What is productive time as a researcher?


In August I went to EPIC, the annual conference dedicated to furthering the practice of ethnography in industry. One of the main themes for me across the 3 day program was the importance for reflection and ‘switching off’ when conducting research. The two Pecha Kuchas “What I think about when I think about running” from Simon Roberts and “How a 10-Day Silent Meditation Course Made Me a Better Researcher” from Shipra Kayan are two examples of how time away from thinking about your research, actually leads to a-ha moments and insights that sitting in a room actively thinking and thinking for hours just won’t deliver. Robbie Blinkoff’s “The Full Epiphany” made a perfect trifecta for me where he challenged us to use epiphanies as measures of ethnographic success.

These were timely messages to hear as I had just finished a project where 12-14hour days had become normal, as well as weekend work. I was exhausted. One of my biggest breakthrough moments earlier in the project around a key insight had faded into the background in the frenzy of client deliverables. In fact, it almost got lost – or worse forgotten.

The conference was a wonderful re-calibration and important reminder of how different ideas can be around what constitutes “productive” time. As an anthropologist reflexivity, creative thinking and extended periods of time are how I construct productive uses of time. This is in constrast to the consulting environment I am in where timesheets and an individual’s utilisation are key performance indicators of success. Finding (negotiating?) the happy medium is perhaps one of the key challenges of the applied anthropologist.