Academic life is demanding and women academics face many challenges on their path to success
Making the transition from a researcher to an academic is not easy for men and women. Academic culture has changed a great deal in the last decade. If nothing else, year on year, it has become ever more competitive especially at the top-ranked institutions.
While we would want to think and believe that academia is fair, this is not so. Academic women continue to be disadvantaged in the current system through a number of factors including:
- gender stereotypes.
- unconscious bias towards women.
- significantly fewer academic women in senior-level positions.
- an academic system that has been designed by men and made to serve their needs.
- the fact that even in households where men are willing to help, small children will often ask for their mother first.
- the fact that in the workplace women will naturally be seen as carers to others.
- that appointment and progression of women can still be viewed as “tokenistic” more than achievement-based.
- men still are the primary gate-keepers when it comes to admissions, promotion and recognition at all levels.
Keeping this in mind, the words of the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg: “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.” apply as much to the academic climate as they do to climate change.
How Grid helps academic women and men achieve results and greater satisfaction
I first created the Grid approach to help me balance my own needs for self-care and life as a woman in academia. My research training instilled in me a hard-work ethic as well as an addiction to ‘my’ work. I say ‘my’ because I love what I do and find it fascinating.
While in an ideal world one should be able to balance work with life, in reality, the desire to succeed can often result in a great deal of stress and pressure. The need to get things done, in turn, can easily skew what gets prioritized. This means that some things that matter most including health, sleep and our loved ones can get squeezed out. Over time, through habitual behaviour, this effect creates ever-greater costs and imbalance. It can also wreak one’s sense of self.
The Grid approach and framework is designed to support healthy productivity whereby success and self-realization do not come through sacrifice and sadness. Grid achieves this by taking advantage of the power of the visual nervous system, how we plan and achieve tasks and keep motivated. Grid invites the individual to approach each day through four key areas or quadrants.
- Life (Grid Quadrant 1)
- Self-care (Grid Quadrant 2)
- Work/studies (Grid Quadrant 3)
- Career (Grid Quadrant 4)
Greater work-life balance supports better performance and more health and joy all around
Using the Grid means setting goals and tasks within each of these areas, thus creating a more balanced, healthy and ultimately productive approach. This is especially true for an area that often gets more neglected by those who care for others: self-care.
Below is an interview with one academic professor in engineering who did not wish to be identified to help illustrate how Grid helped her. We hope it will inspire you to try Grid for yourself.
Good reasons to try the Grid approach from our interview with her include:
- wanting to develop a better work-life balance
- aid your career and general planning
- wanting to feel more energized and motivated
- avoiding procrastination on important work
- having a system to aid your personal improvement.
We love this picture from a 2-week Grid she shared. It is a lovely example of how each person can adopt the Grid framework to fit their needs and be creative about how they cluster and formulate the Grid home bases, keep track of activities, and even give the Quadrants more personally meaningful titles.
In this example Quadrant 2 – self-care is simply called ‘self’ and Quadrant 4 – career has been renamed ‘develop’. What would your Grid look like if you made one? Not sure how, watch our instructional video here.
Read the Grid journey of one academic woman
How did you discover the Grid?
In my coaching work with Magdalena, she suggested I would benefit from using the Grid.
What attracted you to it or made it sound like something that could aid you?
After returning from maternity leave I was struggling to find a new work/life balance. I was attracted to the Grid because it sounded like something that would help me improve this balance.
Little did I know, there is even more to it.
Using the Grid helped me both to improve my work-life balance (the balance between the 4 quadrants) and to get better at planning within each quadrant, shifting from deadline-driven mode to mindful planning.
What is your Grid practice?
It actually took me a while to make it work for me. At first, I was trying to use it mechanically without really thinking of how I needed to adapt it to my needs. I started and gave up two times over a few months. The third time I tried, I gradually developed a system that works for me to define ‘home bases’ and activities.
I first tried a weekly Grid, because I was used to weekly to-do lists. I always thought it would feel good to end every week with a sense of completion. I have now switched to two-weekly Grids and I find that it works better for me. In the very beginning, I found it helpful to tweak the Grid as I went along, it helped me not give up mid-week. For instance, I edited activities that I had not planned in sufficient detail (typically: “write paper” had to become “write Intro for 2 hours”) or I extended the timeframe of the Grid by a couple of days if I had planned too much.
