Rethinking How We Travel for Academic Events: Striking a Balance

Hey everyone! Let’s talk about something that’s been on my mind for a long time now: the sustainability of our academic travels. It’s a tricky topic because it mixes economic, social, and environmental factors. I will try to break down these elements and suggest ways we can make smarter travel choices without giving up on the benefits that come with attending conferences and other academic events.

Traveling for academic purposes isn’t just about buying plane tickets; it involves registration fees, hotel stays, and even the precious time we take away from other duties. These expenses add up, and we need to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs. A side effect is that you support local tourism, which might be of need.
On the bright side, traveling to conferences is a fantastic way to exchange knowledge, meet new people, and spark fresh ideas. These social benefits are crucial—they help us grow as professionals and enrich our fields of study.
Now, the environmental part is a bit of a downer. Flying out to events, especially internationally, isn’t great for our planet. However, I firmly believe that stopping all travel is not the solution—we need to travel less frequently and smarter.

Making Smarter Choices

Before starting a trip, you need to answer the following questions: Is travel really needed, and do I profit from it? Some travels are not, for example, flying from Bremen to Munich for a one-day event to meet some people I don’t know without real goals for the event. Some travels are surely worth, for example, the annual conference of your technical community, which is by chance happening in your country.
Once you decide you want to go, here are some tips:
  • Trains Over Planes: If you can, take the train. It’s usually a greener choice.
  • Fewer Flights: Try to fly less by combining flights with trains. Also, look into carbon offset programs; many institutions offer these automatically.
  • Green Stays: Choose hotels that are known for sustainable practices; many search engines already provide this information.
  • Extend Your Visit: If you’re traveling far, why not make the most of it? Visit a local lab, give a lecture, or just explore the area. It makes your carbon “spend” go further. Maybe you can also visit the places where you change vehicles anyhow.

Managing Travels in the Group

As a professor and team leader, I need to set up clear and transparent rules for all team members (including myself!) to reduce my group’s carbon footprint. Here are our current rules:
  • We maintain a list of the top conferences and where they take place each year (approximately 10 conferences are currently on the list).
  • We prefer sending our papers to the closest top conferences.
  • If there are really no other options, PhD students are allowed to submit to a remote conference, but they can only go if a full paper is accepted.
  • When organizing the travel, we always check for flight options from Hamburg, which is much better connected than Bremen and very often has a direct connection to our destination.
  • Exceptions need to be made, for example, when serving on the organizing committee or for extended research stays (sabbaticals and internships). We discuss all exceptions in the team meetings, consider alternatives, and how to make the travels even more useful.

Wrapping Up

This article has been written in 2024, when no real alternatives to in-person conferences are available, Hybrid events are currently a highly frustrating experience, with people showing up only for their own presentations (usually with technical problems) and no real possibilities to socialise or to discuss in depth. I guess there is something about our own evolution here, and we still prefer to eat and hang out together rather than sit in front of a display. I am truly looking forward to that new shiny tool, which I am sure will come out in the next years, to actually substitute in-person conferences with virtual ones: something like the Star Wars Jedi Council – may the force be with you!

Posted in Scientific events, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Writing related works section with ChatGPT

Today, I tried to use ChatGPT to help me with a related works section. It was for a short paper about a student work which I supervised earlier and the student has not done a very good job in that part 🙂

So, I started by asking ChatGPT:

This is what I’ve got from ChatGPT:

and so on, until the end:

Wow, I thought first. Holy *,  I thought next. Thats great! I can use it at least as a start. As a good scientist, I wanted to check the papers, especially whether they are really peer-reviewed. But maybe I can already create the BibTex file, so it is ready. So, I asked ChatGPT:

Great. I can now check the papers quickly, and then I am done! How wonderful is that?!

I copied the first paper into Google Scholar, and I’ve got:

Ugh. What do you mean, Google, “did not match any results”?! I’ve got it straight from ChatGPT!!

