Research is a slow process. If you’ve paid any attention to the COVID situation you’d know that the immunisations took months to go from idea to market. This is unheard of in research. Usually that process takes decades!
But even that was built on the idea of slow gains. Slow (but consistent progress) made over many decades. Learning what systems are required for success. Learning what parts of the process can be expedited, compared with those that must go slow.
However, so much of the way success is measured in research is based on fast or immediate gains. Papers. Grants. Presentations. Conferences. Collaborations. They all measure immediate progress.
Furthermore, they are end points. Goals. Destinations. Places we reach and then decide what next. In some cases, reaching the goal means we lose motivation. Reaching the goal takes away the pressure. We all need rest. We all need time off or time away. But what we also need is continued effort. To make slow progress.
The idea of never missing twice is really important. Rather than setting a goal of publishing set an expectation of never missing twice. In the case of publishing, that might be never missing writing-day/time twice in a row. Set a standard for writing 15 minutes per day. Then never miss two days in a row ever. You might set a similar standard for reading – read 15 minutes per day and never miss two days in a row. And if you want to increase how much you write each day, apply slow gains to increase your 15 minute standard. Could you read for one more minute? I reckon you could. So, add a minute per day/week/month over the next week/month/year and you’ll suddenly be writing a lot more. But the slow gain means it never feels hard.
I see the same urgency when people (start) use(ing) social media. Recently, I ran a workshop about improving your social media game, and so many of the questions related to growing followers, and engagement. That’s what we all want from social media. Yet very few people are willing to make slow gains in order to reach the goal of engagement or a following.
Making slow gains means posting regularly. Consistently. Instead, what I see is a flurry of posts. Tagging people. Talking. Commenting. You’re busy trying to grow by 10 comments and accounts per day. Working out how to get the next follower or comment. Chasing trends. And that’s cool. You might make some early gains.
You run out of time or steam.
And you’re back at the same spot – seeking advice on how to gain followers and engagement.
Or you think about the idea of growing followers and engagement by making massive and awesome posts. But the reality of massive and awesome posts is too daunting for you. You feel overwhelmed or shy or embarrassed or worried about what all that means.
Instead, your focus should be on making small gains. Instead of trying to hit 1,000 followers in a week, why not aim for an (average of) 1 follower a day for 3 years? And better yet, why not aim for a habit of posting and commenting daily/weekly/monthly (whatever period works for you) that fits with your existing workload and lifestyle? Then slowly (see more slow gains) increase that habit by one. Two things result. First – your idea of being active on social media becomes easier. You’re only posting once a day/week/month – but you’re doing it every day/week/month. Second – your activity becomes consistent. You don’t burn out.
This idea of slow gains can be applied to everything. And it allows us to make progress on multiple fronts at the same time. Notwithstanding the evidence on the difficulty of multitasking, slow gains allow us to multitask at the macro level. At the level of life, this might be useful for those of you trying to do your PhD, engage in social media, and build your network. Thinking about each of those things as requiring slow gains – rather than immediate growth – allows you to make progress on all of them, without negatively impacting another. If you’re interested in more about slow gains, head over to James Clear’s blog on the subject (and the inspiration for this post).
Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He specialises in delivering high quality strategic advice to the education, research, and government sectors. He is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart, making academic ideas practical; the art of the #pracademic. Richard’s clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.
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