reflect on the barriers I encoun-
tered and plan for ways to overcome those barriers in the next 3 months.
I also reflect on the factors that facilitate progress toward professional goals
and brainstorm ways to capitalize on those things. This quarterly ritual helps
me to stay on top of all of the things I juggle in an academic career.
Time management strategies that yield favorable outcomes are highly var-
ied. Here are some more tips. Follow a fairly consistent schedule, but antici-
pate and embrace an occasional disruption to that consistency! Protect
scholarly time by using an electronic calendar that other people can access so
that they know when you are available and when you are not available.
Schedule blocks of writing time in your calendar and keep that commitment
to yourself. Make recurring appointments with yourself and note that you
cannot be interrupted except for emergencies. Try to schedule time-limited
appointments with colleagues and students instead of maintaining an open
door policy. Collaborative writing and research is a special challenge because
each team member differs in his or her approach to time management.
Developing and adhering to realistic timelines that are tied to outcomes are
vital to strong working relationships.
Barriers to time management are as varied as the facilitators. Lack of
healthy self-care is one of those hygiene factors that can disrupt effective
time management. Evaluate whether you are committed to regular sleep,
physical activity, relaxation, and meaningful life experiences. The balance
Chase et al. 167
scale between work and life will swing back and forth over the course of
a year, but attention to both sides of the scale is vital. Another barrier to
time management is an inability to say no. Opportunities abound, but
keep focused on the goals you have set forth when choosing to capitalize
on those opportunities. When I was in doctoral school, I asked my mentor
for time management wisdom. Her insight was that academic faculty
focus on their teaching first and research second. Although this was a fine
approach in her mind, she indicated that course materials didn’t have to
undergo complete revision every year. Her advice for overcoming this
barrier was to integrate the scholarship role with the teaching and service
roles whenever possible, and to schedule regular writing time into the
Julie J. Zerwic (University of Illinois at Chicago)
An effective strategy is to schedule research time into your calendar just like
you do any other activity. Choose days that you know tend to be less
demanding than other days of the week. Depending on what you want to
accomplish, you may want to schedule this day as a day away from the
office. Working from home or the local library may help you concentrate
with few interruptions. This also adds time you would have spent commuting
to productive work time.
Working with graduate (and even undergraduate students) on research
projects can be very time-consuming, especially if the student chooses a topic
that you have little experience with or if you have several students all work-
ing on different projects. A colleague and I developed one strategy that was
an effective solution. We developed a research proposal and a master IRB
template on an aspect of our research on cardiovascular disease and fatigue.
We invited interested master’s students to conduct this research at their insti-
tution. The IRB experience at their institution, data collection, and a paper
met their curriculum requirement for a research project. Several doctoral stu-
dents used this project for their research practicum. Doctoral students also
collected data, analyzed the data, and developed the subsequent presentations
and publications. All faculty and students involved were coauthors.
Subsequently, each of the doctoral students who participated built their dis-
sertations on some aspect of this practicum experience. The faculty were able
to model the experience of collaborative research, negotiation of responsibili-
ties, and authorship. This was a very effective time management strategy
because I could work with multiple students on one project that also contrib-
uted to my program of research.
168 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
Lazelle E. Benefield (University of Oklahoma)
Effective time management strategies to enhance research productivity
include intellectually acknowledging the time necessary and importance of
the work as well as implementing practical time management strategies.
• Acknowledge the primacy of the work by actually scheduling
an appointment with yourself, with scheduled recurring appoint-
ments on your calendar. Name the topic of the appointment (e.g.,
“appt with researcher” or list the specific task planned). Block this
appointment time on your calendar so others don’t assume you are
free; hold firm to the commitment.
• Maintain the priority focus of the scheduled time by being unavail-
able to email, phone, or for in-person interruptions. Schedule the
work in a secure or cloistered setting (e.g., in your office with
closed/locked door, or in the library or off-site). Create a physical
space where you keep writing materials set up and ready, and when
the work session is over, make an agenda of “to do” items for the
next session while it’s fresh in your mind. You will launch into the
next session more quickly.
• Set a timeline detailing each step in your plan of work, for instance,
“develop the concept paper” or “draft support letters.” Using a set
agenda to frame the time enables you to begin promptly without
undue time spent reorganizing. Insert directly into your electronic
calendar any copies of materials needed for the “appointment,” this
might include a sample methods section to frame your writing, PDF
copies of articles helpful to your plan for the time. As you come
upon new articles or reports, slot these into future appointments.
And it is essential to use a citation management system, Endnote©
is but one example to manage references and store articles.