OK, the ones of you who already worked intensively with ChatGPT and actually critically evaluated it and read some articles about this would not be caught by surprise here. Not so for some of my students… None of these articles were real, but the journals were. I went to that particular issue of that particular journal, and the paper was not there, bot even a similar one or another one by the same authors.

In fact, when you confront ChatGPT with the fact that none of these articles seem to exist, it says:

This is, of course, true and should be known by all users of ChatGPT. However, I must admit that the way it answered my first query was super confusing and misleading, letting me truly believe that the text is correct and I can rely on it. It is not my experience and general scepticism against things that are too good to be true, I would have been trapped.

Be warned! ChatGPT might be a nice search engine, but the user is still fully responsible for checking and confirming the results before using them. It is not a peer-reviewed or any other kind of trusted information source.

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ConversTations – Introduction and How to run

Here is a video with similar content.

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A PhD Student is standing at the front, working himself through a pile of slides. Some people in the audience try to follow, some are working on their laptops and some are just sleeping. A typical research presentation? Not necessarily.

I have learnt the ConversTation format at the ICT4S (ICT for Sustainability) Conference (  in 2013. For the first time in my academic life I was truly engaged in discussions even in areas far away from my own research. It was exhausting, I did not manage any of the work I planned to do (mostly writing emails!), but I have never learnt so much in so short time before!

The format is rather simple, but requires more organisation than scheduling presentations. There are three important assumptions:

(1) Not everybody in the audience wants to hear all presentations. People want to focus on some.
(2) Presenters get more feedback from motivated audience,which is not “obliged” to hear their presentations.
(3) Smaller groups develop different group dynamics and tend to exchange and discuss more than large groups.

ConversTations work as follows:

Each presenter sits on a table with 4-7 listeners. While presenting, she is not strictly following a stack of slides, but speaks rather freely and uses graphs, printouts, a poster and even demos to support her presentation. Listeners are allowed to ask questions any time and usually they start discussing few minutes after the start.

The discussion tables are positioned close to each other (not each in a different room), so that table change after session expiration is simplified.
Each presenter repeats his presentation several times with different listeners – optimally three times.

Listeners need to make their own schedules to follow. Not everybody gets a seat in all desired presentations.
To organise the scheduling process, the presentations with their slots and table assignments are pinned on large pin boards, where people can pick up a coloured sticky note of a desired session. If they re-decide, they can put it back for others to pick. This step can be easily adapted to hybrid or virtual events too, where the sticky notes are simply virtual (you can use a slot booking service, for example).

The really fun and complex part is the scheduling process. For scheduling the presentations, you need first to know:

  • Number of presentations: Prepare a booklet with all presentation titles and abstracts. It is better to code each presentation, e.g. Title 1 or Lastname.
  • Number of slots: this depends on the programme of the workshop/conference and on the available time. Each slot should be 30-60 minutes long, 45 minutes seem to work best.
  • Number of listeners: this is easy to calculate for smaller groups, like research groups. For conferences, you can use last year counts, current number of registrations, etc. It is better to plan for a little bit less listeners, otherwise tables will remain half-empty.

The first three parameters are more or less fixed for an event. The next two can be changed until the whole schedule fits together nicely:

  • Number of repetitions: how many times can each presenter present? At least 2, at most 4 (4 is really tiring, though!)

Number of discussion tables: You should plan for not more than 5-8 people per table, including the presenter. The number of tables can be calculated as (participants/seats-per-table), rounded down to whole tables.

Example (Figure 1): You have 20 participants, 6 of them presenting their work. You would like each presenter to present twice. If you assume 6 people per table, you would need 20/6 ≈ 3 tables. If you decide for slots of 45 minutes plus 5 minutes break between the sessions, you would then need a total of 50 min x 2 repeats x 6 presenters / 3 tables = 200 minutes or a nice morning session. You can play with the duration of the slots, the number of tables and the number of repetitions until the program fits into your plan.

