Wednesday exploration: pomodoro & shut up & write

Startup Stock Photos

People writing together. Image shared via Stock Snap

Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room and doing it. William Goldman.

The bottom line is that we all know this but if you have a paper or report to write, a thesis to complete or a proposal to develop how good are you at actually getting down to writing? Are you disciplined about sitting down and getting on with the task in hand or do you find a hundred and one more important things to do?

When you settle down with your computer to write if you need to look something up on the internet do you, 10 clicks later, find yourself engrossed in some amazing website that has absolutely nothing to do with what you were looking up? Then the things being shared in this weeks exploration may be of interest.

The first is PhD2Published which I discovered last November when I came across academic writing month (#AcWriMo). PhD2Published organises AcWriMo and describes it as an annual academic write-a-thon held every November which unites people by the common goal of developing better and more sustainable writing habits. Over 1000 people participate  and, if you want to be part of a writing community, it is a fun way to feel connected as part of a global community with other academics who are in supportive, writing mode. At the start of November you declare publicly your writing goal and throughout the month a range of social media are used to help you to keep motivated and on target and to share your ups and downs. If you want to find out more here is the link and I have put a reminder in my diary to flag it up again as the time approaches.

As well as AcWriMo the PhD2Published site comprises a compilation of hundreds of blog posts organised under the headings of journal articles, books, conference papers, grants, digital publishing, academic practice and resources (websites and tools). In terms of supporting your writing whether it is an abstract for a conference, a chapter in a book or a grant application it is worth exploring this site and the resources and tools it links you to.

It was whilst I was following academic writing month that I came across 2 other writing strategies which caught my attention Pomodoro and Shut up and Write. 

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique which can be used as a strategy to help you maintain focus when you sit down to write. The basic principle is to work in 25 minute blocks. You set a timer for 25 minutes (and yes you can actually buy a bright red pomodoro) and write without distraction for this length of time. When time is up get up and have a 5 minute break. At the end of 5 minutes reset the timer and continue writing for another 25 minutes. If you are on a roll and string 4 pomodoros together at the end of the fourth you take a 30 minute break. There is a little more to it than that, but not much, and all of the details are on the site.

Shut up and Write Tuesdays are based around the pomodoro technique and have been developed to help academics not only structure their writing time but also connect with others. Writing can be a lonely activity and this approach, started in San Fransisco,  aims to bring people together to write. The idea is to identify a suitable location and space, meet together and write in silence for an hour with a 5 minute break (2 pomodoros) and then socialise over coffee after. The rationale is that, the discipline and shared sense of purpose that comes from writing with others also keeps you accountable and reminds you that you aren’t alone. So here is a pretty straight forward idea for setting up a writing group with colleagues or fellow students.

If the  shut up and write approach appeals but you don’t have a group to write with there is also a virtual Shut up and Write group on the first and third Tuesday of each month @SUWTUK. If the time for the UK session doesn’t suit check out the other times zones as there are 3 virtual groups running in different time zones.

Three resources to support your writing. As always it would be great to hear about the things you have found useful so please share.



Wednesday exploration: sketchnotes and leadership.

DSCN0662Having changed jobs recently I was faced with a pile of old notebooks. Pages of written text with no visual clues regarding the content, often lacking headings and dates. I’m sure this reveals something about my unsystematic approach to dealing with notes but I’m hoping this may resonate with others because if you are studying or conducting research you will take notes, lots of notes.

The question I have been exploring is, is there a better way of making notes more accessible? Over the last few years there has been a growth in the utilisation of visual note takers to summarise and communicate key messages from workshops and meetings. If you haven’t come across them have a look at the website of Morethanminutes.

I have watched Claire and her colleagues at work in awe not only of their artistic talent but also of their ability to listen, distil and draw at the same time. Something which has felt unobtainable to me as my inner critic tells me constantly that I cannot draw.

Over the last month I have started to follow Tanmay Vora’s blog which is focused on ‘Leadership, Learning and Raising the Bar in a Constantly Changing World’. If you are seeking to develop your leadership skills this blog is well worth exploring. Recent posts include Leadership: start with trust exploring how leaders need to connect with people before they can lead, When does real learning happen which explores exactly that and Leaders need 3 kinds of focus which identifies 3 foci for leaders, the needs of the context, their own needs and the needs of others.