• Consider scheduling a 1-week research sabbatical, during the sum-
mer or in early January, aimed at completing selected tasks: final-
izing the manuscript, drafting of one or more sections of the next
• Work toward building a team so that team members cover for each
other during busy times. You create opportunities for division of
labor as well as champion the project.
• Engage your clinical teaching and service in support of your science.
Role model ways to interweave your teaching, service, and research
activities to promote this culture of scholarship in today’s College
Chase et al. 169
of Nursing. Using this approach, frame your professional and com-
munity service to support your areas of research. Aim to focus your
area of science in your teaching activities to provide “deep versus
superficial” education (à la the Carnegie model of learning), while
supporting the advancement of science (yours!).
• Focus, focus, focus on your area of scientific inquiry. Be productive
in managing your emphasis area by removing seductive drifting to
other “interesting topics.” Latch on to others with expertise, serving
in a coinvestigator role to learn the ropes of managing a team. Seek
a senior researcher to coach you in bringing a team together and
effective strategies to elicit each member’s relative strengths in the
area of inquiry. This will enhance your productivity because you are
building a team that distributes labor, synergy, and support.
• Value your time. Be benevolent to yourself and others. Early in
my research career, I printed my four or five important and prior-
ity areas on a single page. These priorities were concrete items or
activities, for example, develop research team to include nurse and
physical therapist with community focus, develop community link-
ages for recruitment of caregiver subjects by November 1st, sub-
mit the Alzheimer’s Association grant by December 1st, and one
manuscript on the NIH caregiving study submitted by April 3rd.
I reproduced the page with the priorities in large print and placed
the page in a location only I could see, right next to my computer.
When a request came in by email, or a colleague stopped by to ask
if I could “just do this one small thing . . . xxxx,” I glanced to my
page of priorities and then framed my response. If the request for
my time, talent, or wisdom did not directly relate to moving one of
my priority items to completion, I either deferred for time to think or
immediately responded with “what a wonderful opportunity and any
other time I would love to do this, but right now this won’t work.
May I suggest you consider . . . (I would share another person or
another strategy that may not be where they were originally headed
but would address their intended goal). If I deferred a decision, my
email or phone response would be similar to what I just described.
If the request had strong and direct potential to move a priority item
forward, I would agree and/or reframe, for instance, “Thank you for
the invitation to present XX topic at the statewide aging conference.
How about we engage XXX (junior faculty, doctoral student) in
this—I know s/he would benefit professionally from the experience
and would be good,” or “I would be happy to present to your NP
170 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
students (or the statewide conference), however the topic you sug-
gest is not something I am prepared to discuss. I could do this with
a modification; I would be happy to provide a session on XXXXX.”
The topic now directly related to my stated priorities, and my time
is strategically used.
• Be strict with your time, and others. Remember that service respon-
sibilities are not a substitute for the tangible results you aim for in
your program of research. Therefore, as a participant in activities,
meetings, and communications within the academic and university
unit, you must honor others and yourself by arriving on time, pro-
viding directed input, and departing at the stated end of the meeting,
Allow yourself the opportunity to depart the meeting at the sched-
uled end time, with the statement “I have another meeting, so sorry
Cindy M. Anderson
(University of North Dakota)
The pattern of research productivity can be likened to an unending circle.
The need for success in grant funding is dependent on having publications
that demonstrate evidence of investigator ability. To develop a track record
of publication, data are required. To collect data, grant funding must be in
place, and so on. Such a pattern requires the ability to manage the process of
searching out funding opportunities while implementing a research study and
writing manuscripts from a completed study. For most nurse scientists, these
activities are accomplished in the face of other work demands. Particularly
for those establishing research independence, the reality of the expectations
and the associated pressures of assuring that research expectations are met
can be overwhelming. It is therefore essential that strategies for time man-
agement and prioritization of responsibilities are established, effectively
promoting research productivity.
Competing demands on time require an approach that links outcomes with
a defined process. Careful planning is central to enhancing productivity.