Figure 1. An example of a ConversTation schedule with six presentations and three tables. Everyone can pick a sticky note from the board and make their own schedule.

Participating in a ConversTation

Figure 1 presents my example from above, where I assumed 3 tables with 6 seats each (five for listeners), I have 6 presentations in total and 4 sessions. The resulting pin-board is also depicted in Figure 2 on the left. Let us assume we have somebody, only interested in listening. From the booklets with abstracts, she decides that Titles 1,2 and 6 are highly interesting to her, Title 5 is of no interest at all and she does not mind seeing the others. She goes to the pin-board (which is occupied by many participants, trying to get their desired sticky notes!) and has to pay attention to two rules:

Rule 1: Do not take two notes with the same color
Rule 2: Do not take two notes with the same title

She tries to grab Titles 1, 2 and 6 with different colours, but unfortunately, title 6 is “sold out”. Then she goes to see whether she can get Titles 3 or 4 and in fact she finds both. Title 5 is still available, but she does not have colours left (there are only 4 sessions and thus 4 colours possible). Thus, she will be participating in each slot and will see Titles 1, 2, 3 and 4.

ConversTations can be organised also in slightly different ways, with colours and sticky notes representing also other components of the system. Even if it is possible to organise the schedule with online tools before the event itself, I would not reccomend to. the interactions in front of the pin board are an important part of the format and foster cooperation and networking. It is fun too! In case you have to organise the event virtually or in a hybrid mode, make sure to allow participants to select their schedule at once and at the beginning of the conference.

Running ConversTations

Once the pin-board with the schedules are ready, running ConversTations is rather straight-forward. Here are the tasks remaining:

  • Arrange the tables, put signs on the tables and make sure that you have exactly as many seats / chairs per table, as the schedule allows.
  • Prepare a short presentation for all to explain the format.
  • Make sure knowledgeable people are available at the pin boards to help participants make their schedules and to pay attention to the rules (no same colours, no same titles).
  • Once the ConversTations start, make sure to loudly announce the start and end of sessions. Once the session is over, go around the tables and interrupt discussions to make sure the next session can start. I like using a large bell.
  • Chairs will start “wandering” from one table to another. You do not have to keep too strict to your number fo seats available, but chairs should be re-organised after each session, if necessary.

Examples from using ConverStations

We have used this format many, many times by now. Some examples (apart from ICT4S conference) include the OMNeT++ Summit, the EWSN 2020 conference, and our own research seminars. Below you can find a before/after picture from a research seminar in Germany.

If you have any questions about this format or would like to share your experience wiht it, post a comment here!

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Editing papers back to front

I have often done this without realising what I do. But a recent tweet (yes, a tweet can also be useful and informative!) from Prof. Arvind Narayanan from Princeton University made me think more thoroughly about it and I want to recommend it here to everyone!

Usually, we write a draft of a paper and then start editing it. We start editing at the beginning and proceed to the end, in sequence. Well, obvious, right? Our readers will do the same. Well, maybe not … ?

  1. When you start editing from the beginning, the first sections will get really polished but the subsequent sections not that much… This is due to us getting tired of the editing process.
  2. Not all readers actually read research publications in sequence. I also don’t. I start with the abstract, skip the introduction and related works completely and get straight to the “research”. I skim the idea, skip all theoretical details and go straight to the results and discussion, which I read carefully. If I miss something there, I look in the respective section. So, those are also the sections which should be edited most carefully.
  3. Without sequence, you often ask yourself questions like “Did I explain this properly before and where exactly” or “Did I give enough details about this in the respective section?”.

So, when editing your papers try to follow these steps:

  1. Leave the paper aside for several days (if you have the time!)
  2. Start editing random sections. For example, just focus on your result section and draw all loose ends that you discover in the other sections.
  3. After you did so at least twice for each section, read the paper again from front to back.
  4. Give the papers to at least 2 colleagues for review. Incorporate their feedback.
  5. Anytime one of your reviews feels like the reviewer (whether colleague or anonymous) did not understand something, ask yourself: Did I explain it properly? Did I explain it on time? Do I need to remind the reader about it?