At the end of two weeks, I now spend a few minutes reflecting on why I did not do some of the things I had planned. This helps me to continue to learn how to make realistic, achievable plans. It also makes me reflect on why I am avoiding some activities, which then triggers further development (do I need to delegate, do I really need to do it this way? etc).
How would you summarize the impact of the Grid?
[Grid] helps me to identify synergies between different tasks, and paths of development that run through different activities. This makes me feel more energized and motivated.
There used to be tasks or activities that I dreaded because they felt like a burden. The simple fact of visualising how these pieces fit in my long-term plans shifts my energy from the task to the bigger picture.
I had no idea that the visual element of the Grid could be so powerful but I personally found that it makes a big difference.
More inspirational stories, productivity tools, and well-being resources
- Check out other Grid stories and case studies and sign up to our monthly newsletter to keep up to date with our work.
- Explore our free Grid resources that will help you try the method out for yourself.
- Order a copy of the Get Productive Grid book which will help you take a systematic approach to Grid practice including additional goal-setting activities, a 3-months Grid plan and evaluating your results.
- Commission a virtual or in-person workshop for your team or department directly.
- Share our work with your colleagues and students who may find it useful via e-mailing them this page or through social media links below.
Top holistic productivity tips for academic women and men
- Approach each hour and day of the week as a completely new event. Each moment gives you a choice about how you want to show up in it and what you will achieve. If something is not flowing, for example, a paper you’re trying to write feels overwhelming, tackle something else that is also important to get done. Return to the tasks that did not flow at a later stage knowing you made space by completing other work.
- Invest time in building your professional network Grid™ quadrant 2. Need help with your career development and how to grow your exposure and build long-term healthy partnerships, book a 1:1.
- Get clear on how you will look after yourself each day. Self-care is key to good mental, physical and emotional health. If you’re not well, nothing you do can be good. Read a practical blog on this topic here.
- Take a couple of hours to set your goals for life, yourself, your work and your career. They can be goals for the year, your next promotion or for the next 1-2 months to get you safely through a crunch. Check out our Grid news section for many inspiring and highly practical blogs and ideas.
- Monitor your stress levels on a regular basis either via an App or paper. Ask for help early. For specific activities to aid you being well and productive check out my Get Productive! book which has 36 exercises designed to help you get things done, improve your communication, prepare for an important interview and help you grow your network.
3 tips for Academic Heads of Department
- Recognize that times have changed a lot and what’s worked for you may no longer apply as well to others. Most of all keep in mind that the staff you have invested in will always do better if given bespoke support. An academic is no different from an athlete. Starting a new job, transitioning into another level of responsibility brings with it many overt and hidden challenges. Don’t expect people to always know what to do just because they are discipline smart.
- Learn to listen better. Many academics are deeply afraid to ask for help because they associate help with weakness. In truth, top performers in academia and elsewhere surround themselves with helpers including coaches. We simply don’t get very far alone and it takes many technical and softer skills to succeed in academia. I recommend that in your 1:1s you openly offer and encourage your faculty to tap into personal coaching support by funding 3-4 sessions.
- Try out coaching yourself. It will help you speak about it with more authority and model that getting help is acceptable. In my experience of coaching HODs and institute directors, those who got coaching developed a real appreciation for the value this brings to how one performs and feels.
From Dr. Magdalena Bak-Maier, Grid™ Creator and MTC Founder
No person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.Adrienne Rich, poet and essayist
I am privileged to work with some of the brightest academic minds in science across engineering, medicine and the physical world. My approach and word-of-mouth recommendation has also attracted researchers in the fields of economics, psychology, social science and the humanities to my practice.
All the partnerships and collaborations I have made enriched my world intellectually and continue to be deeply rewarding. In turn, my expertise as a coach-therapist, writer, teacher, productivity and well-being expert and organisational consultant has helped those individuals and in some cases, their departments and institutes create better conditions where more staff can succeed and thrive. Below is a lecture I gave on the approach I take to talent and effective workplace culture development and what I have learned so far.
Thank you for reading. Get in touch to discuss how my work can help you.