Identifying the ideal journal for manuscript submission is an intentional pro-
cess, requiring a match between type and focus of the manuscript and desired
readership. Although most productive researchers are familiar with the pri-
mary journals in their fields, the opportunity to respond to special calls pres-
ents unique opportunities for publication. Similarly, nurse researchers are
knowledgeable regarding funding agencies suited to their areas of investiga-
tion. Targeted requests for proposals or special calls may be uniquely geared
to a particular aspect of investigation. The time necessary for the detective
Chase et al. 171
work required in the process of finding just the right venue for a manuscript
or proposal submission represents an additional challenge to research pro-
ductivity. Steps to automate the process can both save time and reveal oppor-
tunities that might otherwise be overlooked. For example, signing up to
receive automated notifications from funding agencies regarding upcoming
opportunities delivers essential information to your inbox with a minimal
investment of time. Similarly, establishing an automated notification of
recent research publications in areas of interest can identify new journals for
Once opportunities are identified, they must be implemented. A plan for
making progress toward the end result is critical, as procrastination and com-
peting interests can undo good intentions. This is particularly important for
scholarly products that are associated with firm deadlines. A variety of strate-
gies to assure steady progress toward completion of the final product can be
successful. The challenge lies in which approach is most suited for each indi-
vidual. Blocking small periods of time daily works for some, whereas block-
ing large time periods with less frequency works for others. Unfortunately,
the development of the most productive writing style is often trial and error,
or simply capitalizing on available time. Completion of the scholarly product
in advance of the deadline is most desirable, as this timeline allows for an
opportunity for peer review, essential to enhancing submission success. Even
if there is no firm deadline, establishment of self-imposed deadlines increases
accountability. Involving others in the process of establishing timelines is
effective, as external expectations are established beyond one’s own.
The individuals most prolific in their research productivity have common
characteristics that are conducive to achieving their goals and objectives. The
ability to focus and set a course toward achievement of a desired outcome
significantly enhances success. Writing as a member of a research team is the
correlate to “the sum is greater than its parts,” all members being accountable
to each other and contributing to a better product. Of course, one of the great-
est motivators is the deadline, which is often related to increased activity
consistent with the ticking clock. The closer the deadline gets, the higher its
priority becomes. Ultimately, flexibility and ease with which one can move
from idea to action will determine research productivity for both beginning
and experienced researchers.
Vicki S. Conn (University of Missouri)
Research productivity requires considerable time to work with research
teams, plan studies, draft competitive grant applications, conduct projects,
complete publishable manuscripts, and the like. Several time management
172 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
strategies have been used successfully by scores of academics. Prioritizing
activities is essential. The focus should be on long-term scholarship goals
and the intermediate and immediate activities to achieve those goals. Staying
busy is not adequate; the busyness must be goal-directed behavior. Many
successful scholars develop both 1 year and multiyear goals. They also
develop shorter range behavioral goals such as completing the methods sec-
tion of a specific manuscript this week.
Research success is not an accident. Planning is important. One should
never wait for free time to develop scholarship. Time to work on scholarship
should be scheduled on the calendar. Scholarship time should be your best
thinking and writing time, if you are a morning writer you could avoid other
morning appointments. Many people require more than 1 hr for productive
writing, so the schedule may need to have longer blocks of time allocated to
writing (those 1 hr blocks might be useful for doing specific tasks such as
developing tables, findings additional citations, etc.). The personal calendar
should have these blocks of time scheduled far in advance, to ensure the time
Organized scholars are more productive than disorganized researchers.
Breaking large projects into manageable chunks can be very helpful. For
example, a manuscript activities list might include items such as draft intro-
duction, write methods, develop results, develop table 1, create Figure 2,
draft discussion, write abstract, get drafts to coauthors, decide journal for
initial submission and secure direction for authors, format manuscript and
citations for journal, and so forth. These lists can identify needed assistance
early in the process. It is often much easier to secure assistance from others
when the deadline can be generous. Some writers find it helpful to start some-
place beside the first paragraph of the manuscript. For example, it may be
easiest to write the methods section first. The “to do” list can become a “ta
da” list as items completed remain on the list with their completion indicated
in some manner (e.g., strikethrough). Each writing session can end with notes
in the activities list about what specific work should be tackled during the
next work session to avoid time spent deciding the work anew. The electronic
file management system should reflect the organized approach to work.
Junior investigators might benefit from viewing the file organization used by
senior investigators to garner ideas for organization.
Distractions can be devastating for research productivity. One should not
underestimate the effectiveness of decreasing immediate distractions: cell/
office phone, email and text audio notices, drop in visitors, and so forth.
These immediate distractions not only consume time, but refocusing on
scholarly activities requires time after the distraction disappears. With
Chase et al. 173
practice, we can learn to check these messages every few hours. People we
routinely communicate with will eventually learn that message will be
returned on the day they were received, but not in the same hour. Internal
distractions can be a problem. Some scholars keep a separate list of ideas so
when these mental distractions develop, they can be briefly recorded and
dismissed from thought to focus on the work at hand. Some people errone-
ously believe multitasking improves productivity. Multitasking is another
form of distraction. Single-task work is more productive, especially for the
complex activities required for research productivity.
Making time for research productivity requires avoiding other time com-
mitments. This is often a matter of deflecting seeming urgent needs to achieve
important long-term research productivity. Learning to decline these time-
occupying activities is important. Table 2 identifies some strategies to grace-
fully avoid time commitments, which are not a priority. These strategies
would be judiciously applied depending on the situation, including the person
making the request.