Have fun editing your papers!

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Publishing papers

This question is a real evergreen and seems really hard to answer (it is hard). I typically say: aim high in quality, do not overdo it in quantity, and do not waste anything by not publishing it. I am lying sick in a hotel room in Austria and I am bored. So, I decided to explore my own citations from the last 7 years.

Here is what I did: I listed all peer-reviewed publications where I am a co-author, and noted for each paper: number of current citations, year of publication, kind of paper (workshop/poster/demo/phd forum; small conference / small journal; top conference / top journal; book chapter; technical report or Arxiv), off-site (journals, TR, etc.) or on-site (workshop, conference, demo, etc.) whether this was a cooperative effort from outside my group, and whether it was a survey or not. I first calculated the number of citations per year to normalise for time. Then, I calculated the correlation factors between each of the factors described above and the number of citations per year.

Here is what came out. First, the correlation is clearly positive for top conferences / top journals (0.3) and even more for surveys (0.5). There is also a positive correlation between cooperative efforts and citations per year. For the other factors, the correlation factors are towards zero or even negative. What does this mean? It actually confirms what I also said before, but now it is scientifically founded 🙂

  1. Focus on top conferences and top journals. It takes some more time to go through the review rounds, the review process takes time, and you might need to re-submit several times before finding a good “home” for your paper. But it is worth it; keep going and do not give up! You might also need to work on your scientific writing, on your experiments and methods.
  2. A survey is a great way to start your publication record and publish results from literature studies. Do it!
  3. Do cooperate with people outside the lab. This is a proven method to increase your visibility, your network and your citation record. This lies simply in the fact that such papers have more authors from more labs, and all these people will take care that the paper is cited and propagated.
  4. Posters/demos/small conferences are a great way to present your work, get feedback and increase your network. Here, the focus is NOT on citations. However, growing your network and discussing your ongoing work is VERY important, not only for young researchers.
  5. Now, I need to cope with the results from non-top journals. It seems like those are not really citation runners. However, some universities require their PhD candidates to have at least X papers in journals, which is not easy to achieve in the short time with top journals. Thus, you can try to diversify: one-two top journals and the rest in conferences and non-top journals. If this requirement is not important for you, then focus on top journals and top conferences only (but you can submit also demos / posters to those top conferences, the network and the colleagues are important, not how long the paper is!)

I hope this helps somehow to build a proper publication strategy. In the beginning, focus on a survey and posters / demos /workshops / conferences to get feedback asap. Then, go for top journal publications. This will require also some time and task management. Think about how to schedule your work. You should identify several bigger tasks (2-3) you need to address for your PhD. Then, you should focus on the first and follow the publication strategy above. Once the work is in the review loop, start with the second task, and so on. They need to overlap while you are waiting for reviews and juggling with different papers in different (top) journals. Good luck!

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How to write an article

I get this question all the time – Prof, how should I start? Prof, how do I write an article?

Well, the short answer is: simply start writing it, word by word, sentence by sentence. Ok, I know, it is not that simple 🙂

There are many ways of writing and it depends greatly also on the writing process which your supervisor has set in place (I do assume here that most readers are beginning Ph.D. students. If you are a postdoc and you still do not know how to write articles – well, you are in big trouble…). I personally like to be mid-involved in writing articles. I almost never contribute real text or graphs to the articles of my students, but I do give detailed comments early on. This is the process in my group, which seems to work quite nicely:

  1. Define a table of contents. Do not limit yourself to section titles, but put 1-2 sentences in each section to say what you plan to put there. Be as concrete as possible. For example:

    “Section 4: Experimental results.
    4.1. Experimental setup
    Put here the complete description of our setup, incl. hardware, software, and a picture of the hardware.
    4.2. Metrics
    List and explain our metrics – throughput, delay, energy consumption.
    4.3. Results
    Here they come. Probably 3 graphs, one for each metric. Discuss each of them in detail.
    4.4. Discussion
    Go back to our motivation and overall problem statement, discuss whether we solved the problem and which disadvantages and open issues we see.”