What you will see if you explore these posts is that the written content is fairly short but the visual note at the end of each post summarises and communicates concepts and ideas very effectively. There is something compelling in the way the visual notes invite you to think in a different way.

Looking at Tanmay’s visual notes, and reading about his journey into visual note taking, made me think more about this approach and how my pages of notes would have been more accessible and probably more focused if I had included visuals.

Feeling a little more confident I have been exploring ‘The Sketchnote Handbook. The illustrated guide to visual note taking” by Mike Rohde, one of several introductory texts on visual note taking. Whilst contributors include professional skektchnote takers, the basic premise is that if you can draw a circle, square, triangle, line and dot you can draw sketchnotes. The book provides an insight into the theory behind sketchnotes, the processes involved in taking sketchnotes and practical exercises to help you develop your skills.

The focus of the book is on sketchnote taking in presentations but as you can see in Tanmay’s blog the technique can also be used to summarise texts and convey your thought processes. I also think it would be helpful in analysing qualitative data.

As part of my coaching practice I keep a reflective diary and have started to experiment with including sketchnotes. It certainly makes my notes more accessible and quicker to reference and it has made me think more about the key points I want to highlight. Before supervision it is now easy to pick out the focus for discussion and, when preparing for new coaching sessions, I can connect with things far more quickly. How am I getting on? Well I am not about to launch my sketchnotes on the world but they are definitely improving.

Maybe sketches and leadership appear as strange bed fellows but this is how different things connect when you go exploring.

Wednesday exploration: 3 blogs you might enjoy exploring


This week we are exploring three blogs I follow on a regular basis which may be of interest. Firstly an admission, it was only about a year ago that I discovered the wealth of information, inspiration and expertise that can be found in blogs. I know that the number of blogs produced can feel overwhelming but that is the fun of exploration – you can dip in, see what you find and decide whether or not to return.

 The analogy that comes to mind, for those of you who remember, is the pick and mix section of the now extinct Woolworth stores. I was brought up in rural Oxfordshire and so this treat was possible only when we made excursions into Banbury or Oxford. Memories of standing in front of the array of containers making your pick and, over time, getting to know your all time favourites. The decision about whether to go for your absolute favourite first or save it until last and every now and then the excitement of something new appearing to tempt you.

My approach to exploring blogs has been similar, to spend time just exploring, bookmarking or following the ones I enjoy but dipping into new ones as well. One of the things I love about Twitter is the way in which people tweet links to blogs they have found useful. This has been a great way of expanding my blog horizon. The blogs I have picked this week are quite different in their focus just because that’s fun.

 London School of Economics Impact Blog

The impact blog describes itself as, ‘a hub for researchers, administrative staff, librarians, students, think-tanks, government, and anyone else interested in maximizing the impact of academic work in the social sciences and other disciplines.’

 Whilst its primary focus is on the social sciences many of the posts and resources are of relevance to health researchers from other backgrounds. Alongside the posts other resources which may be of interest are the Essential How to Guides on topics such as

  • How to write a killer conference abstract: the first step towards an engaging presentation
  • Using Twitter as a data source: an overview of current social media research tools
  • How to write a peer review to improve scholarship: do unto others as you would wish them do unto you.

 You can also download from the site resources such as A short guide to using twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities and, The Handbook. Measuring the Impact of your research: a handbook for social scientists.

 The Thesis Whisperer

This blog is focused on helping research students undertaking a thesis, written by people with experience of doing a PhD or work with research students and edited by Dr Inger Mewburn. Recent posts include:

  • A journal article by any other name – exploring the importance of thinking about the title of a paper or chapter.
  • Dr Daddy and the Double Act – the challenges of combining research and fatherhood.

Posts are  organised by topic which is really helpful and topics include: you and your supervisor; on writing; presenting; your career; getting things done.

 Alongside the posts are links to a wide range of resources for students and supervisors which are well worth exploring as is the overview of how to set up a Shut up and Write group.

 Brain Pickings

This blog couldn’t be more different from the two above and I’m really grateful to Kandy Woodfield (@jess1ecat) for sharing this blog via twitter otherwise I’m not sure I would have found it. It is written by Maria Popova who describes herself as, a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large.