Problem solving to achieve research productivity is important. An honest
appraisal of barriers to research productivity can be discussed with a mentor
to develop potential solutions. Reassessment of research productivity after
instituting potential solutions is a vital part of the continuous quality improve-
ment process for becoming more productive. Even brilliant scholars can ben-
efit from a mentor’s observation that ceasing nonproductive approaches may
Finally, time management to achieve research productivity must be recog-
nized at the school level as an important aspect of school success. Chairs,
associate deans for research, and faculty mentors can be powerful allies in
managing commitments to achieve high research productivity. Researchers
should actively enlist their support to facilitate research productivity.
Researchers face numerous perils to productivity related to ineffective use of
time. This article has detailed several strategies addressing effective time
management. These strategies are founded upon a firm dedication and com-
mitment to a unified goal among researchers: building and maintaining a
productive program of research. Researchers should assess their own use of
time to determine barriers and facilitators to effective time management.
Furthermore, planning and implementing a variety of strategies based on this
personalized assessment will encourage changes in time management behav-
iors. Finally, monitoring progress will promote identification of successes in
174 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
Table 2. Strategies to Decline Requests That Would Diminish Scholarship
Strategy Sample Wording
Do not make an
immediate decision: the
time delay gives you
time to really consider
whether the activity fits
• Let me think about it and get back to you.
• I will look over my other commitments and let you know.
• I need to talk with my mentor before making any
• That is an interesting opportunity, I will need to
carefully consider my other obligations and get back
• I need to examine my other commitments to make
sure I would have adequate time to do quality work, I
will let you know on Thursday.
Delay additional time
• I am unable to assume any new responsibilities until
_____ happens (e.g., my grant is submitted next year,
I am reviewed for tenure).
• I am sorry, I can’t help you now, please ask again after
Declare that you are not
the right person for the
• I wish I could help you but that is outside my area of
• I am sorry, I don’t have the knowledge to help with
• I think ___ would be much more capable of working
Acknowledge an excellent
opportunity: this allows
you to recognize the
importance of the work
• That is a great opportunity, unfortunately I am unable
to participate at this time.
• I appreciate the offer to be involved in this important
work, I am sorry I can’t participate.
• Thanks for letting me know about this excellent
opportunity, I am sorry I am not in a position to
accept this offer.
Blame your mentor (if
your mentor agrees to
• My mentor told me to not take on any additional
service responsibilities at this time.
• My chair asked me to discuss all time commitments
with her/him before making a decision.
• My mentor is very insistent that I not join any other
committees until my grant is submitted later this year.
• I would love to work with you because I know you
are an expert in this area, unfortunately I am unable
to join the project.
Chase et al. 175
Strategy Sample Wording
• I admire you dedication to this topic, I am sorry I
won’t be able to work with you at this time.
• I would really enjoy working with you because
you are an expert, I have to decline this wonderful
• I am so glad you asked because I admire your work,
and I am very sorry to have to decline.
• There is no one I would rather work with, I am sorry
I am unable to participate.
Express gratitude at being
ask, then decline
• I am flattered that you think I could help with _____,
unfortunately I am unable to be involved.
Avoid specific excuses,
unless the excuse
especially if the inviter is
likely to argue about the
• I appreciate this opportunity but I’m afraid it just
won’t work for me.
• I am sorry, but I am not able to help you.
• You are doing important work, unfortunately I can’t
• That is not something I do.
Acknowledge that this is
an important problem to
the requestor without
• I know you care deeply about ____, I am sorry I can’t
help at this time.
• I agree this is a very important problem,
unfortunately I won’t be able to help.
• I see this is an important challenge. I am sure you will
find a good solution. Sorry I can’t help you develop
Assume a smaller role
than the one offered
• I am unable to be a task force member, but perhaps
I could offer ideas at one meeting related to my area
• I can’t join as a coinvestigator, but I would be glad to
participate in occasional meetings to discuss ____.
• I am unable to take on a coauthor role, but I would
be willing to comment on a draft of the paper.
Negotiate trade-offs to
meet the requestor’s
• I could help you with ____ committee, if I were
released from ___ committee. Can you arrange that?
• I am unable to join the task force this year, could I
become a member next year?
Note: Discretion is required to determine which invitations should be accepted and which
should be declined. Declining every request is not appropriate.
Table 2. (continued)
176 Western Journal of Nursing Research 35(2)
time management and areas that may need further improvement. Deliberately
cultivating time management skills is essential to maintaining a productive
and successful program of research among scientists in all stages of their
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publica-
tion of this article.
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