    See, the point is to plan everything in great detail. If instead you simply say: “Section 4: Experimental results.”, your supervisor cannot judge whether this is enough or you are missing something important. For example, I could now complain that the metrics are too few or wrong, or more graphs are needed.

  2. Start writing the individual sections down. Make a first complete draft of the complete manuscript, before giving it back to your supervisor for comments. However, it often happens that while you are writing, you realize you miss something in your overall structure or that the structure needs to change. Explain the issue to your supervisor, make a suggestion of how to handle it, and discuss it. But do not send the non-ready manuscript! This could only lead to confusion and misunderstandings because you did not check it yet.
  3. Now you have a draft. What is a draft? It is not a ready paper – some individual graphs can be still missing (for a good reason only! For example, waiting for the experiment to finish), and there might be grammar errors or formatting errors. However, try to do your best in terms of wording and explanations. Give your supervisor enough time to read it carefully and to give you feedback. If you only give her 6 hours before your meeting, she will be angry and/or have not read your paper at all. Enough time means several days.
  4. Your supervisor will have comments, some of them deep-going. She might suggest even new experiments, new sections, new structures. You can mostly prevent this with a well-prepared and detailed table of contents (see point 1). But you can never fully prevent it and you must be open to these suggestions. You can openly discuss problems connected with such changes – how much more time you would need, how to implement the changes, etc. But try not to take the position: “I do not want to do any more work, this is enough!” This would not be very good-researcher-like 🙂
  5. Once you agree on the contents of the paper, it is time to polish: check the grammar, check the references for completeness, check the format, check that all acronyms have been introduced properly, etc.

That’s it. I guess the most critical question is now: “But can I submit also smaller parts to my supervisor to comment on, just to make sure that I am heading in the right direction?”. This is a tough question. Of course, you can try, and your supervisor will always give you feedback – but how useful will it be really? Unready chunks of text tend to be isolated from important context, to have bad wording, and to lack necessary details. The comments will be like “Use a spell-checker”, “Work this out”, or “I do not understand this part”.

It would be better to train your writing skills before you start your first paper. If you do not feel confident in your writing skills, agree with your supervisor on a plan: you could write small summaries of papers, you could write short proposals about experiments, etc. Keep those short (1-2 pages) and always do your best before submitting them to your supervisor.

In fact, I really enjoy writing myself (this blog is a proof of this!). I always see it as THE opportunity to describe what great research we have done, to present it nicely and in an understandable way, to “show off”. I like fine-tuning graphs and figures and text. This is my representation to the outside world. I need to be proud of it. I never see this as a waste of time but as part of the process. Try to adopt this attitude and it will make writing much easier and even fun!

Happy writing!

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Everybody needs time to think

In recent years, I observe a very dangerous development in research and university communities. Researchers are expected to be constantly doing something – writing proposals, answering emails, teaching, supervising, writing papers, making experiments, and so on, and so forth. But when should we actually think thoroughly about what we do? When should we think about problems encountered? When and from where should we get inspiration?

As researchers, we regularly need “ideal times” – time to simply think about everything, read a good book, talk to friends and colleagues with an agenda. When I do not have time for this for, let’s say, a week, I not only get nervous, but also start making more mistakes, forgetting important things, and losing connections. It is not really tiredness, my brain simply needs some time to order stuff, to think alternatives through, plan and observe.

I always urge my PhD students to identify time for this, but also to think about where and how. For me, the best way of getting my brain into this valuable “order and plan” mode is to hike or at least to go for an extended walk, alone. The worst I can do is to stay home, close to the computer 🙂

What is it for you?