The ethos behind the blog resonates strongly with the focus on cross-disciplinary working and thinking to informs current agendas in health research and innovation.

‘in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas.’   Maria Popova

This is what I love about this blog – it takes my thinking out of the world of health research and stretches it to connect with views and perspectives from different disciplines including art, design, philosophy science and psychology.

To give you an insight into posts the current post provides a synopsis of “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The post is interspersed with links to previous posts of relevance and ends with links to posts which complement the topic. In this instance a synopsis of Anne Lamott’s book Small Victories. Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace; Gratitude, written by Oliver Sack and published posthumously; seven books written for children to help them make sense of death and bereavement.

Alongside the posts you can subscribe also to a weekly digest which arrives on a Sunday morning in time for a relaxing read.

 An incredibly subjective selection I know but if you follow a blog or write one which you feel would be of interest to health researchers why not share it. I would love to know.

 As for the Woolworths pick and mix, if they were bookmarkable I would bookmark the chocolate orange cream and the purple wrappered hazelnut and caramel.

Wednesday Explorations: The Cochrane Journal Club 

It feels appropriate at the start of a new year to introduce a new series of posts, Wednesday Explorations. Towards the end of last year I introduced the EPIC framework for emergent health researchers And have since been exploring the different components within the framework. The first component was Explore highlighting the importance of increasing our knowledge and understanding of the research community in all of its different facets, opportunities and resources outside of formal academic study for personal development and ways of developing and extending personal networks.

Having talked about the importance of exploring I thought it might be fun to go on a journey of exploration over the coming year so each Wednesday I will post a short blog about something I have discovered during my explorations which might be of interest to others.

Journies are much more fun when taken together so why not join in. If you have discovered or developed a resource that you feel will be of interest to others why not share it? The only criteria is that it should be of interest/relevance to healthcare professionals interested in promoting, conducting or using research and accessible to everyone. It could be, for example, an organisation or network you are a member of, a blog that you follow or a learning resource you have used. I would love to follow in the footsteps of your explorations as a way of extending my travels. What better way to start the New Year than on a journey of discovery?

So here goes………

1. The Cochrane Journal Club. 

If you run or are thinking about setting up a journal club this is a resource that you simply must explore. My memories of the first journal clubs I attended as a clinician were of being part of a group of people who were enthusiastic about research but had limited research experience. We were good at selecting relevant papers and engaging with the introduction and rationale for the study,  but then things got a bit wobbly.

Understanding the study design and methods was manageable but critiquing was a bit more troublesome due to our limited knowledge of other possibilities. Understanding and critiquing the approach to data analysis, especially if it was statistical,  was where the wheels began to fall off along with understanding some of the more complex statistical results. Everyone breathed more easily when we got to the discussion. It would be brilliant if every clinical journal club had access to someone with research experience to lead the discussion but this is not always possible and many healthcare professionals need to rely on the knowledge within the team.

This is where the Cochrane journal club, which is part of the Cochrane library, may help you to run a better quality journal club and also support the implementation of evidence informed practice in your team.

There are currently 58 Cochrane reviews available in the journal club series which have been selected from the Cochrane library to highlight, ‘practice changing findings, controversial conclusions, new methodologies, evidence based methods and reviews from diverse health and social care topics.‘ Examples include

  • Music interventions for mechanically ventilated patients
  • Community wide interventions for increasing physical activity
  • Exercise programmes for people with dementia
  • Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community
  • Interventions for preventing obesity in children
  • Exercise interventions on health related quality of life for cancer survivors
  • Cognitive reframing for carers of people with dementia.

As you can see the topics are quite diverse. For each topic a range of multi-media support material has been developed including:

  • A PDF of the review which is free to download
  • PowerPoint slides of the key tables
  • Podcast by the lead author to explain key points of the review
  • A list of discussion questions
  • A clinical vignette which outlines a scenario and then asks you, based on the findings of the review, how you would respond
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Links to other related resources

You can access individual topics and also sign up as a member of the journal club which means that you will receive an alert every time a new topics is made available.

So if you are unfamiliar with the Cochrane Journal club next time you have a few minutes grab a coffee/tea and go on an adventure. You may find buried treasure.

PS. Sorry if formatting is a bit awry this week no broadband connection at the moment so publishing via my iPad which is a bit different.