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Manage your tasks, not time

This post is highly inspired by the book of Tim Ferriss “The 4-hour Workweek”. I find the title a little misleading, but the ideas do work also for academics.

So let us start straight away. Let us assume you need to work on your paper. No, you must! Let us also imagine that you would like to work for 2 hours on it. There are two ways you could plan for it:

  1. I will work today 2 hours on my paper.
  2. I will write today the related works section.

Oh, I already hear you screaming: I cannot possibly write a complete section in 2 hours! Tim Ferriss says you can, and I confirm.

The first plan has a glitch: you could spend the complete two hours shuffling your references and playing with the format. Is this what you wanted? Is this what you want to report to your supervisor? I don’t think so. In fact, one of my Ph.D. students once confessed to me, that sitting in front of the computer already “feels” like work, so he would try to spend as much time as possible in front of it, staring at the simulation running … What a terrible way to fool yourself and to waste your youth!

The second plan has a huge advantage against the first one: it pushes you to quickly do and FINISH something. You only have two hours and you need to get this done. Thus, you stop shuffling references and playing with the format, but finally get back to the pile of printed papers on your desk and write that section down.

Now, we have to discuss another problem: The references probably do not compile and the format is broken! But this was also not the task. The task was to write it down. Another task, maybe for tomorrow when you only have 30 minutes, could be to fix those.

In general, I advise all my students to work in cycles. I also live this advice myself. I would start writing raw drafts with bullet points and copied paragraphs, then turn them into first drafts, then polish and sharpen the writing, and finally spell-checking the text.

Take-home messages:

  • Define clear, concrete, doable goals. Do’s: finish section 2, fix all references, make graphs 12 and 13, polish the writing.
  • Prioritize your tasks: polishing, formatting, spell checking are done at the end. Writing and presenting results are your first priorities.
  • Learn to work in cycles: write the first draft, re-write later, polish, and spell-check at the end. This also applies to result presentation: make a hand-written graph first to check your hypotheses, create the graph later, play with colors and text size last.
  • Define one or two clear tasks for the day, depending on the time available. Challenge yourself a little bit every day!

Happy task management and paper writing!

P.S. Oh, I forgot the good news: if you finish your task earlier than expected, get a coffee and enjoy your free time!

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Energy Management

Time management is popular and I have already written about it. However, even with the perfect tools and concepts, there are times when you sit in front of your work and you simply do not have the energy to do it. And then there are times when you are full of energy and manage much more than expected. Sounds familiar? It is surely one of my problems ..

The theory is simple: identify your energy levels and the energy needed to accomplish tasks. In practice, it is not that easy. Here is my try:

Tasks, which drain my energy: administrative meetings and work, email, homework and exam corrections. Those are really tasks, which do not only tire me, but drain me.

Tasks, which I truly enjoy: teaching and giving talks, discussions with students and colleagues about research, writing papers (yes, I am one of those weird people), writing research proposals (unless it is already the fifth time I am resubmitting it), doing research, reading and watching inspiring papers and talks, learning something new. I tried to summarize those here:

Task Energy needed to accomplish Energy drain Energy building
Low Middle High
Administrative meetings x x
Email and admin work x x
Homework and exam corrections x x
Teaching and giving talks x x   x
Conferences and workshops x x
Research discussions x   x
Writing papers x   x
Research proposals x   x
Research x   x
Learning something new x x   x

Energy levels: very high at the beginning of the week and during the mornings. Highly dependent on progress and on good news. This part is nasty because I cannot control it. So, I need to develop strategies how to build up my energy when bad news is coming in.

First, I decided to focus on my high-energy tasks, which also built up my energy during the mornings. What to do with the tasks, which require high energy, but completely drain me, like homework corrections? Some people advise to bulk such tasks together and to work on them only on some days. This does not work for me – I prefer “hiding” them. If I have 30 homework assignments to grade, I could easily spend a complete day on those and will be completely broken and annoyed at the end. I will be terrible company. But if I do one or two corrections every day between other tasks, my energy levels seem to overlook them :-). However, I will be ready in 5-6 days, which needs to be planned properly.

Tasks that do not need that much energy, like research discussions, I prefer scheduling in the afternoon or towards the end of the week. Even if I feel tired, I enjoy those tasks and I can easily motivate myself to address them.

Sometimes, I need to replenish my energy. I do sports and I do learn something new – I am practicing languages with my favorite learning apps (Duolingo and especially Memrise), I watch TED videos and I read books. I must admit, I read also a lot of time management and self-optimisation books!

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Time Management Principles

I have been experimenting with time management for almost 10 years now. Early in my career as a researcher, I noticed that if you manage to focus well, you can get extremely productive and will need only a fraction of the time planned. However, achieving productivity is not trivial: there is no button on the back of your head to switch it on, unfortunately.

In this post, I would like to share the pure basics, which work well for me for many years now. You have heard many of them already, but I am sure you still do not “live” them, for one reason or another.

  1. Switch off media when you want to focus. Put your phone in the next room, switch off email and all messaging apps. You probably know these. But did you think also about calendar notifications, Dropbox und Google Drive updates, etc? All these disrupt your flow and any disruption, even just for a second, brings you off your real work. In general, I am very conservative which apps can send me notifications and I generally switch them all off. If I know that a meeting is upcoming and I am afraid to miss it because I am so deeply involved in my work, I set an alarm.
  2. Allow emails to “ripe”. You do not have to answer each and any email that comes and surely not immediately. It is better to wait for at least several hours. This also means that you do not have to check on emails constantly, you can do so during waiting times (e.g. when a meeting has finished earlier). I really hate emails – once you answer one, an avalanche of further emails come upon you.
  3. Observe yourself and identify the most productive times. For me, these are the mornings, between 9am and 12pm, approximately. Block these slots for your most important work. Do not waste them for meetings, emails, etc.
  4. Do not overbook your time. You want to work 8 hours per day? Then schedule at most 6. You need the remaining two for breaks, switching tasks, checking emails and   buying coffee in the cafeteria.
  5. Make a (virtual) office hour. Each time somebody asks you for a meeting, it costs you 3-4 minutes to check your calendar and to answer to that person. Especially with students and admin stuff, it is really useful to have a fixed office hour. I switch on my Zoom personal meeting and can check emails and do some other small and quick tasks while I am waiting for people to come. I find this extremely useful and efficient – people know when they can surely find me and talk to me and I know that I usually manage to put some todos off my list. Plus, people tend to be more constructive in your office hour, since they assume others are waiting.
  6. Organise your todos. It is not enough to keep a list of todos, since these lists tend to grow very long. What works better for me is to organise into sub-lists, which I can grab one by one and work myself down. For example, I have a list for paper writing, a list for teaching and students, a list for admin stuff, etc. The items which have a deadline, get a deadline. I am not a fan of putting deadlines to items which do not have any. For some reason, I always end up not meeting those (because I know they are not real and I cannot fool myself), but I still feel bad about it. What is worse, however, I cannot visually and quickly differentiate between real and non-real deadlines and I end up messing it all up. Thus, only real deadlines are marked. I use Trello for this.
  7. Reserve time for important tasks. Some tasks, like meetings and email checking, have the incredible talent of eating all your time, if you allow them to do so. If I go to all meetings I have been invited to and I answer all emails immediately, I would end up with almost no time for real work (like papers, and research, and teaching, and supervision – they are not few!) Thus, I started reserving floating slots for time eaters. I would decide how much time I need to invest in them, e.g. 15 hours per week for meetings (wow, so much!). Then, once I schedule a meeting, one of these floating slots disappear from your calendar. Once they are all gone, it is over – first come, first serve. This has taught me also to say no to meetings which I think will not   serve my priorities, so that I have meeting slots available for more important stuff. This principle, together with step 3 works well for me to keep control over my time.

I hope these could be useful also for others! Happy time optimising!

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